Anthony Davis grows into MVP candidate as New Orleans finds its star

Marc J. Spears

NEW ORLEANS – Anthony Davis can't help but notice the homeless people living under bridges near the New Orleans Pelicans' arena when he arrives for and leaves games.

"Any time I see a homeless person I give them money if I have cash on me," Davis said. "You don't know what they're going through. Some people say you never know if they're lying or putting on a show. But you never know.

"If that were me, I would want someone to help me out. I try to make sure I can help out any way possible."

The night before Thanksgiving, Davis paid for and served meals with his family for the residents of the Salvation Army Center for Hope in downtown New Orleans. Davis' Thanksgiving dinner was the tipoff to his season-long "AD's Flight Academy," which will include monthly community events focusing on giving back to children and families in the New Orleans area.

"I was fortunate enough to have food on the table each and every night," Davis said. "But I saw a lot of [less fortunate people] around Chicago where I grew up. … It made me want to give back because I know people who [are struggling] and it doesn't look real good.

"Some of these guys don't have food or whatever it is. During the holidays they're feeling lonely. I'm trying to brighten up their day, make them feel special."

Anthony Davis ranks second in the NBA in scoring behind Kobe Bryant. (USA Today)
Anthony Davis ranks second in the NBA in scoring behind Kobe Bryant. (USA Today)

For 36-year-old Charles Igleheart, who described himself as "a man in transition," Thanksgiving arrived a day early at the Salvation Army. After grabbing a plate of turkey, greens, yams and macaroni and cheese, Igleheart thanked Davis and said he enjoyed watching him play with the Pelicans.

"I was having Thanksgiving by myself, so I said cool," Igleheart said. "This means a lot."

Davis has endeared himself to New Orleans through his work both off the court and on. After helping the U.S. national team win the World Cup in Spain, he's enjoyed a breakout season with the Pelicans that's vaulted him into early discussion for the NBA's MVP award.

Davis is averaging a career-high 25.4 points, ranking behind only Kobe Bryant. He is also averaging 11.2 rebounds and ranks first in the league in blocks with 3.3 per game.

Despite his strong play, Davis cautions he and the Pelicans still have a long way to go to meet their goals.

"If you look at my phone, I have over 1,500 unread text messages," Davis said. "I don't even look at the stuff. After the game people are texting me saying, 'You are playing well. Keep it up.' All I am going to say is, 'Thank you.' "

Davis' big objective is to help New Orleans reach the playoffs for the first time since 2011. New Orleans won 31 and 40 games, respectively, during Davis' first two seasons, which is far off the expected number of victories needed to make the postseason in the tough Western Conference. The Dallas Mavericks were the eighth and final seed in the West playoffs last season with 49 wins while the Phoenix Suns missed the playoffs with 48.

The Pelicans currently have a 7-6 record, which ranks 10th in the West. New Orleans also recently lost starting shooting guard Eric Gordon indefinitely to a torn labrum in his shoulder.

Davis and the Pelicans still have a lot of work to do to reach the playoffs. (USA Today)
Davis and the Pelicans still have a lot of work to do to reach the playoffs. (USA Today)

Davis said the Pelicans are on the "right path" and is confident they will be in the postseason.

"We know what we got in this locker room," he said. "We know what direction we want to go in and our identity to be."

Perhaps most impressive about Davis' strong start is that he has become an elite scorer.

Davis averaged 14.2 points during his lone year at Kentucky during the 2011-12 season. He was projected to be an elite defender, rebounder and shot-blocker in the NBA, but needed work on his post game and jump shot to become an accomplished scorer.

Davis is now averaging nearly twice as many points as his rookie season two years ago. He scored a career-high 43 points in a road game against the Utah Jazz on Nov. 22. Pelicans general manager Dell Demps and coach Monty Williams cite a strong work ethic as the reason for Davis' improvement as a scorer.

Williams said Davis, still just 21, doesn't have a go-to move yet.

"I am surprised that he is able to be this consistent with his outpouring of scoring," Williams said. "But I look at how he works every day. The guys that work like that with his talent typically get better."

Davis will make $7 million in the final year of his rookie contract, but is eligible for a maximum contract extension next summer that could be worth about $90 million over five years. If he is not signed to an extension prior to the start of the 2015-16 season, he will be a restricted free agent in July 2016.

Davis actually could sign a much more lucrative contract in 2016 when the new television contract hits, but isn't sure if he wants to explore free agency.

"I love it here in New Orleans," Davis said. "Great city. Great atmosphere. …We're getting the fans back and New Orleans back buzzing for the Pelicans, a great organization. I love my team here.

"We're definitely moving in the right direction. I don't know what the future holds, but right now I'm definitely loving the team and the organization."

More NBA coverage: