The basketball world has fawned over Anthony Davis as its secret for long enough.
It’s time for the rest of the planet to see what the fuss is about.
With Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans making their NBA playoff debuts at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against the top-seeded Golden State Warriors, Davis becomes the latest superstar to cross the threshold into the spotlight. It’s a chance for the former Rookie of the Year to transform from someone who makes highlight reels and stuffs stat sheets into someone who creates NBA memories.
Of course, Davis has many contemporaries in front of him who shouldered similar expectations making their initial playoff appearance in their third season.
In the eyes of many fans, critics and former players, Davis is right on schedule in his path to becoming a superstar. But the ensuing series, against the NBA’s best team, will be the guidepost for many as to whether Davis can be considered among the game’s elite entering the prime of his career.
“I think Anthony Davis gets to show a lot of people what he’s about,” TNT analyst Charles Barkley said. “This is a big opportunity for him, and I think he’s going to have a big series against Golden State, because they don’t really have anybody who can stop him one-on-one.”
This type of praise isn’t a rare phenomenon for rising stars making their playoff debut, particularly in their third season.
Few were as hyped as LeBron James in 2006, when the former No. 1 pick pulled the Cavaliers into a playoff matchup against the Washington Wizards. From there, James’ status shot into the stratosphere by recording a triple-double in the first game before putting the Cavs on a path to winning the series.
He kept his team alive in the second round as well, helping Cleveland work itself into a thrilling seven-game series against the reigning back-to-back Eastern Conference champion Detroit Pistons before bowing out. James’ playoff averages of 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists showed even at 21 years old, he was amply prepared for the postseason.
And Davis’ type of ascendancy isn’t a new phenomenon to New Orleans either.
In 2008, third-year star Chris Paul made his leap onto the national stage, leading the Hornets to their only playoff series win in franchise history by defeating the Dallas Mavericks in five games, before dropping a seven-game slugfest with San Antonio in the second round.
Paul introduced himself to the postseason by posting 35 points in the first game of the playoffs, en route to averaging 24 points, five rebounds, 11 assists and a pair of steals over 12 postseason games.
Two years later, Kevin Durant would arrive in a similar position with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The budding star — aided by his young teammates James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook — earned the No. 8 seed in the playoffs, drawing the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. After a pair of losses on the road, Oklahoma City and Durant climbed onto the national radar by taking the next two matchups at home before eventually succumbing 95-94 in the sixth game of the series.
Durant led OKC in scoring during all six games, averaging 25 points and nearly overshadowing Kobe Bryant as Bryant began the chase toward his fifth title. The Thunder and Durant would use the experience as a springboard, reaching the Western Conference Finals the next season and the NBA Finals a year later.
For some, it didn’t even take until the third season to reach that glory.
The NBA’s longest-tenured superstar, Tim Duncan, made a splash as a rookie in 1998, when he teamed with established star David Robinson to carry San Antonio into the second round after winning just 20 games the previous year.
Duncan scored 35 in his first game, then averaged 20 points, 9.5 rebounds and a pair of blocks as the Spurs’ No. 2 option, cementing the idea that the Rookie of the Year was soon to be one of the game’s premier talents.
So, if history shows anything, it’s this moment for Davis and the Pelicans is one to relish. It’s before the weight of expectations becomes a burden or the spoils of superstardom become ordinary.
The road has been paved by those before him with indelible images, and now it’s Davis’ chance to be the next to reach the upper echelon.
Whose path does he take?