Some of Anthony Davis' own college teammates once wondered how he'd respond to the demands and pressure of being the top overall draft pick in the NBA.
After all, Davis didn't really have to score to lead Kentucky to victory in the 2012 national title game; he made only one shot, instead using his speed, athleticism and length to suffocate Kansas with blocks and rebounds.
In the pros, No. 1 picks are expected to score, and the 6-foot-10 Davis, as it turns out, has developed into the all-court force the Pelicans need him to be.
In his second NBA season, he is averaging 20.2 points, 10.3 rebounds and three blocks per game, emerging as a candidate for next month's All-Star game in the Big Easy.
"I was curious to see how he'd do offensively (in the NBA), because we had so many people that shot the ball at Kentucky, he really didn't have to do a lot" on the offensive end, recalled former Wildcat Darius Miller, who also wound up playing professionally in New Orleans. "He's even shocked me. I didn't know he had all that with his game. ... There's no telling how good he can be."
Davis was selected Thursday for Team USA, meaning he'll have a chance to compete for a spot on the final Olympic roster for the 2016 Rio Games. Davis also represents New Orleans' best shot to have a player in the All-Star game, which the city hosts on Feb. 16.
When All-Star fan voting closed, Davis was well off the pace to be elected as a starter for the Western Conference, but he could still be selected by NBA coaches as a reserve.
"What he's done on the floor is enough, the fact he's a two-way player, putting up offensive numbers and, on any given night, he can give you three to eight blocks — and guarding some of the best players in the league at his position," Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. "I just think he's merited an All-star nod. I hope he gets it. ... The guy works his tail off and he's really talented."
Still only 20 years old (until March 11), and with so much of his career ahead, Davis said he won't be crushed if he fails to get his first All-Star nod.
"Hopefully I can do that, represent New Orleans in the All-Star game, but I'm not sure," Davis said after practice Thursday. "I've been playing well, but there's a lot of guys in the league who've been playing well. The Western Conference is tough, especially with the bigs: Dwight (Howard), LaMarcus (Aldridge), Kevin Love, Pao (Gasol). I'm not sure, so I'm just going to keep working, keep playing hard."
Sacramento coach Michael Malone, one of Williams' former assistants in New Orleans, joked this week that he'd vote for Davis if Williams votes for DeMarcus Cousins, but also added that Davis needs to be in the discussion, despite the fact that the injury-plagued Pelicans (16-25) have struggled to win.
"He's really improved. A lot of people said, 'Oh, he's just a shot-blocker,' and I think that's doing him a tremendous disservice," Malone said. "He is a very skilled big man. His jump shot, his a ability to face up and play off the dribble, block shots — I think he's maybe the best running big man in the NBA."
For months, Williams has praised Davis' work ethic, raving about how much time he spent with Pelicans' coaches and strength trainers to get stronger and refine his game. Davis has beefed up, but it's hardly slowed him down. He'll routinely block a shot on one end, then beat everyone down court for a fast-break dunk on the other. So far, he's reached single-game highs of 32 points, 17 rebounds and nine blocks.
His ability to be more dynamic than the typical big man shined in the final seconds of Monday night's victory at Memphis, when Tyreke Evans aborted a drive in the final seconds and passed to Davis for a baseline jumper that sealed the win.
Point guard Jrue Holiday, an All-Star with Philadelphia last season before his trade to New Orleans, said Davis still possesses many skills normally associated with guards, a position Davis played before a high school growth spurt.
"He can run with me. He has that type of speed," Holiday said. "From the jump, athletically, he has a lot over other bigs. He's really hard to guard. The moves he makes are so quick and he's so explosive. The way this kid moves is like guard in a big's body."