NEW ORLEANS -- Are 61 games worth an extra $24 million?
That’s the eight-figure question now lingering over Anthony Davis after it was announced on Sunday that his 2015-16 season will end prematurely in order to fix tendinosis in his left knee and a partially torn labrum in his left shoulder.
The 23-year-old is in the final season of his rookie contract, and thus is eligible, in accordance with the “Derrick Rose Rule” of the collective bargaining agreement, to make up to 30 percent of the league’s cap amount on the maximum extension he signed with the New Orleans Pelicans last offseason. But that more-sizable payday only comes if ...
He has won a regular-season MVP
He was voted an All-Star starter twice
He has made any of the three All-NBA teams twice
After opening the season as a trendy MVP pick, that Podoloff Trophy won’t be coming Davis’ way in time. And though he was elected an All-Star starter last season, he came off the bench in Toronto this past February.
Which leaves the workload of Davis’ accountant friend Richard in the hands of the select media members who decide the 15-man All-NBA roster.
Are averages of 24.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in 74 percent of his team’s games good enough to make the cut? What about a 25.21 player efficiency rating (seventh best in the NBA) or a plus-2.74 real plus-minus (36th)? How much will the Pelicans’ struggles (26-43, sixth worst in the NBA) bog him down?
To get an early read on a situation that figures to have a significant impact on the Pelicans’ future -- or, more specifically, the future cap space they’ll have to get Davis some much-needed help -- ESPN asked 28 members from last season’s 129-person voting body the following question:
How likely are you to select Anthony Davis for a spot on one of the three All-NBA teams?
Several voters noted that they’ll need more time to carefully consider their final decisions, but the results of the informal poll, as they did in ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton’s analysis, lean in Davis’ favor:
Very likely: 5 votes
Somewhat likely: 16 votes
Somewhat unlikely: 4 votes
Very unlikely: 3 votes
Unlike All-Star ballots, which in recent years have featured two “backcourt” spots and three “frontcourt” spots for each starting lineup, the All-NBA ballot still saves one slot for a center on each team. That makes for stiff competition at the six forward openings, even with perennial All-NBAers Blake Griffin (30 games played) and Chris Bosh (53) now long shots. LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green seem like locks, and you can easily make cases for LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul George, Paul Millsap and maybe Dirk Nowitzki. That’s already eight players for six spots, and each is currently in line to still be playing after the regular season ends.
The Pelicans, even if Davis could play through knee and shoulder pain and finish the season, had virtually no hope left for a playoff bid. The money he would be eligible for if he earns All-NBA, Davis said Monday, wasn’t a good enough reason to keep going.
"Of course it came up," he said. "But nah, I told them, at the end of the day, I'm worried about my health. If it happens, it happens. I mean, it's going to take care of itself. If I think about, 'Oh, well, I can keep playing with my knee and all this,' I think that's just being selfish."
What may help Davis’ case is, appropriately, his versatility.
Although the first line of his Twitter bio reads “Forward for the New Orleans Pelicans!”, 56 percent of his minutes this season came at center, according to Basketball-Reference, the most in his four-year career. And while some voters noted that they don’t see themselves squeezing the Pelicans’ starting power forward onto their ballots at center, it’s happened before.
Davis played just 3 percent of his minutes at center last season -- the same amount, oddly enough, that he played at small forward that season -- yet 15 of the 119 first-team votes and 16 of the 129 total votes he received last season placed him at center.
There’s also the case of DeMarcus Cousins. Boogie logged 100 percent of his minutes at center last season, per Basketball-Reference, and accordingly received 85 of his 88 votes there ... only to end up a second-team “center/forward." Pau Gasol, the center for last season’s second team, played just 68 percent of his minutes at the 5.
Total points are what matter, and Cousins (222 total points) finished with more than Blake Griffin (189), who played 98 percent of his 2014-15 minutes at power forward. As a result, the Kings leviathan got the second-team nod, despite playing in 59 games for a 29-53 team.
Davis, for what it’s worth, said Monday that he’s punched in enough hours this season for voters to work with.
Alvin Gentry, Davis’ coach, has been a smidge more direct in his feelings on the subject.
“To me, if you’re asking me if he’s one of the 15 best players in the NBA, I don’t think that’s even up for discussion,” Gentry said Sunday. “If anybody that doesn’t think he’s one of the top 15, they shouldn’t be writing or they shouldn’t be coaching in this league.”
The decision, of course, is not that simple. Voters already have much to consider in order to determine if Davis is worthy based on merit alone. Now they also must weigh the real-world implications on one of the game’s brightest young stars and the franchise fighting to build a nationally relevant team around him.