Davis all work, and oh how he can play
He can stuff a box score, as he does regularly but perhaps never as impressively as when he announced his ascendance with 26 points, 17 rebounds, nine blocks and three steals in the Pelicans’ season-opening victory over the Magic.
He can make veterans question the veracity of his birth certificate, as in the oft-repeated incredulous inquiry of, “He’s only 21?”
And he can make a mockery of the player efficiency rating, the detailed formula former ESPN-columnist-turned-Grizzlies-executive John Hollinger created.
But as far as scintillating off-the-court stories about Anthony Davis, the Perspectives Charter School product who returns home Saturday to face the Bulls, gaudy averages in tow?
Well, that’s where you may be out of luck.
“He was all business,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who served as Davis’ assistant coach with USA Basketball this summer. “That’s what stood out the most. He’d get there early, work on his game, practice hard, get in the weight room. You can tell he’s hungry.”
Said USA Basketball teammate Derrick Rose: “He’s very, very serious about his game. That’s mostly what we talked about.”
Added former Bulls guard Kyle Korver, one of USA Basketball’s final cuts: “You see how good he is right now. And when you see him day-to-day from the inside and how he works, you also see how much better he’s going to be.”
That concept is as daunting as Davis’ development, which featured the 6-foot-10 power forward, who doesn’t turn 22 until March 11, taking a player efficiency rating of 33.46 into Tuesday’s game against the Pacers.
Though Hollinger didn’t create PER until the early 2000s, its backdated application lists Wilt Chamberlain’s 1962-63 season with the San Francisco Warriors of 31.82 as the single-season high.
However, the NBA didn’t begin keeping blocked shots and steals as official statistics until 1973-74, the season after Chamberlain retired. Chamberlain often routinely blocked 10 shots per game.
Hollinger designed the formula to measure players’ per-minute performances, adjusting for pace. It balances positive contributions, including blocks and steals, with negative ones such as turnovers, personal fouls and missed field goals. Some critics cite its emphasis on offensive statistics.
Still, beyond Davis’ averages of 24.7 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks, his PER screams success.
“He’s a monster,” said Warriors guard Klay Thompson, another USA Basketball teammate. “Man, the sky is the limit for that guy. Talent like his doesn’t come around a lot. Just to be so agile and athletic at his size is something really rare. It’s something only a few guys in the game have possessed. You’re talking about guys like Wilt Chamberlain and Kevin Durant, guys that are long and tall and that light on their feet.”
Davis, the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA draft after one season at Kentucky, has worked to make himself less light. His daily weightlifting regimen last summer added 15 pounds of muscle to his frame.
“You don’t need somebody to tell you that either,” Thibodeau said. “You can see with your own two eyes how much muscle he has put on. That’s through his dedication. That’s why I think winning is important to him.”
With Thibodeau in Chicago, and Pelicans coach Monty Williams a fellow USA Basketball assistant coach, he had heard plenty of stories about Davis. Most centered on his humble nature and work ethic.
“Being around him, you see they’re all true — and even more than what you were told,” Thibodeau said. “His talent is just amazing. But the way he carries himself, he’s a great teammate, great worker, smart, can’t get enough. It’s amazing how good a player and person he is.”
Korver drew comparisons to Rose in their quiet nature but strong desire to succeed.
“Like Derrick, he has that humble, coachable personality,” Korver said. “That’s rare when you get someone with elite-level skills to have that kind of mentality. That’s what is going to make him great because he wants to work.”
USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo teamed with men’s national coach and Duke czar Mike Krzyzewski to pick Davis as Clippers’ star Blake Griffin’s injury replacement on the 2012 Olympic team. Just 19 and fresh out of his lone season at Kentucky, Davis only played 52 minutes on that gold-medal winning team as an understudy.
In Spain, Davis started and averaged 12.3 points and 6.6 rebounds in just 19.7 minutes per game on 54 percent shooting as the U.S. won gold at the FIBA World Cup.
Days later, Davis returned to New Orleans to get back to work.
“He’s really down-to-earth, a great guy,” Thompson said. “He’s very low-key. It seems like he doesn’t seek the spotlight. It just came to him because he’s so talented.”
The spotlight isn’t going away. Perhaps its glare one day will produce some off-the-court color.
Actually, DeMar DeRozan finally burst the bubble that Davis is all work and no play.
“We got stories for days,” his USA Basketball teammate said with a sly smile. “But that’s going to stay in Spain with us.”
Pressed further, the Raptors’ All-Star guard wouldn’t budge. So the imagination will have to suffice.
Maybe Davis got really nutty and only arrived for practice 10 minutes early one day?