There might not be two basketball minds that know Anthony Davis better than the University of Kentucky’s John Calipari and the New Orleans Pelicans’ Monty Williams. Calipari watched Team USA’s best player evolve from a gangly high school senior to the NCAA’s Player of the Year, while Williams has enjoyed a first-class seat for Davis’ development from talented, inconsistent rookie to dominant, two-way force. And it’s all been in a span of four years.
We’ve been chronicling Davis’ growth all summer long, reminding you just how good he stands to be for the Pelicans this season. But Calipari’s assessment of his former player carries just a bit more weight than ours. In an exclusive interview with USA Today, the leader of Big Blue Nation didn’t exactly temper the basketball world’s sky-high expectations for Davis.
“Right now, you look at (Davis) and say, ‘Man, in five years, he could be the best player in the NBA,’ ” Calipari said. “And this USA Basketball stuff pushes that date sooner. Again, here’s what it does for him: how to work, new things to add to his game, and confidence like, ‘These are the best in the world, so I’m all right…’”
We’ve mentioned that the absence of players like Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, and Kevin Love from the World Cup team lends Davis a significant opportunity for growth – both as a player and leader. It’s not unlike the opportunity Durant had and fully took advantage of four years ago as the face of the Americans’ 2010 World Championships squad.
Calipari clearly agrees, and is right that Davis’ place on Team USA accelerates his timeline to grow into the game’s best player. Durant and even an aging LeBron James will surely have something to say about that, but Davis’ meteoric rise to their exalted heights means that sentiment is far from hyperbole.
Williams, a national team assistant, also pointed to his 21 year-old superstar’s place in the Team USA hierarchy as great means for improvement.
“He’s understanding that he is a lead dog among a number of alpha dogs. Mentally, he has taken it up a few notches, and I think Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) has been a big part of that, pushing him to be a leader, pushing him to be a guy on the team. You think about the names on this team, and you look at the impact on the game that he has, and you seldom say there’s a better player on the floor than Anthony. That’s got to help him from a confidence standpoint…and I think that’s just going to help us going forward.”
Davis has an experienced and talented, if somewhat mismatched, roster surrounding him in New Orleans this season, and is primed to benefit immensely from the presence of center Omer Asik. Barring the health maladies that plagued them last season, there’s every reason to believe that the Pelicans can compete for a playoff spot in a loaded Western Conference.
But it will take more than Davis’ size, skills, and understanding to strengthen if New Orleans is to surprise and play into spring. The Pelicans need him to set the tone as much as with his play as his attitude, and Williams is confident that Davis will do just that given the influence of his time with Team USA.
That’s a scary thought for the rest of the league, and one that supports Calipari’s contention even more than watching Davis play.
Do you agree with Calipari?
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