It isn’t often that a player the likes of Anthony Davis comes around. The man is a physical freak of nature-6’10”, 36-inch vertical leap, and lightning-like quickness. For part of his high school career, he played point guard before an incredible growth spurt shot him to his current height, so he can dribble and pass the ball better than most any big in the NBA outside perhaps only Nikola Jokic.
There is a reason why the man that is so creatively nicknamed AD (or, the much better nickname of The Brow) is ranked in the top five list of players for virtually anyone who watches the NBA, and why he has every right to want to leave the Pelicans after the embarrassing manner in which they’ve handled his superstardom.
When a player like Davis comes along, which for many franchises only happens once in a generation, it is the responsibility of the franchise for which he plays to surround him with as much talent and as logical of a supporting cast as possible. Since drafting Davis, the Pelicans have had 3 top 10 picks in the NBA Draft. With those picks, they’ve selected Austin Rivers, Nerlens Noel, and Buddy Hield. None of these players are still members of the team.
The only player from that group who is currently a productive starter in the NBA today is Hield, who New Orleans gave up on too quickly, as he currently is averaging over 20 points a night and leading the league in 3-point percentage in a Sacramento Kings uniform. You may recall that Hield was shipped off to the Kings in the trade that landed DeMarcus Cousins in New Orleans in 2017, with the franchise hoping that the pairing of Cousins and Davis would amount to arguably the best frontcourt in NBA history.
Talent-wise, the Cousins-Davis frontcourt probably was among the best of all time. However, in today’s NBA, a team cannot be true title contenders if their two best players are big men. The frontcourt game is as obsolete now as it has ever been in the history of the league, and when a team finds itself with a generational talent like Davis who plays in that area of the floor, the object should be to surround him with as much wing and guard talent as possible, not doubling down by bringing in another star big man.
For the majority of Davis’s career, he has been paired with point guard Jrue Holiday. Holiday is a fine player, and proved his worth on the defensive end last season by locking down Damian Lillard in the playoffs. However, he is not the type of player who is good enough to be the second option on a championship team. Where the Pelicans really needed to invest in order to give Davis another star was on the wing.
Last year’s version of the Pelicans, unarguably the best Pelicans team Davis has ever played on, had three small forwards that got consistent minutes: Dante Cunningham, Solomon Hill, and Rashad Vaughn. None of these players, as you may notice, can even create their own shot, let alone be a major contributor on an elite team. Instead of bringing in Cousins, the Pelicans should have instead flipped the picks and assets they gave up for Cousins to move up in the draft and select a star wing player for the future, or traded for a player like Paul George or Kawhi Leonard. Even keeping Hield around would have been better than the wing play the Pelicans have put on the floor during Davis’s tenure.
In short, through a stunning lack of front-office vision and an inability to bring in any elite free agents, the Pelicans essentially forced Davis’s hand in demanding a trade.
This June, the Hawks will likely be selecting in the top 5 of the draft, and should they draft a player like Zion Williamson, they will be bringing in a player that has a chance to reach the same level of stardom in which Anthony Davis currently resides. They may already have a player with that kind of potential on their hands in power forward John Collins. What they cannot do is make the same mistakes that the Pelicans did with Davis.
Travis Schlenk must fill out the roster with pieces that make sense around the star, not ruin the depth and balance by bringing in a player that essentially plays the same position, as the Pelicans did with Cousins. He must work to bring in free agents or make trades that land players who will act as compliments to his star, not players who will cancel out the star’s impact on the game. And, most importantly, he must show the star, be it Collins or someone yet to be drafted, that Atlanta is a city where a star should want to play, not a city that he is forced to leave after giving out opportunity after opportunity to make things right.
Anyone blaming Anthony Davis for wanting out of New Orleans is kidding themselves. The combination of poor management and inadequate teammates forced him to leave instead of rotting away his prime years in a city that wasn’t devoted to giving him the best chance to win.
What the Hawks cannot afford to do is make the same mistakes that our friends from the swamp did.
Jackson Stone @tdjs_network