Pelicans' Davis eagerly awaits playoff debut

NEW ORLEANS (AP) It takes a certain self-confidence for a college freshman to embrace a potentially pejorative nickname like ''The Unibrow.''

Perhaps that was an early sign that Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, who led Kentucky to a national title in 2012, had not just the talent, but also the intangibles to lift a sinking NBA franchise back to playoff contention.

Three years into his pro career, the jovial, easygoing 22-year-old with one long eyebrow is emerging as one of the league's brightest young stars - if not the brightest.

Now he'll get to display all that talent on the NBA's big stage.

New Orleans' rising star will make his playoff debut against league-best Golden State on Saturday, with a lot of eyes on him.

''I'm just proud of these guys, proud of our coaching staff,'' Davis said, sharing credit after his 31 points, 13 rebounds, three blocks and two steals led New Orleans to a playoff-clinching victory over defending champion San Antonio on the final night of the regular season.

''We made it - made the playoffs, reached our goal,'' Davis added. ''But it's not over.''

Davis is already a team leader and two-time All-Star who seems destined for playoff success at some point, even if it doesn't come this year against the top-seeded Warriors. Golden State took three of four games from New Orleans this season and finished with the best record in the league by seven victories.

When it comes to winning, Davis has already compiled a notable resume.

Just months after celebrating a college national title in New Orleans, Davis was on his way to the London Games, where at age 19 he won gold with Team USA.

By last summer, at 21, he was a premier front-court force for the Americans as they rolled to a FIBA World Cup title.

When Pelicans coach Monty Williams reflects on his approach to developing Davis' game, he mentions advice he received from his mentor, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

''Pop taught me something a long time ago: You don't want to mess it up. When you have a player like A.D., you want to make sure you give him a chance to be great,'' Williams said. ''That's what we've tried to do here.''

With New Orleans, Davis has been allowed to explore the bounds of his talent and expand his game.

On offense, the 6-10 power forward is as likely to pull up for a 20-foot jumper as explode to the hoop for a rim-rattling dunk.

''He doesn't really have a go-to move, so it's hard to really try to stop one specific thing,'' Warriors forward Draymond Green said Thursday. ''He doesn't overpower you. He uses his length well. He uses his athleticism well. He's improved his jump shot a lot, whether it's 18 feet or a turnaround jumper in the post.''

Having played point guard in youth basketball before a growth spurt in high school, Davis can dribble in the open floor on fast breaks and shows an instinctive knack for knowing when to pass. He displayed that part of his game on Wednesday night, picking up loose ball near mid-court, starting a fast break the other way and quickly firing a chest pass to the left corner, where Ryan Anderson hit an open 3-pointer.

After Norris Cole - who won NBA titles in Miami with LeBron James - was traded to New Orleans last February, he marveled at the way Davis could block a shot, corral the rebound, deliver a quick outlet pass, and then sprint down floor in time to slam down an alley-oop lob.

''Norris Cole always says I'm on another planet,'' Davis says. ''I'm just out there having fun.''

This season, Davis averaged 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game.

''Sometimes I think it's crazy, like, `Who does something like this?''' Davis said, referring to some of the gaudy statistics he now posts on a regular basis. ''But when you're out there having fun, anything can happen.''

Williams, meanwhile, has been gratified to see Davis' individual success always seems to come in the context of what the team needs.

''It happens for him because of his talent and how hard he plays,'' Williams said. ''But our guys look for him. They know that more than likely, he's going to carry us. ... And a lot of the stuff, he creates on his own - blocked shots, steals, assists. Just a really, really good player.''

And a player whose NBA career is in relative infancy.

''About five years ago he was in high school, and now if you look at his accomplishments, you can't just look at that and say, `Ho-hum,''' Williams said. ''You look at that and you're like, `This is different.'''

---

AP Sports Writer Antonio Gonzalez in Oakland, California, contributed to this report.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.