Gulf Coast Showcase 2014: Teams, Schedule, Bracket and Predictions

The eight-team field at the 2014 Gulf Coast Showcase may not feature the marquee power conference squads that some of the other early-season tournaments do, but you could do worse than scouting some potential NCAA tournament teams in Southwest Florida in late November.

Green Bay, East Carolina, Fresno State, Evansville, Florida Gulf Coast, Marist, San Francisco and Hawaii make up the field and will try to add an impressive tournament win to the resume before conference play begins.

Here is a look at the essential information for this showcase that will take place in Germain Arena in Estero, Florida. A bracket can be found here, courtesy of the event’s official website.

 

Predictions

Florida Gulf Coast is the first team name to jump off that list and will certainly be a fan favorite at the event. The Eagles will bring in the local crowds over the holiday week, and head coach Joe Dooley was excited for the opportunity, via bdglobalsports.com:

We’re excited to participate in the Gulf Coast Showcase alongside some great teams while challenging ourselves against quality competition. A field of several 20-win teams has been assembled, and we’re looking forward to having the opportunity to compete in three games over three days at a venue just down the road from our campus.

Florida Gulf Coast will attract the fans for more than just the proximity of the team, though. The Eagles feature one of the best backcourt combinations of any mid-major team in the country and could reach the NCAA tournament again because of the guards’ production.

Bernard Thompson is a scoring machine on the wing, and Brett Comer is more than ready to set him up with impressive passing. 

ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla took notice of the pair during a win over Ohio, while Zach Miller of the Charlotte Sun pointed out that it was a record performance for both guards:

Florida Gulf Coast is a perfect 3-0 on the season and will reach the finals of this event behind the impressive guards. It loves to push the tempo on both ends of the floor and will overwhelm most of its opponents based on sheer athleticism alone. However, its run will end against Green Bay in the championship contest.

The Phoenix lost at Wisconsin in one of the nation’s most difficult venues to play in, but they bring a balanced attack to the table that features a strong defense and offense. Ken Pomeroy had the Phoenix as the No. 85 offense and No. 87 defense in the country in his pace-adjusted efficiency rankings (Florida Gulf Coast was No. 106 and No. 162, respectively) as of Sunday.

The Phoenix have a superstar of their own in Keifer Sykes. Sykes scored 22 points and dished out six assists against Illinois-Springfield and then followed that up with a 20-point performance in Madison.

Florida Gulf Coast can score, but it won’t be able to stop the Phoenix in the closing minutes. Sykes is the go-to guy, and if he can impress at Wisconsin, he can certainly put up some big numbers against the Eagles.

Predicted title game: Florida Gulf Coast vs. Green Bay 

Predicted champion: Green Bay

 

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Byron Scott Facing New Reality of Coaching Los Angeles Lakers

With another dreadful season underway, Byron Scott is getting a taste of what it’s like to helm the sinking ship known as today’s Los Angeles Lakers.

The longtime NBA operative has had his successes—two NBA Finals appearances with the New Jersey Nets and Coach of the Year honors in 2008 with the New Orleans Hornets.

But he has also had down years at each stop along the way, including most recently with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Now ensconced in his dream job—coaching the same purple and gold colors he wore on the floor during three Showtime championship runs—Scott searches for answers as the Lakers fall to 3-11 in the Western Conference.

The coach has endless trust in one of the league’s fiercest competitors. But Kobe Bryant is entering his twilight chapter, and there’s simply not enough talent amongst the Mamba’s supporting cast to win with any consistency.

 

Injuries played their part in the bobbled start, with Steve Nash and rookie Julius Randle out for the season. Adding to the woes, Nick “Swaggy P” Young missed the first 10 games of the season, nine of which were losses.

Games lost to injury are a part of every team’s narrative, however. And Scott, who was brought in to shore up a team who skidded to a 27-55 record last season, is plunging even faster than predecessors Mike D’Antoni and Mike Brown.

It’s enough to cause a lack of conviction among pundits, fans and even players.

As reported by Baxter Holmes for ESPN.com, the new Lakers coach is trying to keep the team’s competitive fires burning through motivational messages, including future title hopes: “I told them that I have no doubt that we will win a championship in my tenure here as head coach, because I know this organization. But I do know it’s going to take some patience. It’s a process.”

The current process includes a heavy reliance on Bryant, the last player remaining from the recent championship era.

Sometimes the team’s enduring star is brilliant, and sometimes you just have to scratch your head as he chucks up a long-distance prayer light years from home.

During a recent game preview, Darius Soriano for Forum Blue and Gold wrote about the difficult balance facing Scott:

With all the perks that come with coaching the Lakers and Kobe Bryant, what Scott must manage now is clearly one of the hard aspects. Getting all the players on the same page and effectively building a cohesiveness from a roster that isn’t familiar with each other, nor familiar with how Kobe responds in any given moment, is difficult.

Add a bunch of losing to the equation and things only get harder. But this is the job he signed up for. It’s time for him to put in the work or fail trying.

The Lakers’ coach is also dealing with a team that seems diametrically suited to his most fundamental precept—limiting easy baskets. Even if the team wasn’t loaded with stoppers, they were expected to show a consistent effort of trapping and corralling pick-and-roll penetration.

Speaking to Lakers.com’s Mike Trudell this summer, Scott said, “You want to clog up the paint as much as possible and make the opponent take contested jump shots.”

Unfortunately, that most elemental of responsibilities has headed resolutely in the wrong direction. In fact, Zach Harper for CBS Sports points out that the Lakers are on pace to become the worst defensive team in history:

Looking at their latest loss to the Mavericks, Basketball-Reference has the Lakers’ defensive rating for that game at a staggering 155.6 points per 100 possessions. It can also lead you to believe the Lakers’ one possibly historically bad game could have skewed the numbers to all-time futility. Unfortunately for the Lakers, that’s not true.

Nine of their 13 games have resulted in a defensive rating that would put them as the worst defense in NBA history. And three of those other games resulted in defensive efforts worse than the current 106.1 league average.

After being shelled in Dallas, Scott said, per Joey Ramirez for Lakers.com, “Sometimes I do feel like I’m talking to myself when I’m talking about the defensive end of the floor and just trying to stress how important it is to our guys each and every night.”

If so many things are going wrong, there are at least a few silver linings. The return of Young is adding much-needed firing power off the bench, backup big man Ed Davis is swatting opponents’ shots with abandon, and starting center Jordan Hill is leading the league in offensive rebounds.

And while Bryant’s field-goal percentage is his lowest in 19 years, he’s still averaging more points than anyone else in the NBA. That counts for something.

The temptation when things are going wrong is to try different methodologies on the fly. But it may not be as much a matter of Scott’s flawed fundamental philosophies as it is getting players to buy in.

After all, the Memphis Grizzlies are grinding out the best record in the West through defense, while the Toronto Raptors’ lead in the East is accompanied by that conference’s best team scoring.

It’s a sense of consistency and a readily identifiable style that often defines a team’s success.

The Lakers’ record is not due to any singular factor; however, their vessel is leaking like a sieve.

The upside is the potential to head back to the draft lottery for the second time in two years. The 2015 pick the team gave to the Phoenix Suns for the Nash trade is top-five protected.

There should also be enough cap space next summer to be active in the free-agent market.

Barely into a four-year contract, Scott will have to put championship dreams on hold for now and look toward the future. That means lessening his reliance on Bryant, building team chemistry, establishing a cohesive system and developing players.

Things will probably get worse before they get better—that’s the reality of coaching today’s Lakers.

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Recap: Cs Struggle again in 4th, Fall to Trail Blazers

The Celtics held one of the NBA’s top offenses under 100 points Sunday night, but struggled on the offensive end and lost 94-88. As to be expected, LaMarcus Aldridge led the way for the Trail Blazers with 20 points and 14 rebounds, while Chris Kaman had 16 off the bench and Steve Blake chipped in 11. The Trail Blazers have now won 7 in a row.
Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger led the way for the Celtics in the scoring column, each finishing with 19 points while Rajon Rondo totaled 13 points 8 assists and 6 rebounds.
The first half saw a significantly better effort on defense than we have seen from this Celtics team all season. They held the Blazers to 35% shooting from the floor including a 2/8 mark from Damian Lillard and a 4/13 from LaMarcus Aldridge. The Cs would have went into the half with a bigger lead had they been able to shoot better than 40% from the field.
The Celtics put together another solid defensive effort in the 2nd half, creating 10 turnovers. However, they shot a woe…

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What Derrick Rose does off court matters most

Chicago Bulls helps depressed neighborhood by supporting after program for kids

      
 

 

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Fordham Announces Ryan Canty Is Lost for Season, Then Drops Its 3rd Straight

Fordham head coach Tom Pecora told Bleacher Report 90 minutes before tip-off Sunday that center Ryan Canty will redshirt this season and return to the Rams as a fifth-year senior in 2015-16.

According to Pecora, the decision was ultimately made by the doctors who performed back surgery on Canty in September. Bleacher Report first reported on Canty‘s injury in August. At that time, it was thought he’d be out for at least the first month of the season.

Canty was expected to have a major impact this year. He would’ve been one of only two seniors trying to help guide a young team with seven freshmen. At 6’9″ he brought much-needed size and ability to the court. And, late last season, he seemed to be coming into his own.

Canty had 10 or more rebounds in five of the Rams’ final six games. In the regular-season finale against George Washington, he pulled down 16, then grabbed 19 in the play-in game of the Atlantic 10 tournament.

Canty took a leave of absence early in the 2013-14 season which resulted in him missing six games. This year he was hoping to continue the progress he made down the stretch a season ago.

In late August, on the day the Rams left for their trip to Canada, Canty told B/R he hoped to return “stronger [and better]“ after surgery. His back has been an issue throughout his college career. Now, his return is a full year away.

Without Canty, Fordham’s losing streak is now at three after UMass Lowell came into the Rose Hill Gym Sunday evening and shocked the Rams, 64-57. After back-to-back losses at Penn State and Maryland, Fordham returned home for the first of four games, looking to pick up a much-needed win against an opponent certainly not on the level of what it’ll see once conference play begins in January.

UMass Lowell had a 25-24 lead at halftime. After a series of lead changes in the second half, the River Hawks went up by 11 with 6:26 to go. Following a timeout, the Rams showed some life but eventually found themselves trailing by 12 with less than two minutes to play.

Fordham started fouling with 1:40 left. The River Hawks couldn’t hit a free throw (7-for-26 on the night), but the Rams didn’t have much success on the offensive end, shooting 33.9 percent from the floor for the game (5-for-27 from three-point range) and struggling to hit a shot when they needed one most in the final couple of minutes.

Sometimes injuries, or injury news, can overshadow whatever happens on the court. Last night’s loss overshadows everything.

Afterward, Pecora called the loss embarrassing.

“They wanted it more than we did,” he said. He added, “This is not a good one, I’m not going to lie to you.”

 

Quotations in this article were obtained firsthand.

Charles Costello covers the Fordham Rams for Bleacher Report. A full archive of his articles can be found hereFollow him on Twitter: @CFCostello.

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Kevin Garnett’s Quiet Bounceback Will Cap Career You Couldn’t Ignore

Who said NBA players can’t contribute in their 20th season? Whoever you are, don’t let Kevin Garnett know how you feel.

Garnett is averaging 7.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in only 23.8 minutes per game during his second season with the Brooklyn Nets, and his playing time is up a tick from last year.

He’s playing better defense. He’s more comfortable under Lionel Hollins‘ rotations than he was under Jason Kidd’s, when he would rarely play more than six or seven consecutive minutes at a time. Even if KG isn’t the superstar he used to be (who is at 38 years old?), he’s still somehow a contributor, a remarkable feat guys like him and Tim Duncan have accomplished at advanced ages. 

Both Garnett and Duncan have adjusted roles late in their careers, happily taking backseats to younger, current stars. It only contributes to the “leader” characterization both of them boast. But Garnett didn’t always carry such a moniker.

Garnett was a guy who “couldn’t win” at one point in his career, only further showing just how silly it is when athletes get that label. Paul Pierce had it, too. So did Ray Allen. They vanquished it when they all came together in Boston to earn their first rings in 2008. 

The way we rewrite reputation mid-career is nonsensical in that way.

You’re not a winner if you don’t have a ring. You’re a winner if you do have one. It’s as binary as it can illogically be, and yet, people still think like this when it comes to sports. 

It’s how Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony earn unsavory reputations just because neither has been to an NBA Finals.

Actually, “earn” is the wrong word choice. They didn’t earn it. They didn’t strive for it. 

They were strong actors in an unfortunate 1860s play. The “can’t win” label was a tomato, thrown from one of the obnoxiously drunk fans, Shia LaBeouf’s greatest inspiration. 

Grantland’s Zach Lowe wrote about this concept last week and even mentioned Garnett’s former reputation when trying to dispel the myth of having to garner a ring to be an overall winner:

The Western Conference bloodbath has created a lot of narrative victims over the last 15 or 20 years — and continues to do so today. Kevin Garnett couldn’t get out of the first round for seven years, and then he made the conference finals in Minnesota just once — in 2004, when the Wolves racked up the no. 1 seed and home-court advantage, an edge that helped in eking out a Game 7 home win over the Kings in the second round. Had they lost that game, the narrative gods would have rendered Garnett a loser — until he arrived in Boston and earned a ring with better teammates battling through the weaker conference.

Now though, we do remember Garnett as one of the NBA’s ultimate winners, in the same category as others like Duncan and Kobe Bryant, the faces of their generation. 

Kobe came into the league in 1996. Duncan in 1997. Garnett was in ’95. They set a tone by the time the mid-2000s arrived: brutal, intense winning, though they all found success in their own individualized ways.

Garnett was always the most intense guy in the room. You didn’t even need to be near him to see that. It’s why the below interview with Rajon Rondo is one of the best (and most genuine) caught-on-camera moments in recent memory.

As great as Garnett was in his prime, this is what we’re going to remember him for, right? The absolute craziness that no other human being in our lives could match in a similar way. And that’s part of why we’re seeing him succeed into 2014-15, which could, for all we know, end up being his final NBA season. 

Garnett has been better during his second year in Brooklyn. The per-36 numbers may be remarkably similar, but the actual production isn’t. 

KG was banged up last year, got off to a horrid start to the season, and though he recovered to have a strong second half, he never really contributed as much as he could.

“My mindset changed June 1, when I got back to my regimen,” Garnett said a couple games into this season, via Tim Bontemps of the New York Post. “I got back to what I know, I got back to what made me great over these years, I got back to who I am. 

“I’ve been ready from Day 1 for camp. I didn’t tell the world because you never know what tomorrow is, but I’m ready this year. I really want to say something else, but I’m not messing around. I’m here. I’m here.”

Now, he’s back to being KG, maybe not as productive as he was in Minnesota or even in the later Boston years, but the traits we came to appreciate about Garnett are still present.

He defends. He communicates on defense. He leads. He passes. And he can still knock down shots from mid-range.

The illegal screens, the ones which follow KG everywhere he goes and somehow evaporate from his skill set and condense in his teammates’, are all over. That’s one of the most fun parts of Garnett’s game. It’s not that his picks are so strong; it’s that whichever team he’s on immediately becomes a harder screen-setting team.

Ultimately, that trait defines Kevin Garnett; not necessarily the screening, but the ability transpose his best qualities into his teammates. It’s what’s helped him stay relevant, even at age 38.

In 10, 20, 30 years, we’ll remember the MVP-caliber seasons in Minnesota or the ring in Boston. We’ll recall the dynamic with Doc Rivers, Pierce, Allen and Rondo. We probably won’t think twice about Kevin Garnett, Brooklyn Net. For the present though, it’s always exciting to see an all-time great learn to contribute differently with a diminished skill set.

 

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade but maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at WashingtonPost.com or on ESPNs TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are current as of Nov. 24 and are courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com.

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Henton’s 38 lift Providence past Notre Dame 75-74

LaDontae Henton scores the go-ahead free throws for Providence.

      
 

 

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Reggie Jackson throws down monster and-1 dunk vs Warriors (Video)

Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Reggie Jackson dribbled around the defense and threw down a monster one-handed and-1 dunk during the second quarter of Sunday’s game against Golden State.Jackson is doing his part to pick up the slack for injured teammate Russell Westbrook, and he certainly brought the home crowd to their feet with this play.Jackson led the Thunder with 22 points, but it wasn’t enough as the Warriors beat the Thunder 91-86.Video via NBA.
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J.J. Barea’s Return to Dallas Is Just What Mavericks Needed

Sometimes, good things come in small packages. That has certainly been the case with J.J. Barea, who has made a triumphant return to the Dallas Mavericks.

The 2013-14 season wasn’t pretty for the 6’0″ point guard. Barea, 30, saw his minutes dwindle down with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He shot 38.7 percent from the field and 31.6 percent from three-point range, both career-lows excluding his rookie season.

The Timberwolves had no interest in keeping an inefficient veteran guard, especially with an injection of youth ahead of the 2014-15 campaign.

Minnesota decided to waive Barea, which prompted the Mavericks to free Gal Mekel of his duties in order to make room for the Puerto Rican. The decision appeared questionable at first, but Barea has looked like the same player who helped the Mavs put away the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals.

While Mekel was a promising player, he likely would’ve been buried on the bench for most of the year. Barea, on the other hand, has stepped into a familiar role and trusts his coach to figure out how to utilize him.

“I’m excited to be back. The best five years of my life were here. Hopefully we can get this going again,” Barea said after signing with the Mavs, according to ESPNDallas.com’s Tim MacMahon. ”Whatever they need me to do, I’ll be ready.”

In the game against the Washington Wizards on Nov. 19, Dallas needed a lot. Barea came up huge and sparked a late scoring spurt, as the Mavs handed the Wizards their first home loss of the season.

With just over three minutes remaining in the game, Barea gave the Mavs a one-point lead, salvaging a broken play by calmly knocking down a jumper on the wing. The following four offensive possessions Dallas ran Barea and Dirk Nowitzki in high pick-and-rolls, a combination Washington couldn’t figure out in time.

Barea followed up on his heroic game in Washington by dropping 16 points and dishing out eight assists in 22 minutes of action against the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 21.

With Devin Harris on the sidelines with a minor leg injury, Barea took full advantage and proved his value. Even with Harris back, Barea has gotten a chance to close games. Carlisle clearly likes what he has seen so far.

“But really, since he walked in here, he’s fit back in very well. And he proved the other night (in Washington) that if we need to stretch him out, he’s capable of delivering for us,” Carlisle said, according to Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News.

Barea might eventually be pushed further back in the rotation with Harris back in the fold. It’s still comforting for Carlisle to know he can rely on the Puerto Rican if his backcourt is hit with the injury bug.

Sometimes, Barea takes ill-advised shots or dribbles the ball far too long. But in a lot of ways, he is a terrific spark plug off the bench. Just like other guards on the Mavs‘ roster, he has found instant synergy with Tyson Chandler and Brandan Wright.

A decent chunk of Dallas’ offense comes through high pick-and-roll action, with guards penetrating and finding their big men with lobs after forcing weak-side rotations. Here are two examples:

The Lakers are obviously not an example of a great defense, but Barea is certainly capable of beating a lot of guys off the dribble. If his defender gets stuck on a screen, he possesses blistering speed that is very hard to deal with.

In the first clip, Barea‘s defender forces him to go left. The initial defensive rotation is there, but it’s almost impossible to react in time once you give the speedy veteran an open driving lane.

When Barea is on the floor, he dominates the ball a lot. Here are a couple of examples:

In the first clip, the Lakers do a good job stopping the initial pick-and-roll action. Barea holds on to the ball, runs another pick-and-roll and finishes the play off with a beautiful pass to a cutter.

Notice how he baits his defender further out. He does this a lot. It allows him to take a couple of dribbles and pick up his pace, before having his defender slam into a screen. Since he is tiny, Barea doesn’t need a lot of room to penetrate through the initial line of defense.

The second play is a simple drive-and-kick to Jae Crowder. Barea has done a great job of hitting corner shooters and swinging the ball to rolling big men so far. He understands Carlisle‘s offense and thrives with so many threats around him.

When Barea isn’t hitting shots, his ball-dominant approach can be somewhat frustrating, especially when you demote Monta Ellis to a spot-up shooter. He’s a guy you have to throw into games, see if he is feeling it and ride him if that is the case.

Defensively, Barea‘s size is an issue. He struggles getting around screens, isn’t great closing out on shooters and sometimes just drifts off mentally. He can also be an infuriating presence to deal with. Take a look at these two clips:

Barea is great at playing up close and physical against guards, pestering them on every dribble. A lot of players, especially bigger guys, like to abuse what they consider a mismatch and try to shove off. Barea bounces off players and sells that contact very well. He beats his matchup to the spot and forces turnovers in this unconventional way.

Considering the fact the Mavs got Barea at a discount, he is a great acquisition. Mekel was the sacrificial lamb, but he would not have seen enough minutes to develop as a player anyway. Instead, Carlisle now has another versatile ball-handler who knows and accepts the role he is given. 

The Mavs have always been great at picking up players when their market value is at a low, then turning them into effective pieces. Bringing back Barea is just another example of that.

 

You can follow me on Twitter: @VytisLasaitis

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How Much Will Pelicans’ Playoff Fate Affect Anthony Davis’ MVP Bid?

If the NBA season ended right now, Anthony Davis would be your 2014-15 MVP in a landslide.

The third-year phenom is dominating every facet of the game for the New Orleans Pelicans. He’s averaging 26.3 points (second-most in the league), 11.4 rebounds (sixth), 3.5 blocks (first) and 2.2 steals (third).

But the 82-game marathon is far from over. And while the playoff-hopeful Pelicans are 7-5 and a half-game out of eighth place in the Western Conference, Davis’ race to the MVP trophy could be brought to a halt if his team fails to make any type of run down the stretch.

Unfortunately for the Big Bad Brow, there are still upwards of 65 games left on the schedule. That leaves enough time for LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Carmelo Anthony, James Harden and a handful of other stars to catapult themselves into the conversation for the league’s top individual award.

But if AD keeps producing at his current pace and the Pelicans keep winning, none of those All-Stars has real a shot at keeping him from hoisting his first MVP trophy.

The key word in that sentence—and in Davis’ pursuit of his first MVP trophy—is crucial: Winning.

 

Why Davis Could Win MVP

The 21-year-old is barely old enough to drink, yet he leads the NBA in Win Shares (2.1) and Player Efficiency Rating (35.8) by an enormous margin.

Michael Lee of the Washington Post put Davis’ unreal numbers into perspective: “…Wilt’s best: 31.82. Jordan’s best: 31.71. LeBron’s best: 31.67,” he tweeted on Nov. 18.

Davis is, essentially, a new breed of basketball player. He’s always been a supreme shot-blocker. But in just three short years on the pro level, Davis has crafted himself into one of the game’s most complete all-around players.

After playing as a 6’3″ guard up until his junior year of high school, the lanky Davis sprouted an astounding seven inches in a year. And he might not be done growing, either.

Even at 6’10″, Davis has retained the guard skills he honed for much of his life, making him as well-rounded of a player as there is in the NBA.

“He is one of the game’s elite players right now, for sure,” James said before facing Davis earlier this year, per Jennifer Hale of Fox Sports. “You look at his numbers, points, blocks and steals. If he continues to stay healthy and grow like he’s been doing, he can be a superstar in this league for sure.”

A formerly lean beanpole, Davis has bulked up and gotten a lot stronger, reportedly adding close to 20 pounds since his was measured at the draft combine.

“I’m up to 238 right now. It’s all muscle, and that’s what I need,” Davis said over the summer, per Jim Eichenhofer of NBA.com. “I want to get stronger, so that when I post up, it’s a lot easier for me. I think it’s going to translate to the season, just my mentality, knowing that I’m a lot stronger and a lot better. It’s going to make me more aggressive.”

James, who also said Davis “doesn’t compare to anybody,” has won four of the past six MVP awards. Durant was able to dethrone LBJ last season, though, and according to the 26-year-old Oklahoma City Thunder star, Davis is “next in line.”

Here’s Eichenhofer with more from Durant after a Team USA practice:

I know how good he’s going to be. I know how good he is now, but I know how good he’s going to be. He’s an MVP-caliber player. So he’s next. He’s next in line – a guy that has grown so much in just a year. I’m excited to see what he does from here. He’s definitely on pace.

“It was shocking,” Davis said of KD’s words. “For a guy who knows what it takes to win an MVP award, telling me that I’m on my way, it means he sees something in me. That means a lot, especially from one of the best players in the league right now, if not the best. It just meant a lot. It made me want to work even harder.”

It’s one thing to put up big numbers from time to time, but being the best goes beyond the box scores.

On Nov. 18, the Pelicans took on the Sacramento Kings, a team that has already solidified itself as a legitimate threat this season.

Davis and Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins battled all night. While the Pelican outdueled the King, both were extraordinary. B/R’s Jim Cavan wrote about how the LeBron vs. Durant debate could soon become Davis vs. Cousins.

Here’s Cavan:

Like James and Durant before him, Davis’ arrival was never in doubt. It’s that it happened this quickly and this loudly—long limbs the focused-flailing cues for some chaotic basketball concert—which makes the music all the more magical.

At the rate he’s going, bursting box scores and leading the Pelicans toward their first playoff appearance in four seasons, Davis will remain a serious MVP candidate. Should he snag it, he’d be the youngest player ever to do so, beating Derrick Rose‘s 2010 feat by six months and change.

Davis finished with 28 points, nine boards, three blocks and two steals while Cousins wound up with 24 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks.

Midway through the fourth quarter, with the Kings surging, Davis came up limping after setting a screen. But he continued playing hard, never checked out and led his team to a 106-100 victory.

Four nights later, Davis absolutely erupted for a career-high 43 points on 16-of-23 shots to go along with 14 rebounds in a 106-94 win over the Utah Jazz.

Just a few weeks into the 2014-15 season, the rapidly improving Davis has cemented himself as one of the best players on the planet.

 

Why It’s a Long Shot

Davis will need to continue blowing up stat sheets in order to carve his name onto the league’s storied list of MVPs, but the gaudy numbers carry the same weight as the wins.

And in the wild, wild Western Conference, Davis could struggle to make the Pelicans a contender despite his individual greatness.

Of the 68 times a Most Valuable Player has been announced, just once has the winner failed to carry his team to the postseason: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975-76.

One time.

The Los Angeles Lakers finished with a 40-42 record that season, which was just one of two instances in league history that the MVP’s team finished with a sub-.500 record. The other came in the first year of the NBA, 1955-56, when Bob Pettit’s St. Louis Hawks finished 33-39 but did in fact make the playoffs.

In 1975-76, Abdul-Jabbar averaged 27.7 points on 52.9 percent shooting, 16.9 rebounds, 4.1 blocks, five assists and 1.5 steals. Abdul-Jabbar was not the general manager, and it wasn’t necessarily his fault the Lakers failed to earn a playoff berth.

Nor will it be Davis’ fault if New Orleans gets left out.

The Pelicans are not a bad team. While they’ve yet to taste the playoffs since Chris Paul was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in 2011, there has been improvement in recent years.

New Orleans just doesn’t have the amount of depth and talent its conference foes do. Davis is certainly a superstar, but one man can’t do it all.

While Davis’ best teammates, Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday, are respectable, the latter is still recovering from injury and the former frequently goes one-on-five.

Here’s what Pro Basketball Talk’s Brett Pollakoff said about AD’s MVP chances in late October:

There’s practically zero chance he wins the MVP this season.

Now, if Davis continues to put up these kinds of numbers, he’ll have a case, at least statistically. It’s just that the award always goes to the best player on one of the league’s top teams, and no matter how dominant Davis is, it’s tough to envision the Pelicans reaching those lofty heights.

Looking back at the past 15 MVP winners, each one played for a team that finished no worse than fourth in the league-wide standings. And, more often than not, the award-winner played for one of the top two regular season teams.

There’s almost no scenario where the Pelicans break into that group this season, which makes the MVP candidacy for Davis more than a long shot — it’s virtually impossible to envision.

Strong words, for sure.

But the hole in that argument is this: No player on any team that’s recently finished “worse than fourth in the league-wide standings” has been as good as Davis.

Is it unfair to punish a guy who, statistically, holds the most value, simply because his team fails to reach the postseason?

Perhaps. But winning—and making your teammates better—is an essential part of being the best.

Take Carmelo Anthony, for example.

‘Melo finished third in MVP voting back in 2012-13 after leading the league in scoring and carrying the 54-win New York Knicks to the playoffs. A year later, Anthony bumped up his rebounds and assists, became a more efficient scorer (from both two- and three-point range) and stepped up his game on the defensive end.

But in 2013-14, the Knicks showed everyone on a nightly basis how not to play basketball. They wound up with an immensely disappointing 37-45 record even while getting the best season of Anthony’s 12-year career.

Anthony finished 15th in MVP voting last season, despite improving in just about every facet of the game.

The Pelicans didn’t enter 2014-15 with the expectations of those Knickerbockers. New Orleans plays in the Southwest—by far the toughest division in basketball—and has to compete in a conference that is worlds better than its Eastern counterpart.

The Southwest is loaded. The San Antonio Spurs (reigning champs), Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies all made the playoffs last year and are very likely to do so again in 2014-15.

Last season, the eighth-seeded Mavericks clawed their way into the final playoff spot with a 49-33 record. The Toronto Raptors finished third in the East at 48-34, and the Atlanta Hawks beat out those dreadful Knicks to clinch the eighth-spot with a 38-44 record.

Seven of the West’s eight representatives from a year ago will likely be there again—the four returning Southwest squads along with the Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors.

Thanks to the injuries to Durant and fellow star Russell Westbrook, the Thunder would be the only team that could conceivably fall out of contention in the West.

Despite the odds stacked against his team, Davis sees the ‘Cans as playoff-bound. Here’s what he told Eichenhofer:

Year 2 to Year 3, I just want to get better. All my numbers I had last year, I want to see increase. I want to try to stay healthy and play at least 75 games. When I’m healthy and the whole team’s healthy, we’ll be a playoff team. We definitely had the pieces we need to be that team. Unfortunately last year, we were all hurt. I think that’s going to change.

Davis certainly has the right mentality. But the Kings are the real deal and so are the Phoenix Suns. If Durant and Westbrook come back soon enough, OKC may jump back into the fray, too.

So for New Orleans, making the postseason will not be easy.

And therefore, questions about Davis’ MVP chances will be fair game until he puts the Pelicans on his broad shoulders and does what Most Valuable Players do and, save for the anomaly that was Abdul-Jabbar, have always done:

Carry his team to the postseason.

 

All stats are accurate as of Nov. 24, courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

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