When DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles against Houston on January 26, many assumed the season a lost cause for the New Orleans Pelicans. However, Anthony Davis is spearheading their playoff push, putting up some gaudy numbers as the Pelicans make a run at a postseason berth. They’ve now climbed to sixth in the West, sitting at 34-26, and having won their last six (and seven of twelve since the Cousins injury).
Through his last 12 games, Davis leads the NBA in points (33.9), while he’s second in blocks (2.6), third in steals (2.4) and fourth in rebounds (13.2). He’s carrying an incredible load, playing with 34.2% usage in 38 minutes per game, but it’s not wearing down his efficiency, as his effective field goal percentage remains at 52.5%. Aside from the impressive consistency in that period, there have been several highlight performances, including a 53-point game and five other games he’s reached 40 points.
Davis has carried this squad when they’ve needed it most. The organization has faced a lot of criticism for wasting their generational talent. Through five and a half seasons, Davis has zero playoff wins, mostly because the Pelicans haven’t yet put the required talent around him. Last year’s move to acquire DeMarcus Cousins was a sign the Pelicans were pushing all their chips to the middle of the table. With Cousins injured it seemed that they’d wasted another season, with Davis’ free agency approaching, the clock is on for the Pelicans to win in the playoffs.
The Russell Westbrook mentality
Davis’ purple patch has provided hope that New Orleans still can be a postseason threat. And the man himself says he’s taken on a new mindset to help the Pelicans get there. In an Interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, Davis said: “You have kind of that Russell Westbrook mentality when (Kevin Durant) went out. Russ just went out there and played, and he shot 40 times sometimes, you know, whatever it takes to help your team win. I’m kind of taking that approach.”
Westbrook, last season's MVP, carried the Oklahoma City Thunder to the sixth seed in the Western Conference despite losing Kevin Durant, who moved to the Golden State Warriors. In the process, Westbrook recorded the highest usage season of all time, and also won the NBA Scoring Title. Davis certainly has been on another level in the past few weeks, and it's reminiscent of Westbrook last year.
Improved team play
With the Pelicans getting great wing play from Darius Miller and E’Twaun Moore, who are both shooting over 40% from 3-point land, it’s giving Davis space to terrorize opposing centers. Jrue Holiday has also stepped up his game in recent weeks, averaging 20.1 points per game since the Cousins injury, up from his season average of 19.1, while also averaging 7.2 assists per game in that time compared to a season average of 5.6 per game.
While missing a star big man like Cousins is a handicap that’s probably too much for the Pelicans to overcome and win the NBA championship, it shows the Pelicans might have the ability to go that far should he return. Meanwhile, a few playoff wins, (or even a series win) is exactly what’s needed in NOLA to show the fans and Davis that the organization is on the right track for the future. Davis is doing everything he can to get them there, all the while catapulting himself into MVP contention.
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