By Zachary Junda
The 2014 FIBA World Cup is in session and the U.S. men’s basketball team just went 5-0 through group play, with an average margin of victory of about 33 points per game. What’s crazier is that America is dominating planet Earth at basketball without LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Kevin Love, Paul George and the good version of Derrick Rose, among others. Instead, the U.S.’s glorified junior varsity squad is putting a hurting on opposing teams, and the New Orleans Pelicans’ own Anthony Davis is leading that quest for world supremacy.
Through their five games of Group Play, Davis led Team USA in scoring (15.8 points per game, on 62-percent shooting no less) and blocks (1.8), is second in rebounding (6.4) and even averaged a steal because he’s Anthony Davis and he does whatever he damn well pleases on the court. And you thought that I couldn’t love AD any more than I did before the tournament.
Davis is the definition of a budding star making the leap. His play skyrocketed from his rookie season (13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks) to year two in New Orleans (20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, a league leading 2.8 blocks and a Player Efficiency Rating of 26.5). Those are Shaq/Kareem/Wilt numbers by the way. Now he’s spending this summer being the alpha-dog for Team USA and it is only going to bring his game to new heights. In a word, his progression as a professional has been astounding and I can’t emphasize enough how glad I am that David Stern rigged the 2012 Lottery for the Pelicans as retribution for him vetoing Chris Paul to the Lakers trade the Pelicans lucked out and got the first pick in the 2012 Draft Lottery.
Remember, two years ago as an incoming rookie Anthony Davis was on the 2012 Gold Medal Olympic team; he just didn’t see the floor all that much. In seven games, he only averaged about seven minutes of action. He was the 2012 version of Christian Laettner on the 1992 Olympics Dream Team. He was the last man off the bench on a 12-man roster full of future Hall of Famers, All-Stars and NBA Champions. Davis didn’t play much in London because, frankly, he wasn’t needed. But now this 2014 FIBA team is his by way of injury (George), guys pulling out for personal/business reasons (Durant and Love), and the fact that he’s pretty good at this basketball thing himself.
The United States will need Davis to maintain his pretty dang good level of play from here on out if they hope to capture the FIBA championship – especially if the Final winds up being the universally predicted matchup against Spain and the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka. In the meantime the U.S. has a quarterfinal match against Slovenia Tuesday and – assuming they advance – a tricky semifinal matchup against either Lithuania, ranked fourth in the world, or Turkey, ranked seventh, Thursday. Turkey, led by newly acquired Pelican Omer Asik, played the United States tougher than anyone in group play. Granted, Turkey lost by 22 but still, it was the closest game the United States played. They were up on the United States at halftime for what it’s worth. Speaking of Asik, in 21 minutes he scored six points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots. Y’all getting excited for that Davis-Asik frontcourt combination yet? Eighth seed, here come the Pelicans… maybe.
The Unites States is three wins away from claiming the FIBA World Championship. This team representing our nation isn’t the best we have to offer but it’s still the odds-on favorite to win it all. Anthony Davis is the leading man of this group but now, as the United States prepares to face formidable competition, he’ll need all the help he can get from his teammates. Even without some of the best players America has to offer, he’ll have a former league MVP in Derrick Rose, both parts of the best young backcourt in the NBA in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, a guy who’s been to an NBA Finals in James Harden and other insanely talented NBA players like my favorite player not named AD: the immortal Boogie Cousins. Don’t be surprised when the United States triumphs over Spain (again) and Davis is the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.