Anthony Davis was looking to up his game more significantly this summer when he signed up to be a part of Team USA. While he wanted the experience to help mature his game, by playing with some of the best in the NBA, something changed over the last month or so — Team USA may be looking at Anthony Davis as the unsung leader of the squad. This, of course, is all dependent on how the power forward develops as the FIBA World Cup officially begins today.
It has been an interesting summer for USA Basketball. First, several of the top players, including Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin, opted out of the tournament. As an unfortunate circumstance in early August, Paul George was forced out, due to a broken leg that will have the small forward recovering for at least a year. As such, Coach Mike Krzyzewski had to rework his game plan going into the FIBA World Cup. Moreover, the coach would have to place a bigger emphasis on players who were likely only to have a small role on the team previously.
One of these players is New Orleans Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis. The two-year NBA forward has shown significant growth within his first two years of professional play. During his first season, he went from a 13.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.8 bpg and 1.2 spg, to a second season that eclipsed his debut with 20.8 ppg, 10 rpg, 2.8 bpg (a stat in which he was the top of the league in) and 1.3 spg. While his team was still eight games under the .500 mark in the competitive Western Conference, he is a big reason as to why they added seven wins to their record.
With Team USA losing so many of their potential leaders on the squad, there has been a question mark in terms of who will lead the team. Derrick Rose is one of the most well-known players on the squad, but considering the point guard is trying to stay healthy after missing two and a half seasons, he is not a good option to lead.
Houston Rockets guard James Harden has been offered as the current leader of the squad by USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo, as well as from the player himself. While Harden is a strong offensive player, despite his inefficient 14-37 shot spread during exhibition games, he may have too many other flaws to be considered a leader. The top glaring problem that Harden has, which has led to much criticism over the summer, is his lack of defensive abilities. Moreover, while he has tried to be principal ball handler, he is one of the highest prone players at turning the ball over, as evidenced by his eight turnovers throughout all of USA’s exhibition games. Not to mention, this is all before mentioning Harden’s tendency to focus on his self before teammates, i.e. his “best basketball player in the world” comments.
Davis, on the other hand, is everything USA needs. He is a solid, efficient offensive player, averaging the highest ppg at 13.8 during these exhibitions. Additionally, he is the second leader in rebounds with 26 total rebounds, slightly behind Kenneth Faried’s 27. More importantly is that Davis has stuck out as the defensive leader by averaging a resounding 3.75 bpg, to go along with 1.5 spg. Davis, despite the easy victories for Team USA, has shown his ability to carry the team on his back through his contagious energy, which is exactly what he needs to do as a leader. While he is still young, Davis has been thrust with being the leader in New Orleans, so while he may not have had much of a role before playing for USA, now is a better time than any to start.
While Davis has been a leader in the FIBA World Cup, it will be interesting to see how this will translate to his NBA game this year. He has already proven to be improving at a steady rate in the league, in conjunction with bringing the Pelicans to a higher win total. Now, with an improved roster in New Orleans, thanks in part to the arrival of center Omer Asik, Davis may be looking at increasing that win total during the 2013-2014. As Anthony Davis takes to his role as Team USA’s unsung leader this summer, this experience could shape the power forward’s evolution going forward.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey