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Anthony Davis deserves better from the Pelicans

It’s great watching him dominate like few others. It’s frustrating when it’s somehow still not enough.

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Denver Nuggets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Anthony Davis should protest.

In 2006, the same year he dropped 81 points on the Raptors, Kobe Bryant refused to shoot against the Suns in Game 7 of the first-round playoff series. He had been criticized for his shot selection and lack of teamwork in the previous game, so after scoring 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting in the first half, he only took three shots thereafter. The Lakers lost by 31. The next year, he demanded a trade.

Davis should protest in that same manner. Not out of spite or malice, because he’s not Bryant, but because the theme of him dominating and the rest of his team floundering is frustratingly repetitive.

In his first game of the NBA season, Davis dropped 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists, and four blocks. He went 17 of 34 from the field and was near-perfect from the charity stripe.

Those stats are ridiculous. They’re the totals of a maxed out, impossibly built NBA2K player with the game set on the easiest mode. This is what happens when you make a 7-foot point guard who can run like John Wall, shoot like Stephen Curry, and dunk like a young Blake Griffin, then use him to terrorize the teams in the game after you become bored with it.

Yet Davis, as impossible as he is, is very real. He’s just the fourth player in NBA history to score 50 points on an opening night. And though that figure seems wholly arbitrary, the company he’s in is elite: Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor. He’s also the only player ever* to total at least 45 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, and five steals in a game.

*: Since steals became a stat

There’s an absurd joy in watching him play. He does things that someone his size should never be able to do. Even compared to the other athletic freaks that grace the NBA, Davis is such a marvel.

On his first shot of the game, he drove to the left baseline and shot a Dirk-like off-balance jumper over Denver’s Nikola Jokic.

The next shot was a long two-pointer over Jokic that made him look like a certain divisive and reptilian Laker legend. Then, a sky hook. On his next bucket, Davis got the ball at the right wing and Jokic came out to stop him. With almost any other player of his size, there’s no need for this closeout, but Davis is different.

On the very next made shot, Davis got the ball at the top of the key. Jokic, learning quickly, refused to get tight and get burned again. So, Davis pump-faked, Jokic hesitated, and then Davis shot a jumper over him anyway. Playing tight or loose, poor Jokic never had a chance.

Dunks from pick and rolls? Jumpers from pick and pops? Davis has those. Running the floor for fast-break layups and dunks? He has those, too. Bank shots from the post after spinning off not one, but two defenders? He did that as well. And he was also racking up assists when it was clear that double-teams were the only way to slow him down.

That is all well and good, but the joy of watching Davis do the absurd nightly is hindered by the rest of the Pelicans. His teammates can’t be expected to produce on the same level as him, but they should at least be good enough to supplement his prodigious skill.

Fifty-two points on 21-of-58 shooting for the other 10 Pelicans is not going to cut it. Starting point guard Tim Frazier did his part with 15 points and 11 assists. Take him away, and the other nine Pelicans scored a combined 37 points on 15 of 48 from the field. The Pelicans are handicapped by the absence of starting point guard Jrue Holiday, but even with him, they just aren’t good enough, and they won’t be all season.

Since 2012, when Davis was drafted, the Pelicans have zero playoff wins and only one season with a plus-.500 record. Last year was supposed to be their year, and Davis generally did his part when healthy. He averaged 24 points and 10 rebounds and notched a franchise-record 59 points and 20 rebounds against the Pistons in February, becoming the youngest player ever to score 59 points in a game.

The “when healthy” part is the only fork in Davis’ path to stardom. In March, Davis revealed that he had been playing through shoulder pain since his rookie year. Most were outraged that the Pelicans would jeopardize a Hall of Fame talent’s health.

At the same time, their approach is more understandable when you watch the team play. Without Davis, they’re lost. With him scoring almost half of their points, they’re still lost, but they can at least be competitive.

Davis is incredibly talented and he often has these preposterous games that stand on the border of reality and the surreal. But the insidious truth lurking beneath his gaudy numbers is that he has to be that good because everyone surrounding him stinks. That’s been the case in New Orleans from Day 1 and it doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon.

Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone expressed this sentiment after the game:

"When you play against a great player, you have a problem you need to answer: Are you going to shut him down and create problems elsewhere, or are you going to let him get his and hope nobody else goes off?”

Davis himself even understood the no-win situation he’s in:

"I'm going to have to — probably not 50 every night — but try to get somewhere along those lines every game to give ourselves a chance.”

Not to win games, but “give ourselves a chance.” That’s not acceptable. It’s wonderful to watch Davis be this good, but that type of burden and stress will only lead to more injuries, more wasted years, and a career that will be viewed through the window of what could have been.

Davis deserves better from the Pelicans before it’s too late.