New Orleans Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis left last summer for the USA Basketball training camp after working on his game and strength.
He was a sensation at the camp, gained confidence and parlayed that into a season in which he was on the NBA All-Star team.
Davis again is heading out for a stint with the USA team, which will begin preparations Monday in Las Vegas for participation in the FIBA World Cup from Aug. 30-Sept. 14 in Spain. And he is prepared to build on his previous showing, his work in the weight room obvious in his shoulders and arms being much more muscular than they were during the past season.
“I know I needed to get stronger, so that was one of the top priorities on the list, to make sure I was in the weight room,” he said. “It gives me more ability to attack the basket and finish through contact … and when I’m posting up or playing post defense.”
Pelicans coach Monty Williams said Davis, 6-feet-10, has his weight up to 237 pounds. It was listed at 220 during the regular season.
And, like last summer, his skill level is up, too. Williams said Davis worked on improving his strengths, such as shooting, but he also worked with him on post moves.
“I feel like I’m a little better,” Davis said. “I added a couple of things to my package, but you never know until it happens, till I actually go out there and play. I’m confident in my game and my skill set and what I’ve been working on. So it’s just about going out there and testing it out and seeing if I can put it to use.”
This is Davis’ third consecutive summer with USA Basketball. At age 19 and after being the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft by New Orleans, he was on the 2012 gold-medal winning Olympic team during which much more established star teammates such as Kobe Bryant gushed about how precocious he was and about his skills and tremendous potential.
Last summer, his play, including surprising offense, and potential had USA coach Mike Krzyzewski gushing. Now, with star players such as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and others sitting out, Davis appears primed for more of a leadership role. The team has last season’s NBA MVP, Kevin Durant, and Kevin Love, who also played on the 2012 Olympic team. However, it is dotted with new faces.
“I think I’m starting to get used to the system and the game and what coach wants from us and wants from me,” Davis said. “So, I think that the next time around, I know a little bit more about the game and the system than probably some of the other guys, the new guys coming in. I’m going to try to lead this team to where it wants to go.”
That leadership may be best felt on defense. Davis entered the NBA with quite the reputation as a defender, compared by many to former Celtics great Bill Russell. Last season, Davis’ second, he led the NBA in blocked shots.
Krzyzewski has placed a premium on improving the national team’s defense. He considers Davis, because of his length, quickness and leaping ability, to be a valuable piece. Krzyzewski is particularly enamored with Davis’ ability to switch off on picks and the like and not put the team at a disadvantage.
Davis said his leadership will extend to both ends of the court but that he was certainly cognizant of defense being a focus. Communication will be a key, he said.
“I know I’m going to be part of that back line, and we’ve just got to get the whole team talking on defense,” he said. “We can score with the best of ’em but we were kind of lax on defense last year.
“I’m going to be talking on defense and hope the guys follow suit.”
Davis can expect a versatile role on defense. That also may included playing center when the team goes to a quicker, trapping-style lineup of more pressure defense that forces a faster tempo. The only true center on the team is the Sacramento Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins at 6-11, 270.
On Aug. 1, the final day of training camp, USA Basketball will hold its showcase, dividing the team into Blue and White squads coached by Williams and fellow assistant coach Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls. Davis was particularly impressive in last year’s showcase, leaping for strong finishes on the fast break, blocking shots, grabbing rebounds and showing surprising shooting ability.
After a 12-day break, the team will reassemble on Aug. 14 in Chicago, Davis’ hometown, and will play an exhibition against Brazil on Aug. 16. He missed the Pelicans’ only games in Chicago each of his two seasons because of injuries.
Team USA also will play exhibitions in New York on Aug. 20 against the Dominican Republic and Aug. 22 against Puerto Rico.