By Chris Molicki
Anthony Davis was arguably the most interesting player coming into this NBA season. Primed for a mega-breakout that could cement him as a top-2 or top-3 player in the league, fans everywhere couldn’t wait to see the big man blossom.
But it didn’t work out like that. Due to injuries, a disastrous start, and that breakout never quite happening, Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans are having a forgetful season, one that will likely end after Game No. 82.
However, there’s still a case for Davis to be the most interesting player in the NBA—financially at least.
Davis signed a massive five-year $145 million contract in the offseason. That extension was signed under the “Rose Rule.” This rule gives players signing their first extension after their rookie contract the chance to receive a 30% max-level raise. For Davis, that would mean an extra $23 million—if he meets certain qualifications by the end of this year.
Davis would need to accomplish one of three feats: be named to the All-NBA first, second, or third teams at least twice, get voted into the All-Star game as a starter at least twice, or be named the MVP of the league at least once.
The good news is that Davis has already started in an NBA All-Star game and made an All-NBA First team. The bad news is that Davis will not start the All-Star game this year, and he almost certainly won’t win the MVP award, leaving it up to whether he makes an All-NBA team. For $23 million. Davis certainly has a shot to get this done, but there are some things standing in his way.
The Pelicans currently sit at 18-29, 4 games out of a playoff spot in a conference that is ruled by the Warriors, as well as the Spurs and the Thunder to a lesser extent. As a playoff team last year that already has a star, they may eventually deem this season a lost cause and begin to make moves for next season, while subsequently tanking and getting a higher draft pick.
Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, and Eric Gordon have all spent time injured this year, and all of them could either be traded or shut down at some point. This could really hurt Davis, who would be forced to make his case as an All-NBA player while competing with the New Orleans JV squad, something that will likely lead to a dip in his stats.
Another thing that stands in his way is obvious. Davis has some tough competition when it comes to the other players he’ll be battling with for a forward spot on one of the All-NBA teams. One would think that LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Draymond Green are all currently above Davis in the race to make an All-NBA team. That would leave two forward spots available for Davis to potentially secure.
Here’s his per-game stat line: 22.9 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 2.4 blocks. He’s also shooting 49% from the field, 76% from the free-throw line, and has a PER of 24.61.
Let’s break down the other players in this race and see what kind of chance Davis has of collecting his $23 million.
Paul George: After a horrific leg injury, George is showing no ill effects this season. Averaging 23.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.9 steals, and a PER of 20.06, the Pacers’ forward has made an incredible comeback and is proving he’s still a superstar.
Carmelo Anthony: The big name on the Knicks besides Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony is having one of his best seasons ever by passing the ball more and therefore operating a much more efficient offense. His 21.3 points per game is the lowest since his second season, but his 4.1 assists is a career-high. Melo is also grabbing 7.6 boards a game, while boasting a 20.79 PER.
Gordon Hayward: Hayward has continued his steady development and is Utah’s best player. Scoring 19.9 points, getting 5.2 rebounds, and dishing out 3.7 assists, the former Butler Bulldog is the closest thing the Jazz have to a go-to scorer.
Paul Millsap: A wildly underrated player, Millsap truly does it all. Let’s run down the stat line: 17.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.3 blocks, 22.90 PER, all while shooting 49% from the field and being a versatile defender on a winning team. Hopefully Millsap’s chances don’t get hurt because his name lacks star value.
Chris Bosh: Another guy who doesn’t get enough credit, Bosh is averaging 19.2 points and 7.6 rebounds, while posting a 21.85 PER. His value to the Miami Heat truly lies in his versatility, as he can step out and shoot threes on one possession and guard a power forward or a center on another.
Pau Gasol: The Spanish big man is having another stellar year, notching 16.7 points, 10.9 boards, 2.0 blocks, and a 22.04 PER. Gasol has been huge on both ends of the floor and has been Chicago’s best player after Jimmy Butler. Making an All-NBA team could hinge on if Gasol can get the Bulls to win consistently.
We still have over two months of basketball left to play, so there’s a few other guys that could throw their hat into the ring with a strong second-half surge. Dirk Nowitzki is still getting it done in the twilight of his career. Kevin Love could break out if the Cavs’ offense continues to play at a high level. Blake Griffin will be out for a while, but if he can get the minimum number of games in, there’s no doubt he’ll be in the running. And Derrick Favors, despite battling injuries, has been a force this year and is at least deserving of consideration.
In the end, I think Davis will get a spot on the All-NBA Third team along with George. Despite playing on a losing team with a weak supporting cast, his numbers are, for the most part, better than anyone else on this list.
But you never know. The resurgence of Anthony could land him a spot. Or maybe people start to give deserved credit to a guy like Millsap or Bosh. There are no guarantees.
Whether or not the Pelicans make a surprise run to the playoffs, their MVP will have something to play for: $23 million. And no matter how much cash Davis makes over the course of his lifetime, that is a lot of money.
Image Courtesy Derick E. Hingle, USA Today Sports