NEW ORLEANS — Anthony Davis won't play his first game as a 22-year-old until this weekend, yet it's hard to find anyone in the NBA who doesn't already view the third-year Pelicans power forward as a budding superstar.
Teammates say the youthful energy that fuels Davis' relentless, end-to-end game is part of what has made him so good, so soon. At the same time, they figure the two-time All-Star, who turned 22 on Wednesday, will only improve as he matures.
"He can run all day — jump all day, too, obviously," said guard Norris Cole, who jokes that Davis is "definitely not a human being."
"His talent level is off the charts and he can still get better," Cole added. "That's the scary part."
By the time Davis played his last game as a 21-year-old Tuesday night — just his 184th NBA contest — he'd piled up 3,558 points, 1,740 rebounds and 450 blocked shots.
Only Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard had reached 3,500 points, 1,700 rebounds and 450 blocks at such an early age.
"He wants to be the best and you have to applaud that," Pelicans coach Monty Williams said after watching Davis put in extra work after practice this week. "There's so much left in his game to unwrap."
Davis' play is the main reason the Pelicans (36-29) will hold the Western Conference's final playoff spot at least until Sunday, when they resume play against Denver after four days off.
"It's fun because now every game matters," said Davis, a former Kentucky star who has won a college national title, an Olympic gold medal and a FIBA World Cup, but has yet to experience the NBA playoffs. "Now you're like, 'Ah, this is a big game. We've got to come out here and perform.'"
Performing hasn't been an issue for Davis, who averages team highs of 24.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks.
Three times this season, Davis has finished with at least 40 points, 10 rebounds and a shooting percentage of 65 percent, something no other player — of any age — has done this season. He has also nearly reached double-digit blocks in a game several times, maxing out at nine.
"I've done quite a few things, but I think I'm nowhere near where I want to be," Davis said. "I have a lot to learn about the game, about myself."
Davis has gotten bigger and stronger as a pro, having added more than 20 pounds to the slender 6-foot-10, 220-pound frame with which he entered the NBA.
He has also refined his game, most notably in the way he reads defenses, finds lanes to the hoop and routinely knocks down jump shots from as far as 20 feet.
"He's got a very unusual skill set for a guy his size," said Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau, who also coached Davis on Team USA last summer. "His speed, quickness and his touch, along with that length — he's so hard to guard. ... He's deadly if you back up and if you come up he's so quick he can go right by. That puts a lot of pressure on you. And he's very, very unselfish. He plays for the team. He plays to win. He's a superstar."
In a victory at Milwaukee on Monday, Davis took over a tight game the way superstars do. After New Orleans fell behind with about 3 ½ minutes left, Davis scored eight straight Pelicans points on jumpers of 20, 8 and 19 feet, and two free throws.
"That's what your go-to guy is supposed to do," Cole said. "He works on his game so that in those moments, there's no hesitation."
Williams, meanwhile, said he loves the fact that his best player's most animated celebrations seem to come after he's forced a turnover or assisted on a basket.
"He doesn't care who scores. That's why you can't help but love him," Williams said. "When a guy is out there diving on the floor, winning games for you with his defense, sharing the ball and happy to see someone else score, that's leadership."
Davis hopes he can serve as an example that putting the team first and piling up gaudy stats don't have to be mutually exclusive.
He said he gets a lot of his points and rebounds on tip-ins that result from little more than never taking plays off and hustling to the hoop in case a teammate's shot bounces out.
"You get your teammates involved, it will always come back to you, no matter what, and the team will help you to reach your personal goals," Davis said. "My team does a great job of finding me in spots where I'm successful.
"When you have a mindset where you want to put the team first, good things will come to you," Davis added. "But when you have that me, me, me mindset, that's when things will start to fall apart."
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