Anthony Davis is in line to receive a $23 million bonus. Will he put together a good enough season to cash in?
Under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) exists what’s called a “Rose Rule,” named after Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. The rule allows for the salary of a player on a rookie max extension to increase from 25% of the salary cap to 30% of the cap if certain conditions are met.
In this case, that would equate to a $23 million bonus for Anthony Davis over the course of his contract extension. A player needs to meet at least one of these three criteria during his rookie deal in order to receive the bonus, per Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ:
1. The player earns MVP honors at least once
2. The player is voted an All-Star starter at least twice
3. The player gets named to the All-NBA First, Second or Third team at least twice
Even if Stephen Curry gets abducted by aliens and taken to a different galaxy in the next two months, he’s locked up the MVP award once again. As Business Insider’s Scott Davis wrote, missing out on All-Star starter status in 2016 wiped out the possibility of “The Brow” earning his bonus via that route as well.
Perhaps it doesn’t make sense that the Rose Rule would be tied to something as arbitrary as fan voting—Kobe Bryant led the Western Conference frontcourt (and league overall) with 1,891,614 All-Star votes, despite “Vino” turning to vinegar during his retirement tour. But Davis finished well outside of starter status, anyway. He wound up ninth in Western Conference frontcourt voting, behind guys like Zaza Pachulia and Enes Kanter. Maybe he would have been deemed a starter if those slots were determined by NBA coaches or media personnel, but that’s simply not the case.
That leaves the All-NBA teams. If he reaches the First, Second or Third team for 2015–16, the former Kentucky Wildcat will net his Rose Rule salary boost. Davis was named to the All-NBA First Team for his career-best season a year ago.
The New Orleans Pelicans have suffered through an alarming barrage of injuries during head coach Alvin Gentry’s first season at the helm. That’s left the Pellies flailing near the bottom of the Western Conference standings even though Davis is posting comparable numbers to last season (which may hurt his case).
But even Davis has shifted into a higher gear of late. Provided he continues his torrid post-All-Star break pace, he’ll be a lock for one of those three squads (if he isn’t already).
“Dominant” doesn’t even truly begin to describe the 22-year-old’s post-hiatus statistical explosion. The big man is averaging 34 points, 15.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks in three games since All-Star weekend. He’s also converting 55.4% of his field goals and 40% of his three-pointers (two out of five attempts).
Those gaudy stats are propped up by an inhuman 59-point, 20-rebound performance against the Detroit Pistons on Feb. 21, in which Davis made 24-of-34 field goals (70.6%). The former No. 1 overall pick joined Shaquille O’Neal as the only players to drop at least a 59 and 20 since the 1983–84 season.
Back on March 6, 2000, O’Neal’s teammates outscored him by one point. That wasn’t the case during Davis’s outburst. He somehow managed to outscore all of his teammates combined, as SI’s Ben Golliver pointed out via Twitter.
Anthony Davis in 43 minutes: 59 points & 20 rebounds— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) February 21, 2016
All of his Pelicans teammates combined in 197 minutes: 52 points & 31 rebounds
Davis followed the outing with another 20-rebound game in a loss to the Washington Wizards on Feb. 23, but he scored just nine points on nine shot attempts. Still, the video game-esque box scores prove how impactful Davis can be.
Last year, Davis joined Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol and Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James in the frontcourt on the All-NBA First Team. Gasol had regressed in 2015–16 and was shut down for the season following surgery on his right foot. That leaves an opening for the center position this year, one that might be supplanted by Sacramento Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins.
Even though Boogie has been better in a number of categories (namely points, rebounds and assists), it will take more than his stout numbers to knock AD out of All-NBA contention.
Remember, All-NBA teams require two guards, two forwards and one center (even though the All-Star Game has shifted to two guards and three frontcourt players). The inclusion of Davis this year could depend on where he’s listed—forward or center?
For the sake of one argument, let’s say he’s listed as a center. After all, he has played 54% of his minutes at the 5 this season, per Basketball Reference. The competition isn’t nearly as stiff in that spot.
Aside from Davis and Cousins, there are a handful of worthy interior forces in the running for All-NBA nods. Will voters honor Tim Duncan’s incredible defensive impact despite limited stats and minutes? Will they reward the rebounding abilities of guys like Andre Drummond or DeAndre Jordan? Will they recognize the shot-blocking prowess of Hassan Whiteside and overlook his on-court antics? What about the underrated impact of Brook Lopez on the lowly Brooklyn Nets or Karl-Anthony Towns’ stellar rookie campaign?
Regardless of how voters answer those questions, what matters is whether they’d deem Cousins and two other guys to be better than Davis. Likely? Probably not. Possible? Sure. (Can you believe Kawhi Leonard didn’t make any of the All-NBA teams a season ago? Crazy, right?)
At the center spot, Davis seems to be sitting pretty for that $23 million bonus. He and Cousins, at least statistically, are a cut above their peers. It would be truly befuddling to see him fall out entirely. But what about if Davis is listed at forward?
In that case, it wouldn’t be difficult for voters to argue for the quad of King James, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Leonard (in some order) for All-NBA First and Second Team. But still, assuming Davis doesn’t join those guys at center to round out the frontcourt, there’s not much left to bump the Brow off the All-NBA Third Team as well. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Davis has positioned himself well to net his tantalizing bonus, especially if he keeps his foot on the pedal throughout the season’s second half.
Even without the raise, Davis will finally be the highest-paid player on the roster next season (by a lot). And despite big commitments to Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday and Omer Asik, New Orleans should have some cap room to work with when the contracts tied to Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson expire.
Ultimately, the Pelicans desire to keep the face of their franchise around no matter the cost. Now the challenge will be putting the right pieces around their star to become contenders.