Among NBA players, Pelicans' Anthony Davis is top-five, with a bullet

Opinion is growing that, at only 21, Anthony Davis is NBA's best power forward, maybe its best player, period

The rise of New Orleans' Anthony Davis has been swift and has placed him at the doorstep of stardom in the NBA.

Then again, many around the league say the 21-year-old All-Star power forward is already one of the top five players in the game.

They point to Davis' youth, his short time in the NBA (2 1/2 seasons) and his dominating talent at both ends of the court.

There are several other superb power forwards in the NBA, including the Clippers' Blake Griffin, Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge and Cleveland's Kevin Love. But observers see in Davis a young star who has limitless potential.

"I think he's the best player in the game," said Golden State associate head coach Alvin Gentry. He watched Davis put up a dazzling stat line of 30 points, 15 rebounds, three blocks, three assists and two steals in his only game against the Warriors this season.

"There is nobody in the league I would trade him for. He's so talented that it's scary. To me, if you were starting your team today, he would be your No. 1 choice in the NBA," Gentry said.

Davis has impressed many with his work ethic and willingness to play hard on both sides of the court.

He's considered an athletic marvel because of his 6-foot-10 frame and 7-3 wingspan. Davis still has the guard skills he developed while in high school in Chicago, when he played that position as a 6-foot freshman. Then a growth spurt — 10 inches by the time he enrolled at Kentucky — turned Davis into a post player.

He's a rare talent who can score, run the floor, block shots, pass, get steals and do all those little things uncommon for a star.

"I try to work on a little bit of everything," Davis said. "You're not sure when you're going to need it. I like to have it in my arsenal just in case the situation comes up where I have to use it."

Going into this weekend's games, Davis ranked third in the NBA in scoring (24.2), first in blocked shots (2.90), ninth in rebounding (10.4), sixth in field-goal percentage (55.7%), fourth in double-doubles (24) and first in player efficiency (31.66), a per-minute productivity rating.

Davis has also helped the surprising Pelicans stay in the race for a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference.

"Anthony Davis is in a stratosphere of his own," said former Lakers forward Rick Fox, now an analyst for NBA TV. "I don't consider him a power forward. I consider him like a basketball freak. I put him in the LeBron James category. He's position-less. Just put him on the floor and he dominates."

Davis was the only college player on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, and his game took a giant leap last summer when he played for Team USA at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain. He got to play and practice with his NBA peers — stars like Golden State's Stephen Curry, Houston's James Harden, Cleveland's Kyrie Irving, Chicago's Derrick Rose and Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins.

"This past summer, with all the elite guys that are going to play on that Olympic team, matching yourself up against them, it felt great," said Davis, who was the starting center.

On a talented team with no player who averaged more than 25 minutes per game, Davis was third in scoring (12.3), second in rebounding (6.6) and first in blocking shots (2.1). He helped Team USA win the gold medal.

"I thought he was already great, but going on the stage and the platform that he had over the summer really opened up so many people's eyes," said former Warriors coach Mark Jackson, an analyst at ESPN. "The insiders already knew and the players already knew. But I thought it was a great way for him to propel himself and he certainly did that. He separated himself and it was great to see. I don't think he has a flaw in his game."

Basketball fans have noticed Davis, too, even though he plays in the small-market city of New Orleans. He was voted as a starter for next month's All-Star game, with the most votes of any Western Conference frontcourt player.

"He's like a young Kevin Garnett," said Shaquille O'Neal, a studio analyst for TNT. "He has a great work ethic. If he doesn't rebound, he's the first big guy up the floor. His skill level is very high and he can get better. He's learning how to take over games."

Davis had missed three games because of a sprained big toe on his left foot, but he was back in the lineup Wednesday night tormenting the Lakers. He dropped 29 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and three steals on them.

Now, Jackson said, it's about Davis not being content.

"For him, don't sit on the lead — which is saying you've got everything and everything is moving in the right direction," Jackson said. "So continue to get better and to progress.

"I can't say anything specifically because I think he has everything. But I think he needs to add to his resume, continue to enhance his game."


Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times