General managers around the NBA aren’t ready to call Anthony Davis the league’s best player. But Tuesday they sent a clear message that they expect him to be soon enough.
The Pelicans’ 22-year-old star was the overwhelming choice of NBA GMs as the player they’d most want to build a new franchise around in the league’s annual general manager survey released Tuesday.
Asked “If you were starting a franchise today and could sign any player in the NBA, who would it be?” 86.2 percent of GMs chose Davis.
Only two other players got votes, with the Cavaliers’ LeBron James and the Thunder’s Kevin Durant each getting 6.9 percent. Last year, James was the GMs’ top choice with 50 percent of the votes.
“Of course, Anthony Davis, build around that guy,” TNT and NBA TV analyst Brent Barry said in a conference call Tuesday. “Twenty-two-years-old and gonna transcend his position over the next decade. It’s gonna be awesome to watch.”
James edged Davis as the general managers’ choice to win MVP in the 2015-16 season, getting 39.3 percent of the vote to Davis’ 25 percent. Durant and the Houston Rockets’ James Harden tied for third at 10.7 percent with the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook each getting 7.1 percent.
James likely was the MVP choice because GMs see his Cavaliers having team success. The Cavs, who lost to the Warriors in last season’s NBA Finals, were the top choice to win the 2016 title, getting 53.6 percent of votes. The San Antonio Spurs got 25 percent of the vote. Golden State got 17.8 percent and Oklahoma City 3.6 percent.
The 6-foot-10 Davis was the GMs’ choice as the league’s top power forward, getting 82.1 percent of the votes. Blake Griffin and James — who was voted the league’s top small forward — each got 7.1 percent of the power forward votes. Davis got 6.9 percent of votes as the league’s top center — a position he plays only in certain lineup combinations — and tied for third in that category.
Davis finished second to the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard as the best defensive player in the NBA, getting 17.2 percent of the votes to Leonard’s 27.6. He finished second to the Memphis Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol by the same margin in voting for the league’s best interior defender.
But even after a season in which Davis averaged 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and a league-high 2.9 blocked shots per game and led the Pelicans to 45 wins and a playoff appearance — they were swept in four games by eventual champion Golden State in the first round — the jury remains out on the Pels.
New Orleans got 14.3 percent of GM votes for the most-improved team in 2015-16, finishing third behind Oklahoma City Thunder and Milwaukee. General managers were asked to pick the top four teams in each conference, and the Pelicans did not receive any votes in the West.
But GMs voted new Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry as the new or relocated coach who will make the biggest impact this season. Gentry was the choice of 32.1 percent of voters; 28.6 percent went with new Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan.
And TNT analyst Reggie Miller said in a conference call Tuesday that if Davis “can be the No. 1 option that everyone assumes he is, then this team can take the next level.”
“Winning and being a successful player, it’s a drug, because you always want it,” Miller said. “When you’re Anthony Davis and you’ve had that type of success, where now you’re the No. 1-paid player in the Association, you’ve got a boatload of commercials and endorsements, you were first-team All-NBA and now you’ve touched the playoffs — you were up 20 points in Game 3 at home and everyone’s patting you on your back — you want to get there and go further. That’s the drug fueling you.”
Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday played a little more than 15 minutes in Monday’s exhibition loss at Houston, a preseason high and the first step in a gradual increase of his minutes restriction.
Holiday, who’s recovering from a stress reaction in his right leg, had been limited to about 10 minutes per game in the Pelicans’ first five preseason games.
“There’s a set schedule, and with that schedule, if my leg ever feels like it’s starting to bother me, we can adjust it,” Holiday told reporters Tuesday. “Right now since it’s been going pretty well, we’ll just stick with that schedule.”
Holiday said his minutes increased in practice — from 45 minutes to 60 — before he was cleared for additional game minutes. He’s still limited on double practice days and takes required days off, including Tuesday.
His gradual minutes increase is “right on schedule,” Holiday said.
“I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent,” he said. “I wouldn’t even say I’m 80 percent, but I feel really good.”