New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis is forever trying to understand the responsibilities of his role. As the $145 million man – the superstar sent from the future – Davis is desperate to learn the lessons of leadership.
What Davis dropped on the Detroit Pistons on Sunday in Auburn Hills – 59 points and 20 rebounds – left the NBA stunned and speechless. He reminded everyone, including himself: Davis is a transcendent and generational talent stranded on a flawed, broken roster.
Ever seen something like it? "I haven't," New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry told The Vertical in a text message. "Not by a big with that skill level."
This season had been targeted as Davis' MVP breakthrough, his time. Now, he's nowhere near the conversation. Sit down with him, and the sense comes quickly: That's the least of his concern. Winning matters to him, and that's how Davis wants to be judged. Chris Paul pushed his way out of New Orleans, but Davis is starting a new five-year deal, and he'll have to find a way to become part of the solution there.
Throughout All-Star weekend, Davis probed the biggest winners in the NBA. Throughout this lost Pelicans season, Kendrick Perkins has been guide to his personal inventory of franchise star stories – from Kevin Garnett and LeBron James to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
"Perk tells me stories from 10 years ago, and says: As the franchise player and leader of this team, you have to do this, you have to do that," Davis told The Vertical.
Davis listens, but here's the truth of the matter: The franchise star job demands that you learn through experience. Otherwise, everything will devour you. Davis is so gifted, so dedicated. And he takes everything – the losing, the unrealistic insistences that he ought to be to able to win all alone – in the most personal way possible.
"It's tough," Davis told The Vertical recently. "You start hearing all the white noise. 'They lost three in a row, and it's Anthony Davis' fault.' The blame gets put on you. Of course, there are other factors that go along with it – like the praise when you are winning. But to handle that when you're so young, and haven't really accomplished anything, it's tough – especially when people put you on a pedestal. 'He should be doing this, he should be doing that.' It's frustrating.
"It'll make you overthink your game. You start thinking too much. You start listening and trying to figure out, 'Well, I'm going to try to do this,' and it takes you away from your game. Now, you're losing more because you're not doing what you're supposed to do."
This is human nature. Davis is 22 years old, and this was going to be the season the Pelicans made a leap out of the eighth seed into the middle of the Western Conference. New Orleans is 22-33, and 5½ games out of the eighth seed. Injuries have decimated the Pelicans, crushing a roster that already had its share of flaws. When general manager Dell Demps was unable to complete a trade deadline deal to unload Ryan Anderson, the Pelicans became a risk to lose a valued asset for nothing this summer.
Those are issues for a different day, but make no mistake. Davis reminded everyone again, including himself: There's no one like him in the NBA. Those long arms and legs, all that explosiveness and skill, and his game borders on the supernatural. All alone on Sunday – 59 points and 20 rebounds in the Pelicans' victory over the Pistons. Only, these nights are fleeting. He needs help. He's rightfully looked long and hard at himself, but the Pelicans need to surround Anthony Davis with the proper talent, the proper people. Franchise stars can't do it alone – and they sure can't do it with New Orleans' roster.