Former UK star led Pelicans in playoff run

Published 12:10 pm Thursday, May 10, 2018

LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Kevin Durant wasn’t surprised with the way former Kentucky standout Anthony Davis performed in the Western Conference semifinals.

The Golden State Warriors standout and Davis played on the same U.S.A. men’s basketball team that won a gold medal in the 2012 Olympics, Even then — months after leading Kentucky to its eighth national championship — Davis was turning heads.

“We went to London in 2012 for the Olympic team, and I’m talking, you had Kobe, LeBron, myself, CP, Melo, Russ, James, some real good players,” Durant recalled. “You could tell he was going to be really, really special, even at that early age, the stuff he was doing back then was really advanced.”

Since that time, Davis has flourished. He helped lead New Orleans to a sweep of Portland in the opening round of the NBA playoffs this season and proved to be a handful in the Pelicans’ 4-1 series loss to Golden State in the second round. In nine postseason games, Davis averaged 20.1 points and 13.4 rebounds per game. He had 47 points, including 33 in the second half, in the series finale against the Trail Blazers.

“It’s going to be really dangerous for people coming up here soon because he can do everything. He can do it all,” Durant said. “He can shoot. He can turn it around over you, shoot it, shoot the hook shot, pick-and-roll, catch lobs. He’s just getting more comfortable and some playoff experience is definitely going to help, as well.

“Glad I got an opportunity to compete against somebody like that, and when it really means something in the playoffs. You know, you can just kind of see the growth that he’s gone through as a player. I can appreciate that.”

In his fifth season, Davis helped lead New Orleans to new heights as the Pelicans captured their first series and finished the season with 53 overall victories. Davis averaged 28.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game during the regular season. Although impressive numbers, Davis wasn’t entirely satisfied and expected nothing less than an NBA title.

“Any time you don’t win a championship, I don’t see how it could be successful,” he said. “We can take a lot of positive things from the season. Of course one of our main guys went out and everybody doubted us. Everybody counted us out and we were able to keep fighting, keep pushing as a unit and able to come this far. There are no moral victories but it’s a lot that we can take from the season. Any time you don’t win the championship, not sure how much success you really had.”

New Orleans stood at 28-26 after losing former Kentucky forward DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending injury, but finished the season on a strong note, winning 20 of its last 28 regular-season games.

“We just reinvented ourselves,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “We said, OK, we’re going to have to play differently, and this is how we’re going to play, and our guys did that.

Gentry said Davis and teammate Jrue Holiday are the team’s two top cornerstones in moving forward.

“Those two guys I think are going to be a great anchor for our franchise,” he said. “We just have to look and figure out what we can add that’s going to make us better than we are this year.’

Darius Miller, a former teammate of Davis at Kentucky is likely to be back, but ex-Kentucky standouts Cousins and Rajon Rando aren’t guaranteed to be back next year. Having Cousins in the post will take the pressure of Davis, which he declined to discuss following the Game 5 loss to the Warriors.

“I’m still trying to get over this, so that’s something I’ll be talking about later on,” Davis said. “Right now, just trying to get over this, this series loss, and that’s really it, honestly. When the time comes up, we’ll discuss it then.”

Overall, Gentry said the team’s postseason run proved to be a learning experience for Davis.

“From the first round to the second round to the next round to the finals, you’re going to play against a really elite team,” Gentry said. “I think he understands that. I still think he’s truly one of the great players in this league, but he’s probably a better person than he is a player. And I think when you have that kind of player and person to build around, that you’re headed in the right direction.”