NEW ORLEANS - Six days ago, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis provided the kind of performance not seen in the NBA since Shaquille O’Neal — and before him, Wilt Chamberlain — abused opponents and metal hoop rims alike.
Or all things considered, maybe ever.
One of the NBA’s new-breed big men, Davis’ 59-point, 20-rebound night in Sunday’s victory at Detroit made him the third player in league history behind O’Neal and Chamberlain to reach 55 points and 20 rebounds in a game, the fourth in the past 40 years to achieve a 50/20 game and the second-youngest to reach 50 and 20 behind only 22-year-old Bob McAdoo.
But maybe nobody has done it like Davis did, using a multitude of skills all over the court that Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry terms “playing in space” when his young superstar is at his best.
Gentry’s team, which hosts the Timberwolves on Saturday night, will need more performances like that one if the Pelicans can turn around an injury-ravaged season in their 29 games after All-Star break and reach the playoffs for a second consecutive season. Growing healthier while Davis plays like the All-Star that he is, they’re 3-1 since then, including Thursday’s home victory over Oklahoma City.
Timberwolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell was asked this week if he can remember in his lifetime a performance like the one Davis delivered against the Pistons.
Mitchell pondered and said: “I couldn’t say for me. I’d probably go back to Wilt Chamberlain, but I didn’t see Wilt Chamberlain play. The way he did it is different: Shaq got his in the paint, dunks and stuff like that. Anthony Davis made threes. He shot 17-footers. He posted up. He dunked. He just scored in every way that’s imaginable.”
Wolves forward Shabazz Muhammad called Davis’ production both “monstrous” and “remarkable.” Wolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns chose “amazing” and “unbelievable” to describe Davis’ game that night — and maybe his game itself.
“I can’t even say any words about that,” Towns said.
Davis, Towns and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins all are redefining the modern-day NBA big man with differing strengths but advanced skills that allow all three to shoot from distance and handle the ball away from the basket.
Those three players also share something else. All three were drafted within a six-year period out of the University of Kentucky: Cousins fifth overall by the Kings in 2010, Davis first overall by the Pelicans in 2012, Towns first overall by the Wolves in 2015.
“We produce skilled big men,” Davis said simply. “There’s nothing else to it.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari has called all three big men NBA MVP type of talent, although Golden State guard Stephen Curry might make the conversation moot for the next few years.
All three players’ success speaks to the richness of talent Calipari can recruit to Kentucky and perhaps the guiding hand he provided each player during one singular collegiate season in Lexington.
“I guess Kentucky is taking over the NBA,” Towns said. “We’re trying our best.”
‘My Kentucky brother’
Davis is on his way to becoming the next great NBA player with a remarkably versatile offensive game for such a big man, anchored by the kind of wingspan, athleticism and timing that could make him the league’s most feared defensive force for years to come.
Towns is more of a low-post presence who can score over either shoulder and yet possesses a guard’s skills and the ability to shoot from behind the three-point line.
“They’re both really talented guys,” Gentry said. “I’ll take both on my team. I think I can find a way to play them together.”
Towns calls Davis “my Kentucky brother,” but definitely one from another mother.
“A.D.’s a different player than I am,” Towns said. “Different times, different player.”
And Cousins is completely different yet from the other two: He’s the enigma, a brooding force of nature who, too, is sublimely skilled for such a brute of a man.
“The way the game is going, there are no more traditional bigs,” Davis said. “It’s all bigs who can shoot it: stretch 4s [power forwards], stretch 5s [centers] who can handle it, put it on the floor. That’s just the way the NBA game is going.”
Davis and Towns, to name two, are taking the league there.
Davis showed as much on Sunday, when he attempted 34 shots from the field and made 24. He also scored 26 of his points before halftime and the other 33 after it.
“You can’t just help but laugh, you just smile when you see something like that,” teammate Ryan Anderson told reporters on Tuesday. “You know every time it touches his hands. He was just feeling it. I’ve never been on the court with anybody who’s done anything like that. But at the same time, it’s Anthony Davis. It’s not like it’s a complete surprise. But you’re just in awe of those legendary games that people will always talk about.”
Davis last Sunday became the only player this season to reach 40 points and 15 rebounds in a game — and he did it by the third quarter. He joined Moses Malone in 1982 and O’Neal and Chris Webber — both in 2001 — as the only players in the past 40 years to record a 50/20 game.
“You feel you want the ball at all times,” Davis told reporters that night. “Any time you touch it, you feel it’s going in. That’s how I felt. They kept going in.”
Two nights later in Washington, Davis took just nine shots, made three and the Pelicans lost 109-89.
So goes the NBA, even after a 59-point, 20-rebound night.
“Some ups and downs, some wins and losses, another day in the NBA,” Davis said after Thursday’s victory over the Thunder. “It was great for like a day and a half and then we lost by like 20. It was like bad for a day and a half and then we win tonight. So it’ll probably be good for a day and a half and then we’ll see what happens on Saturday.”