All through the FIBA World Cup, the Pelicans have watched with interest as Anthony Davis has been at the forefront of Team USA’s sprint to Sunday’s title game against Serbia (2 p.m., ESPN2).
To some of the players, Davis has continued what he started last season, when he showed improvement offensively and was selected to the NBA All-Star team for the first time.
Others see a difference in Davis, who has seemed more assertive playing on a team with some of the best players in the world.
“He’s a confident player now,” Pelicans assistant coach Randy Ayers said. “The good players in the league are confident players, and when he goes up to shoot, he thinks he’s going to make every shot. That’s the difference I see from afar. That, and he’s stronger.”
Point guard Jrue Holiday participated with the U.S. team during the summer of 2013, after just joining the Pelicans. Having only gone against him twice during Davis’ rookie season, Holiday was taken aback during those practices, saying he didn’t know Davis was so good offensively.
Now, he’s even more impressed.
“(His play) is at another level,” Holiday said. “Last time he was on the Olympic team (in 2012), he didn’t get to show all the stuff that he could now. He seems like the go-to guy on the national team, and that’s a big deal.”
A win against Serbia would give Davis gold medals in the Olympic Games and the World Cup — at the age of 21.
It may not come without a challenge. Serbia has 7-foot center Miroslav Raduljica, who can score inside with his size and strength and cause problems with his offensive rebounding. Against a similar team, Lithuania, in the semifinals, Davis had eight points and six rebounds and fouled out after 19 minutes.
Getting Davis and center DeMarcus Cousins in foul trouble would be part of Serbia’s winning formula. Cousins also fouled out against Lithuania.
But the disruptive length and quickness of Davis figures to be a factor in negating Serbia’s main weapon: point guard Milos Teodosic. The 6-5 standout drives to the basket well and passes to teammates for open 3-point shots; he also has shot 49 percent on 3-pointers from the shorter international distance.
Davis leads the U.S. team in scoring (13 points per game) and blocked shots (2.25 bpg), and he has averaged 6.9 rebounds. Davis has 18 blocked shots in eight games; Serbia, as a team, has 11.
Pelicans teammate Ryan Anderson, who was rehabbing in Sacramento, California, after surgery to repair two herniated disks in his neck, had not seen Davis before he left in late July to begin practicing with the U.S. team. But he had heard about the work Davis put in.
“I was hearing stories about AD now having massive arms and looking like he’s even gotten taller,” Anderson said. “So I wanted to check out the games to see for myself.”
“He’s been tremendous,” Anderson said. “I think he’s at the ultimate confidence level.”
Team USA, 8-0 in the tournament, has won by an average of 32.5 points. It’s one of the most dominant showings in international basketball history, behind only the performances of the 1992 U.S. Olympic team (43.8) and the 1996 U.S. squad (31.8).
Davis said the team has been motivated by the gruesome injury Paul George suffered in an intrasquad scrimmage Aug. 1.
“It was just so much on our minds to see one of our brothers go down like that,” he said. “But now … we want to try to win this gold medal for him.”