By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Saturday night, in the first of their three exhibition games before the FIBA World Cup kicks off just under two weeks from now, USA pulled away late for a 95-78 victory over Brazil. Even in essentially meaningless games, we can learn some things, and the lesson over the weekend was this: the next month is going to belong to Anthony Davis. The former Kentucky Wildcat recorded 20 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks, diving out of bounds to save the ball on a couple occasions, and generally serving as the preeminent lightning rod for excitement throughout the contest. With Kevin Durant no longer with the team, it appears that Davis will be the biggest factor in whether the US can navigate through the field and (presumably) defeat rival Spain on its home soil.
Facing a Brazilian front line with a number of quality players in Tiago Splitter, Nene, and Anderson Varejao, Davis easily outclassed the lot of them. Sorry Tiago Splitter, you may have earned a ring this past summer, but Anthony Davis is playing the game at a whole other level. The Pelicans big man had 3 other plays just about identical to that one, as the threat of all the talent at the guard position for USA is going to draw plenty of attention from opposing defenses throughout the tournament. Look at Davis perfectly executing a pick-and-roll with James Harden. Splitter was so concerned about stepping up to hedge on Harden that Davis is given free reign through the lane on the dive. Davis has wrecked havoc in the NBA, even without consistent help at the guard position (sorry Jrue Holiday, your injury last season makes that an easy statement). What he’ll be capable of with a slew of all-star guards feeding him the rock is mind-spinning.
Davis is also going to get all the minutes he can handle, especially later in the tournament when the knockout rounds begin. We’ve previously discussed just how thin the US team is in the front court. Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee are likely going to be playing significant minutes; decent enough players, sure, but not who comes to mind when you think of the best our country has to offer. With the United States’ talent leaning heavily toward the guards, they’ll often be going with a three-guard lineup as we saw James Harden start as the ‘3’ Saturday night. Those small groups put Davis’ shot-blocking capability at even more of a premium. It wouldn’t shock me to see Coach K experiment with a facsimile of the 2001 Eastern Conference’s all-star game crunch time lineup, with four smaller guards surrounded by an elite shot-blocking big man, except Mutumbo could never finish in transition like Anthony Davis can.
No matter how you slice it, with a host of the top NBA stars pulling out due to injury or personal reasons, the stage is set for Anthony Davis to come to the center spotlight. Saturday night’s performance shows that when the action kicks off in earnest in Spain, the big man’s play will be raising plenty of eyebrows (whether you have one or two).