Before the start of the NBA season, Hall-of-Famer Charles Barkley had a message for media personnel in New York City: “If you haven’t gotten a chance to see Anthony Davis play, let me tell you, he’s the next big thing in the NBA.”
Davis was the first pick in the 2012 NBA Draft by the New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans). He spent last summer in Barcelona, Spain, with Team USA, and Barkley was impressed by what he saw. Just three years into his pro career, Davis has gone from a great young talent with loads of potential to one of the best young players in the league. So far this season, he’s averaging 24.5 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game. Davis was recently selected for his second All-Star appearance (his first time as a starter). Though he’ll miss the game because of a nagging shoulder injury, Davis spoke with SI Kids as All-Star Weekend kicked off about all of his early professional success, how far he’s come, and what his Pelicans need to do to turn things around come playoff time.
What do you look forward to the most about All Star Weekend?
Picking all of these guys’ brains. They’ve all been All-Stars so many times, so I look forward to learning from them. Like Tim Duncan, for example, he’s a five-time NBA champion, and I hope to become a champion one day, so I want to ask him what that feels like and how to get there. It’s an honor, especially in my third year, to be here, so I’m glad I can be a part of it.
A lot of guys with years of experience still talk about the first time they felt like they belonged in the NBA. Do you remember that moment when you first felt like you really started to belong in this league?
My rookie year seems so long ago, but I think when I actually just stepped on the floor and I hit my first shot. My first game was against the Spurs and I had a pretty good game. I worked hard enough to get here, so I belong here.
A lot of guys say you’ll be the one they kind of pass the torch to. Is that something you embrace?
I definitely embrace it. I hear it all the time, but I try not to let it get to me. I go out there, have fun, try to compete, and if it happens it happens.
Being as young as you are, is it still crazy to think about where you were five years ago?
Definitely. At this time last year, I never thought I would be in this position. It’s still weird. I still sit back a lot and realize how far I’ve come and how blessed I am. Sometimes I go back and look at my old pictures or game film from high school games. I think, Is that really how I used to look? Is that really how I used to play? I wasn’t good at all.
What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome to be successful in the NBA?
There are a lot of grown men in this league. They have a lot of strength and power. I think the biggest thing for me was just getting stronger and being able to hold my own. That’s a thing for young guys, as well. You have to be strong and can’t let guys push you around. I was 212 (pounds) when I came in and I’m 240 now. You just have to do a lot of lifting and a lot of eating.
What aspect of your game do you feel like you improved the most from last year to this year?
My jump shot and post game, but also confidence. I’m a lot more confident this season. I was working on my game all summer with the USA team. I work on my game every day, but every summer I try to bring something new.
When you look at the box score after a game what’s the first thing you look at?
Rebounds. I don’t care about scoring or anything else really. I just want to rebound the ball and defend.
What do the Pelicans need to do to make and have success in the playoffs?
We have to go out there and defend and play our style of basketball. We know that it’s a battle with OKC and Phoenix, and we want to come out on top. We have to play with the energy and passion that we know we have. We show signs of things that we can do, I think we can compete with any team, so we’re going to fight to do that. I have a lot of confidence in the guys on the team. We have guys that are scrappy and play defense. We have all the pieces we need to win. Our biggest focus is to stay healthy.
If you had to guess right now, who do you think is going to win the NBA championship this year?
It’s tough to say. As of right now, just based on record, Atlanta or Golden State. But there’s a lot of basketball left to play. Anything can happen, it’s the NBA.
Photos: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images, Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images