Under a new offensive system, Anthony Davis will be crowned the league's next MVP
"If you take all the factors in—age and everything like that—you could really make a case for [Anthony Davis as] the best player in the league," the Pelicans' new coach, Alvin Gentry, said in July, thus launching the first strike in what is likely to be an MVP campaign for the 22-year-old power forward. A marvelously effective scorer—too explosive to stop after making a catch on the roll, too quick for bigs to guard face-up, too strong to be pushed out of his comfort zones—the 6'11", 253-pound Davis also cuts a daunting defensive figure. His coverage is equal parts Draymond Green (versatility, quickness) and Rudy Gobert (length, shot blocking), making him the ideal centerpiece for a modern D. Awestruck coaches and executives around the league, shaking their heads, consider Davis's brilliant future with an air of inevitability. His ascent to the top, they agree, is only a matter of time.
There is good reason to believe that time is now. Davis has already shown preternatural restraint during his first three seasons; he wouldn't even pause to consider taking any of the ill-informed shots that his peers hoist on a whim. Instead he has waited for quality opportunities, as reflected by his 53.5% shooting last season, the highest among the league's top 50 scorers. His turnovers (1.4 per game in 2014--15) are even rarer than his forces.
Now he will combine that shrewd judgment with increased scoring chances. Gentry's up-tempo, spacing-driven system will yield more catches in rhythm and a clearer lane for dribble penetration. And there's this: Gentry wants his players to take advantage of the first good look, no matter how early in the possession. That creates more reasons than ever to fear the Brow.
Davis's range extends beyond the three-point arc, where his effortless stroke floats jumpers softly home. The Pelicans' staff is working on his fundamentals—footwork and body positioning, especially down low—to give him even more avenues to explore. Informed by three years facing top scorers, his array of defensive tools should be put to their best use yet.
In spite of injuries that devastated New Orleans last year, Davis joined the NBA's royalty: His player efficiency rating of 30.89 led the league. By the end of this season, at age 23, Davis will be the best player in the world and a worthy MVP.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (DAVIS)
MV-PELICAN In his new coach's quick-paced offense, Davis will only improve on his fourth-ranked scoring average of 24.4 points.