I watch the NBA first and foremost to see guys do crazy and impressive things. Things that stretch the imagination. It’s not going to happen every night, although for some players it comes close, but the idea that something could take your breath away lurking just underneath the surface ... that’s why it’s my favorite league. Incidentally, it’s why I’ve jumped into soccer lately as well.
It’s why LeBron James remains must-see TV. He can pass, he can shoot, he’ll come up with chase down blocks, he’s physically overpowering. He’s complete.
It’s why Kyrie Irving was must-see television, even if he wasn’t making a winning impact on the Cavs each and every night early on in his career. The handles, the ability to take over a game, the fearlessness. It was aesthetically pleasing from the beginning.
It’s why Kevin Durant was fun for me to watch before he went to Golden State (and, were I a neutral observer, would still be fun). He’s huge, he’s smooth, he’s an elite shooter. And then he became a rim protector too, just for the heck of it. What kind of defender do you even try and put on him? Without starting a Stephen Curry vs. Kevin Durant debate (ultimately pointless — they score baskets for the same team) — it’s always felt pretty natural to me that the latter has won the Finals MVP the last two seasons. He just has more ways to score than Curry, and when teams have time to take certain things away from you over a seven game series ... well, what are you taking away from Durant?
And it’s why I love Anthony Davis. From the moment he burst into the collective consciousness at Kentucky, he’s felt larger than life on the basketball court. First thought to be a relatively one-dimensional defensive pterodactyl, he’s become one of the league’s best offensive players. This season, he has the league’s best PER, and is averaging over four assists per game for the first time in his career. He’s astoundingly complete for a big man. He’s almost doubled his assist percentage while turning the ball over less. That’s insane.
In a league obsessed with three-point shooting, he’s effective without a consistent long range shot. He gets to the free throw line at will, in part because he’s just faster than anyone that tries to guard him. You cheat when you’ve been beat. He’s so big, and athletic, and skilled, and the closest comparative player I can think of is Kevin Garnett. It’s appointment television when he plays the Cavs or is on national TV.
It’s not just about the best players in the league, either. James Harden has never done it for me the same way. Even if he is an elite athlete, he hasn’t ever felt like it to me. Russell Westbrook is the same, but the opposite. Even if he has elite skill, he hasn’t ever felt like it to me.
Which leads us to the hard part here. He’s requested a trade, and given specific teams he’d like to be with long term. Selfishly, it would be a lot of fun to see him team up with LeBron. If James wants another title, he’ll need to link up with another top-five or six player, and that’s Davis. They’d likely need even more, given the state of the Warriors. And it’s totally understandable for Davis to want out, even if the Pelicans have been hit with the injury bug over a couple years now.
It’s unfortunately completely understandable, to me, that the Pelicans sit him for the rest of the year. With the Celtics unable to trade for Davis at the deadline, and with Davis depressing the market with his demands, their inability to meet his request makes sense. It’s clear they intend to try this summer. They have seen a star player lose all his trade value due to injury. Unless Davis comes out and says he’s willing to try and restart in New Orleans, playing him can only hurt the Pelicans. It hurts them as they try and get a better draft pick, and it puts their most important trade asset at risk.
Davis is a human being, so it’s unfortunate to think of him purely as an asset. But the Pelicans have to do right by their fans, and they have to try and maximize their ability to win long term. I’m sure they would much rather not trade Davis, and continue to play him, and continue to try and build with him. There are few guys I like watching more than Davis. But if he wants out, it should probably be October before we get another shot at it.