Anthony Davis keeping Pelicans in 2015 Playoff Race

anthony-davis-nba-best-playerThere’s no debate about what the most-competitive division is in the NBA right now. The Southwest Division in the Western Conference currently features the number two, four, six and seven playoff seeds. And the only team in the Southwest Division that’s not currently qualified for postseason? The New Orleans Pelicans at 33-28.

Assuming New Orleans were in the East, they’d be the number-six seed and comfortably ahead of seventh-seeded Miami (27-33). But they’re not and so they’re going to have to scrape to surpass Oklahoma City (34-8) for the West’s final spot. And if they do accomplish this feat, the team owes a huge debt to Anthony Davis.

The 21-year-old is currently averaging 24.2 PPG, 10.3 RPG and 2.8 BPG while shooting 54.5% from the field. People can debate back and forth about whether James Harden, Steph Curry or LeBron James are the league’s MVP right now. However, nobody is more important to their team than Davis.

Take last night for instance, where the 6’10” forward led his team past the Detroit Pistons by a score of 88-85. He played 42 minutes, scored 39 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked eight shots. The end of the game was just as significant as the numbers, where he scored two of New Orleans’ final three baskets and disrupted Reggie Jackson’s potential game-tying three. It’s pretty easy to do the math here; without Davis on the court, the Pelicans were definitely losers.

anthony-davis-vs-pistons“He had one of the most well-rounded games I have ever seen, defensively, offensively, hitting shots, (and) affecting the game in multiple ways,” Pistons veteran forward Anthony Tolliver said after the game. “He is a special player.”

The only chink in this special player’s armor right now is a recent injury that kept him sidelined for five games. In fact, Wednesday night’s contest against the Pistons was just his first game back since the injury. And it was obvious that rust wasn’t an issue as Davis completely dominated all facets of the game. If only he could shoot three-pointers too…

It’s doubtful that the Pelicans will also be expecting Davis to fill this duty too. However, they are certainly going to need all of his contributions down the stretch as the race for the eighth playoff seed heats up. There’s honestly not a player in the league who can impact the game on both ends of the floor as much as Davis. And at 21 with just two years of experience in the league, it’s hard to fathom how good he’ll eventually be.

But first thing’s first, and that will be guiding New Orleans to their first playoff appearance in years. The team’s next six contests are all winnable, with a tough home game against Memphis mixed in there. Then things really get tough with games @Phoenix, @Golden State, @LA Clippers and vs Houston. Obviously this stretch won’t be easy, but with Davis back and healthy again, the Pelicans shouldn’t fear their ability to compete with any team.

2013 NBA Draft Winners and Losers

anthony-bennett-nba-draft-1At this point, most NBA executives and coaches don’t see the 2013 NBA Draft as one that will produce lots of future All-Stars and Hall-of-Famers. But this certainly doesn’t mean that the 2013 Draft wasn’t exciting because there were some high-profile trades and surprising picks. That said, let’s talk about who made out with these trades and picks along with which teams/players ended up losers after draft night.

Winner #1: Anthony Bennett

Seeing as how this wasn’t a talent-rich draft, the number one pick was up in the air. Even still, few people saw 6’7″ UNLV forward Anthony Bennett going as the top pick. In unbelievable fashion, the Cleveland Cavaliers took Bennett with the first overall selection and see him as their swingman of the future.

The Mountain West Player of the Year was just as shocked as anybody when David Stern called him up to the podium. “I’m just really as surprised as everyone else,” Bennett said. “I didn’t have any idea who was going No. 1 or who was going No. 2. I heard everything was up for grabs. But I’m just real happy, glad I have this opportunity.”

Loser #1: Nerlens Noel

nerlens-noelRail-thin Kentucky center Nerlens Noel was about as close to a clear-cut number one pick as anybody entering last night’s draft. Not only did the Cavs pass on him, but so did four teams after Cleveland. Noel’s freefall ended when the New Orleans Pelicans chose him with the sixth pick, although it wasn’t for them.

The Pelicans traded Noel along with a first round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for point guard Jrue Holiday and second round pick PG Pierre Jackson. The 7-footer probably won’t play until at least November, following surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament that he suffered at Kentucky. And this definitely contributed to his descent on the draft board.

Winner #2: New Orleans

The Pelicans brought in one of the NBA’s most talented point guards to usher in a new era that includes a name change and different look. Holiday averaged 17.7 PPG and 8.0 APG last year on a Philadelphia team that didn’t exactly have many weapons. New Orleans is now hoping he can put up similar or better numbers for them.

The only problem will be deciding what to do with their loaded backcourt, which includes PG Greivis Vasquez and SG Eric Gordon. The latter isn’t happy in the Big Easy right now and could be trade bait this offseason.

Loser #2: Ben McLemore

ben-mclemore-draftMany thought that Kansas guard Ben McLemore was a lock to be selected in the top three. After all, he’s already a great shooter and gifted scorer following one year of college seasoning. However, he ended up going to the Sacramento Kings at pick number 7, which surprised many draft fans.

Scouts saw McLemore as a very good all-around player who can create shots for himself off the dribble. But as the draft drew closer, there were talks of him not being aggressive enough to take over games and justify a top-three pick. Now he’ll spend his rookie campaign on the hapless Kings, who’ve been non-competitive for years.

Winner #3: Boston Celtics

The Celtics’ aging core of coach Doc Rivers, PF Kevin Garnett and SF Paul Pierce clearly wanted out of Boston. Meanwhile, the Celtics, even with a healthy Rajon Rondo, seem like they’re better off rebuilding, rather than taking one or two more hopeless shots at a title.

On draft night, all parties got what they wanted as Pierce and Garnett were shipped off to a better team in New Jersey, while Boston unloaded big salaries and got several draft picks. The Celtics will now have New Jersey’s first round picks in 2014, ’16 and ’18, along with the option to trade picks in ’17. The ’14 pick is key since next year’s draft should be loaded with talent.

Loser #3: Both the Charlotte Bobcats and Phoenix Suns

cody-zeller-draftThe Charlotte Bobcats and Phoenix Suns aren’t playoff teams, which would make one think that they’d be gunning for players with tremendous upside. However, both clubs dropped the ball when they passed on Noel and McLemore at the fourth and fifth picks.

The Bobcats took Indiana center Cody Zeller with the fourth selection. And while Zeller is a mobile 7-footer with good all-around skills, he’s hardly the game-changer that Noel or McLemore could be. The same goes for the Suns and picking Alex Lens at the number five slot. On a team that needs so much, opting for a center who figures to have a solid, but unspectacular career isn’t going to get it done.

Winner #4: Victor Oladipo

Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo was projected by many to be a top five pick. However, most of these projections had him at the latter end of this range, and guys like Noel, McLemore and Otto Porter Jr. tabbed in the top three spots. So when Oladipo went number two overall to the Orlando Magic, some analysts were a bit surprised.

However, it’s not so crazy when you consider that he’s extremely athletic, has a great first step, takes high-percentage shots, and above all, plays defense better than any guard in the draft. Sure he’s a little short for a shooting guard (6’4″) and isn’t the greatest passer, but Oladipo should definitely make a big impact in Orlando with his shooting and defense.

Loser #4: Shabazz Muhammad

shabazz-muhammadLast year many people saw Shabazz Muhammad as a potential number one pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. And why not since he’s a 6’6″ shooting guard with a 6’11” wingspan, a good three-point shooter, and a player who’s already got the strength to compete with veterans.

However, none of this was enough to overshadow Muhammad’s subpar defense, character questions and lack of an all-around game. He was still a lottery pick, but just barely as the Utah Jazz picked him at number 14, then traded his rights to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Cavaliers shock Basketball World by taking Bennett No. 1

anthony-bennett-nba-draftThe 2013 NBA Draft isn’t even halfway finished yet, but no matter what happens tonight, people are mainly going to be talking about the Cleveland Cavaliers number one pick. The Cavs shocked pretty much everybody involved in the basketball world by taking UNLV forward Anthony Bennett first overall.

Bennett, who won the Mountain West Player of the Year award as a freshman, becomes the first Canadian to go number one in the NBA Draft. He’s also the second UNLV player to be selected with the top pick, an honor he now shares with retired forward Larry Johnson.

Many people who attended the draft were baffled when Bennett was first off the board. According to the DraftExpress mock draft, the 6’7″, 239-pounder was expected to go with the eighth pick. He definitely showed a good overall game by averaging 15.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.2 BPG, and shooting 38.3% from the three-point line. However, he wasn’t exactly considered number one overall pick material coming into tonight. CBS Sports NBA writer Zach Harper summed this up pretty good when he wrote:

Bennett is a big-time scoring prospect, but doesn’t exactly have the cachet of someone you’d expect taken with the top pick. Bennett has a really good face-up game with range out to the 3-point line.

nerlens-noelMany experts thought that the Cavaliers were leaning towards selecting either Kentucky center Nerlens Noel or Maryland center Alex Len. After all, Cleveland has a solid young nucleus with PG Kyrie Irving, SG Dion Waiters and PF Tristan Thompson. So adding a good defensive center would’ve given them another piece to building a future contender. However, they chose to go with Bennett, who’s expected to fill a hole at the starting small forward spot.

Nerlens was another surprise among the 2013 NBA Lottery selections because, not only did he not get taken first, but he also tumbled down to the sixth pick. The New Orleans Pelicans ended his freefall and quickly traded his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers for a package that includes All-Star guard Jrue Holiday.

Nerlens didn’t seem too dispirited about falling down the board as he hugged his mom and smiled at the podium after being picked. “I thought everything was in the air, so I wasn’t thinking I was the No. 1 pick,” the 7-foot shot-blocking specialist said.

victor-oladipoThe Orlando Magic avoided going with a center as well since they took Indiana guard Victor Oladipo with the second overall pick. After getting selected, Oladipo said, “It’s like a weight vest you took off after running five miles. It’s relaxing, man. But at the same time, you know it’s just getting started.”

The Washington Wizards kept Georgetown swingman Otto Porter Jr. in town by taking him with the third pick, while the Charlotte Bobcats took Oladipo’s Indiana teammate, PF Cody Zeller, with the fourth selection. Len rounded out the top five when he was taken fifth by the rebuilding Phoenix Suns.

Besides Noel, another surprising fall in the draft was former Kansas freshman guard Ben McLemore. Many mock drafts had him going within the top three picks, but he wasn’t taken off the board until the Sacramento Kings grabbed him with the seventh choice.

Georgia shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope went to the Detroit Pistons with the eighth draft pick. And Michigan guard/2013 Final Four hero Trey Burke was picked by the Minnesota Timberwolves at ninth, then traded to Utah for the 14th and 21st picks.

Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum was the first mid-major player to be selected as he rounded out the top 10. The Portland Trailblazers love the point guard’s sharp shooting, as McCollum averaged 23.9 PPG while shooting 51.8% from the three-point arc.