Anthony Davis has emerged as one of the best big men in the league, a top tier franchise star whose marketability is increasing despite playing in a small market. It’s a typified story we have seen play out numerous times already: the superstar becomes coveted, exploited—and later bolts for a bigger market.
Often when smaller market teams obtain superstars in the draft, they have to wonder if it will just be a short-term rental until the rookie contract expires. Davis is signed for $5.6 million this season and the Pelicans have a team option for $7.0 million next season.
Following the 2015-16 season, A.D. will be a free-agent. It’s a bit early to speculate on where he may go, but to be sure the Pelicans want to ensure he goes nowhere. Davis averaged 20.8 points and 10 rebounds per game while leading
the league in blocked shots per game (2.8). At just 20 years of age, he has a chance to eclipse the production of a young David Robinson.
Robinson entered the league as a 24-year-old rookie after finishing his two year Naval commitment before joining the San Antonio Spurs. Davis is just 21 years old this season (turns 21 Oct. 31), and three years away from the age the Admiral began his career. Robinson posted 24.3 points, 12 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game as a rookie. The next season, Admiral tallied 25 points and 13 boards per contest. He eventually averaged 4.5 blocks per game his third season in the league, and had established himself as a top-3 center in an era loaded with Hall of Famers at the position (Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal).
Davis is equally as good a shot rejector as Robinson, but the game has changed and illegal defense rules are gone. Theoretically that should make it easier for Davis to get blocks, but 90s defense was different. Zone defenses weren’t allowed, hand checking was. Teams had 10 seconds to advance the ball, and that slowed games down while guys walked it up the court allowing the offense to set up. John Calipari rightfully said Davis is the best shot blocker he’s coached, and that included the likes of Marcus Camby, a block machine during his prime.
The implication here is clear. Robinson took the Spurs from 26 wins to 54 in his rookie season, but Davis still has some 3.5 years before he even reaches that age. By that point, should he still be in New Orleans, there is no reason the Pelicans couldn’t be a 50-win team. Jrue Holiday is a one-time All-Star with the talent to lead a team.
Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans are both wild cards, but if only one returned to the level of play that they showcased before, this becomes a very dangerous team. Ryan Anderson has become the odd man out with the addition of Omer Asik, but Anderson should have the green light to let the triples fly off the bench.
The Pelicans may be several seasons away from being ready to contend in the Western Conference, but it could also happen very soon with a healthy Holiday and thriving Davis. But the curse the Pelicans will encounter is that as Davis’ play level continues, it becomes more and more likely he migrates to a team that can showcase him in a bigger market. He’s already bound to receive a max-contract, and the Pellies will hold his Bird rights—but will that matter when Davis is shown the love from teams that simply have more to offer than the small market Pelicans?
Chicago, New York and Los Angeles provide maximum TV exposure, and it’s worth noting that Davis is from Chicago. Paired with Derrick Rose in these FIBA activities this summer, it may serve in building a bond that results in Davis signing with the Bulls. After all, it is speculated that Team USA practices led to the pact that brought together the Big Three in Miami. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Davis with regards to Robinson, will be whether A.D. spends his entire career in one uniform as the Admiral did.