His status as the runner-up to Damian Lillard in the 2013 Rookie of the Year voting notwithstanding, Pelicans forward/center Anthony Davis should be regarded as a leading candidate for the Most Improved Player award in '14. To be clear, there was nothing wrong with his freshman campaign, aside from the fact that he missed 18 games with an assortment of injuries. Indeed, Davis's advanced statistics—such as Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares—put him in a group of the NBA's most productive 19-year-olds ever, alongside Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard.
The 6'10", 220-pound Davis simply seems poised for a breakout. This summer Mike Krzyzewski praised Davis as one of the top performers at USA Basketball's Las Vegas minicamp. He pressures defenses with his finishing touch around the basket, and his shot-blocking will soon be regarded as among the league's best. The preseason provided even more evidence of Davis's development. Last year 61.5% of his field goal attempts came inside of eight feet. This fall he looked more comfortable putting the ball on the floor and stepping out to be a face-up threat at the elbow. Will that be enough to push New Orleans into the West's crowded playoff picture? Maybe. But there's no question that Davis makes this franchise must-see TV for the first time since Chris Paul was traded.
COACH MONTY WILLIAMS (4TH SEASON WITH PELICANS)
2012--13 RECORD 27--55 (5TH IN SOUTHWEST)
WHAT'S NEW The team's nickname, the All-Star point guard and the erratic-but-high-scoring small forward.
PROJECTED LINEUP (2012--13 STATS)
PG JRUE HOLIDAY
17.7 PPG; 8.0 APG; 43.1 FG%; 36.8 3FG%
SG ERIC GORDON
17.0 PPG; 3.3 APG; 40.2 FG%; 32.4 3FG%
SF TYREKE EVANS
15.2 PPG; 4.4 RPG; 47.8 FG%; 33.8 3FG%
PF ANTHONY DAVIS
13.5 PPG; 8.2 RPG; 1.8 BPG; 51.6 FG%
C JASON SMITH
8.2 PPG; 3.6 RPG; 0.9 BPG; 49.0 FG%
PF RYAN ANDERSON
16.2 PPG; 6.4 RPG; 42.3 FG%; 38.2 3FG%
PLAYERS WHO have had 200 threes and 500 rebounds in a season: Peja Stojakovic, Antoine Walker, Paul Pierce and the Pelicans' Ryan Anderson (213 treys and 519 boards last year).
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE PELICANS
I really do think Anthony Davis could be a once-in-a-generation player. He won't lead the league in scoring, but he has that kind of ability. By next year you'll see: When they're down by one with 10 seconds left he's going to get the ball—and he's going to get it every time.... Eric Gordon can shoot it well, but he also has great size, and you can give him the ball in pick-and-roll or isolation and he'll get a shot off. He's so strong that when he gets to the edge on a guy he can finish it inside.... Jrue Holiday is the biggest question mark because he was so bad at the end of last year with his shooting and turnovers. For the Pelicans' sake you hope that Philly overreacted by trading him. But he was bad. He needs to show he's capable of being a point guard. Monty Williams is a good fit for him: He'll say, we've got these two guys who need to score, it's pretty simple math.... They will be better off if they're able to bring Tyreke Evans off the bench. He could be a huge piece going against second units because he's so much stronger than those guys. If they're smart they'll play him off the ball, and then later on, if things work out, he can play some at the point. The problem is he's an inconsistent shooter and he doesn't have a great feel.... Brian Roberts had a good run last year, and I would think he'll be their backup at the point. Another option would be to go with Austin Rivers; the hard part is he's similar to Tyreke.... I love Jason Smith, but he has a problem staying healthy. He's like a poor man's Ryan Anderson—he can't shoot it as well but he hustles his butt off.
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
DAVIS AND HIS FEAR-INSPIRING BROW
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED