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Anthony Davis has arrived. Again.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at New York Knicks Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON — Anthony Davis is terrifying. Everyone knows, but it’s worth remembering the genesis of that knowledge because at some point in our oversaturated consciousness we started to take AD for granted.

Flashback to three years ago when 21-year-old Davis led the Pelicans to the playoffs. Good lord, was he something back then. Remember that double-clutch buzzer-beater against the Thunder? Or how about the 31 and 13 against the Spurs on the last day of the regular season that sent New Orleans into the postseason?

And then against the Warriors, when he scored 126 points in four games vs. the eventual champs. We all knew then the age of AD was upon us, and it was only a matter of time ...

Time has a funny way of working in the NBA. It’s been only two and a half years since that inspired run, but Davis picked the worst time to take a step back. His struggles were relative — 24 and 10 is only a down year in the world in which Davis lives — but they were magnified by the rise of the next generation of prodigies.

As the Pelicans struggled through a pair of unsatisfying seasons, Davis aged out of the current clique of cool kids. He posted staggering numbers again last season, but few noticed in a playoff-less vacuum.

Everyone’s coming back around again on Davis now, though, and for good reason. He put up 45 and 16 in an overtime win against the Celtics that came on the heels of a 48 and 17 overtime comeback effort against the Knicks just a few days before. Clearly exhausted, on Wednesday he had his worst night of the season in a brutal loss in Atlanta.

Wednesday night’s slog notwithstanding, the Anthony Davis we’re watching now is a little different than the one we remember from his breakout season. He’s stronger and his game is more refined. He’s sharper on the defensive end and his shot selection has improved. You can see these subtle developments all over the court.

New Orleans Pelicans v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Good luck against him in the post. You used to be able to bully him a bit down there, knock him back a few feet and clog up his space. Those days are pretty much over now that he’s packed on muscle and has DeMarcus Cousins to attract attention. He’s shooting 75.1 percent in the restricted area, per

Say your prayers on the perimeter. He’s got enough of a handle and more than enough speed to blow past you on his way to the rim. That jumper has come along nicely, too. If you’re lucky he’ll settle for a 20-footer, but he’s settling less and less these days.

“What he’s becoming is a complete player,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry told me following the team’s shootaround. “To be labeled great in this league you have to do a lot of things.”

This is the grown-up version of Anthony Davis. He can still do everything, but he’s found the right balance between all-out domination and more focused streams of attack.

As his longtime teammate Dante Cunningham told me, “He doesn’t need to take on the weight of everything right now. He allows himself and us to get better with him.”


There is no doubt that playing with Cousins has helped bring out the best in Davis. Rather than getting in each other’s way, the two big men play off one another and complement each other beautifully, as our Mike Prada showed in his latest Prada’s Pictures.

Gentry offered praise for his assistant coach, Chris Finch, who brought a number of concepts and designs with him from Denver where he worked with Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic. The key in NOLA is that both AD and Boogie are willing passers who bought into the concept immediately.

“He’s a great player,” Davis said. “He commands so much attention on the floor, and he has an ability to pass the ball. He can shoot it and take it off the dribble. When he’s going into his move, I try to find space on the floor where he can see me in case he wants to get off the ball. There’s a lot of things he can do on the floor I didn’t know he could do, but being able to play with him for almost a whole season has been pretty cool.”

Davis has also taken on the task of defending stretch-fours, which has allowed Gentry to keep his twin towers on the floor together. Like his offensive improvement, AD’s defensive gains have been subtle.

Detroit Pistons v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Blessed with enormous physical tools, Davis now has a greater understanding of Darren Erman’s scheme and that has translated into an all-around influence on the team’s fortunes. They’re essentially a top 10 defense when he’s on the floor and abysmal when he’s not.

“Not many people go around him, and even if they do he’ll block it at the rim,” Cunningham said. “He’s there if you mess up. He’s able to switch on to guards and keep them in front. He does everything.”

It should also be noted that Jrue Holiday is playing some of the best basketball of his career. Holiday is a modern-day Dennis Johnson, a smart, heady guard who provides outstanding defense on the perimeter. He and Cousins are the two most talented teammates Davis has had during his tenure.

Still, there are concerns. The Pels have been consistently inconsistent. They’re not very deep and they’ve been holding out hope that Solomon Hill can help fill provide some much-needed wing support when he returns from injury sometime in the next month or so. Their defense has cratered whenever Davis and/or Holiday is on the bench.

Still, they are among a group of four teams angling for one of the final three spots in the West along with Portland, Denver, and the rejuvenated Clippers. There is much at stake for all those franchises and one of them will face difficult decisions if they are left out of the postseason.

That has led many to speculate, if not openly salivate, over the prospect AD may become available. To be sure, any franchise that has designs on future domination would be derelict in their long-term planning to not fully consider the possibility of acquiring Davis if he were to become available — which he’s not.

The Pelicans are in no hurry to part with Davis, nor should they be, but they are on the clock. This is Year Six for AD in New Orleans, and time is working against them. Davis has two years left on his deal after this, plus a player option for the 2020-21 season. That sounds like an eternity, but as he and they are acutely aware, time runs quickly in this league.

The next step looms larger every season, but let’s not lose sight of the current moment. This is the Anthony Davis we’ve always wanted. He’s arrived. Again.