CHICAGO (AP) — Anthony Davis made several long jumpers from the top of the key. He put the ball on the ground and drove to the basket. He protected the lane for New Orleans, gliding to the rim for several big rebounds and blocked shots.
Davis’ return to Chicago was one impressive show.
The 6-foot-10 power forward was outstanding in his first NBA game in his hometown, finishing with 29 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots in the Pelicans’ 107-100 loss to the surging Bulls on Saturday night.
Playing in front of several family members and friends, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 draft showed no signs of any jitters or nerves.
It was another scary display for the rest of the league, the type of monster performance that is coming with increasing frequency this season. Davis is averaging 24.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and three blocked shots per game — all team highs and better numbers than he had in his first two years. And he is just 21 years old.
“As he gets stronger and his mind develops, he is going to be an even better player,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said.
The player that showed up at the United Center on Saturday night had the Bulls shaking their heads with respect. It was Davis’ sixth game of at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots; he accomplished that feat five times all of last season.
“He is a great player, and great well beyond his years,” said Joakim Noah, the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year who guarded Davis for part of the night. “I thought that for somebody to come in, playing in front of your hometown, usually there’s some anxiety. I just saw a lot of composure from him tonight.”
Davis grew up on Chicago’s South Side and led Kentucky to the national championship in his only season with the Wildcats. He had a mild concussion when New Orleans visited Chicago during his rookie year, and he broke his left hand before the Pelicans’ road game against the Bulls last December.
Davis played at the United Center in August with the U.S. national team and scored 20 points in a 95-78 victory over Brazil in a tuneup for the Basketball World Cup.
He put up more big numbers in his first pro game at the longtime home of the Bulls, but was disappointed with the outcome.
“I just want to win,” he said. “I could have had 50 (points) and we lose, it really doesn’t matter, ’cause it doesn’t mean anything.”
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau got a closer look at Davis when he worked alongside Williams on Mike Krzyzewski’s staff for the U.S. national team last summer. Davis played a key role as Team USA won gold in Spain.
“He had a great year last year and you could see how highly motivated he was throughout the entire summer,” Thibodeau said. “The way he practiced, the way he worked with Monty before and after practice, the way he worked with their strength coach, you know you could see how important it was to him, and just the way he played with Team USA. I thought he was phenomenal last year, and I thought he was even better in the summer.”
Davis was a guard growing up, and then moved inside when he had a big growth spurt in high school. The result is a matchup nightmare.
In one sequence in the first quarter against the Bulls, he blocked a shot by Pau Gasol, and then used a spin move to set up a nifty left-handed layup. He used a couple dribbles to get open for a face-up jumper in the second period. And he just kept going, all night long.
“He can make plays, and he’s real hungry, and that’s probably the biggest thing,” Thibodeau said. “You can see, very intelligent, driven, and those types of guys, when you combine that with his overall talent, it’s scary to think what he’s going to become.”
Davis is just looking for some wins. Even with Davis’ fast start, New Orleans was just 15-15 heading into Tuesday night’s home game against Phoenix.
But the Pelicans have at least one big reason to believe they are on the right track, with the improving Davis leading the way.
“He’s the best, and he’s a special person,” Williams said before the game in Chicago. “This city should be proud.”
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
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