This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Dec. 23 Interview Issue. Subscribe today!
Anthony Davis is a virtuoso leaper -- like a hyperactive man on pogo-stick stilts. But no one could have anticipated the leap he's made this year. Through 15 games before breaking his hand on Dec. 1, Davis was second in the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating while averaging 19.6 points, 10.6 boards and a league-leading 3.9 blocks a game. We sat him down to find out why this Pelican is suddenly flying so high.
Chris Broussard: A few people close to the team were telling me you're like a different person this year. Not just as a player but off the court as well.
Anthony Davis: Yeah, I liked how my first year went, but at the same time, I didn't like how it went. A lot of injuries. Didn't play as many games as I wanted to. Wasn't very active in the community. Just wasn't being that person everybody expected me to be.
Davis: The injuries held me back a little. But I don't think I was as confident. Being out there as a rookie going against these 4's -- Pau Gasol, Zach Randolph, Serge Ibaka, David West. It was like, Man, these guys are nice! They can score. They can kill you. And I just wasn't strong enough. They'd pound me in the post and score like three times, and I was just like, Man, I can't stop them. That would mess with my mind, so I'd try to come down and do something uncharacteristic and turn it over or take a bad shot. I felt the pressure. I heard everybody saying, "Oh, he's a bust. He's not even in the race for rookie of the year." I was like, Man, why am I doing everything wrong?
Broussard: So how'd you build that confidence entering this season?
Davis: This offseason, in the Team USA game, I started attacking and seeing my shot fall, started hearing positive things instead of the negatives I heard last year. I had to realize I've been playing this game since I was 3 years old. Nothing's changed. Coach Monty tells me all the time, "You can be a great player in this league." He believes in me, so I had to believe in myself.
Broussard: When Monty says you can be a great player, does he say how great? Like, "You can be as good as Tim Duncan"?
Davis: He says I have some of the same characteristics as Tim. But at the same time he tells me, "You're not there yet. You have to keep working." He told me that when Tim was a rookie going against David Robinson in practice, they had to black out the windows because Tim was just destroying him. His first year. So Monty tells me every time I get the ball I have to be willing to score. That's what he's trying to embed in my brain, and I'm starting to pick it up now.
Broussard: When you played against Tim last year, did you guard him enough to get a sense of how tough it is? I mean, you're obviously more athletic than he is at this point, and you may have thought you could get away with this and that against him, but ...
Davis: It didn't happen. Anything I thought I could do against him didn't happen. I'll never forget ... I mean, everybody knows his moves; he catches it off the block like Karl Malone, faces up, bank shot. So he caught it against me and faced up, and I'm like, I know the bank shot's coming. But he just lulled me to sleep and went right over me. I was like, Gosh, I knew that was coming.
Broussard: Who's been your toughest matchup in the NBA?
Davis: Oh, man. David West. He destroyed me last year. The Pacers ended up winning a game last season off three straight elbow jumpers from him. Back to back to back. He was running downcourt looking at his hand. I was like, Aww, man.
Broussard: When you were in college, was West one of those guys you didn't think was nearly as good as he turned out to be?
Davis: I definitely didn't. I'd heard of him, of course, but I was thinking more Zach Randolph, Pau Gasol, Duncan -- the guys you hear a lot about. But when I stepped on the floor against West, I was like, Man, y'all didn't tell me it was like this.
Broussard: So when you were playing with Team USA last summer, was there a moment when you were like, Oh, I'm playing well. I can dominate out here.
Davis: Yeah, there were two things. Guys were telling me, "You're the vet here now." KD came in like, "What's up, vet?" Then Coach K came up to me and said, "You're the leader of this team. We need you to lead. You know everything we're doing. You've been in this experience before." That's when my confidence started rolling. I started being more vocal, getting on guys.
Broussard: Were you a vocal leader at Kentucky?
Davis: Not really. I was a freshman and didn't really know anything. And when you're at Kentucky, Coach Calipari is going to do all the talking anyway. [Laughs] Usually, he's yelling at you. [Laughs] But I wish I had been more vocal because it would have helped me going into my first year in the league.
Broussard: What did you work on this summer?
Davis: I worked a lot in the post -- catching, facing up, beating my man to a spot. I don't want to be one of those guys who just shoots from the outside because he doesn't have a post move. In fact, I just got done watching film of The Dream [Hakeem Olajuwon]. My gosh, those moves -- the quick spins, baseline fadeaways -- were unbelievable. I'm going to try to start incorporating some of that into my game. I mean, I'm not going to be The Dream, but hopefully people will start respecting me more in the post.
Broussard: Who do you watch the most film of, in terms of trying to take stuff from their game?
Davis: Dirk, Carmelo, Kevin Garnett and The Dream.
Broussard: That's a serious mix. Dream in the post, the others on the perimeter, Garnett kind of doing both. Is that what you want, that mix?
Davis: Yeah, and the in-between game too. Melo doesn't really post up, but he gets it in-between, does a quick move, a pull-up, a quick spin-and-go. With Dirk, I watch his maneuvers -- the stepback off one leg. Garnett is both. I just watch all of them and try to put it all together.
Broussard: You haven't shot a three-pointer yet this season. Is that a part of your game?
Davis: Uhhh, I think that's next summer. [Laughs]
Broussard: You mentioned you weren't strong enough last year. How much did you hit the weights this summer?
Davis: Man, so much that I got tired of the strength coach. [Laughs] I wanted them to fire him. [Laughs] But I put on 15 pounds, got up to 230. It helps because it gets tough, especially for bigs. You're taking a pounding every night.
Broussard: How many days a week did you work out?
Davis: Every day. Every day.
Broussard: Did you ever lift seriously before last summer?
Davis: In high school, not at all; I didn't lift one weight. I was playing against guys who couldn't guard me and was scoring 30, 35. I was like, What do I need to lift for? In college I started lifting, but we were running through teams, so it was like, Why lift hard? Then my rookie year it was like, Whoa. One hit and I was at the padding. [Laughs]
Broussard: Speaking of hits, you broke your hand going for a lob. What happened on that play?
Davis: Man, it was a routine play. I do that in my sleep. They threw me a lob. I went to get it. My hand kind of karate-chopped the rim. It was a fluke.
Broussard: I know a goal of yours was to play all 82 games ...
Davis: Yeah, it's been tough. But everyone's been kind. Some other people said, "Ahh, you ruined my fantasy team." [Laughs]
Broussard: Four years ago, you were a 6'2" guard. What chance did you give yourself of playing in the NBA?
Davis: None. None. Zero.
Broussard: Had you accepted that?
Davis: Yeah, I had. No college was looking at me. My only offer was from Cleveland State. My junior year, I was thinking, Well, I can go to Cleveland State and play four years. It's still Division I. Then I can go overseas, then go to the D-League, and then an NBA team might pick me up. I told my dad I was going to commit to Cleveland State, and he said let's just wait it out and see what happens. Two weeks later, I was in an AAU game. By this point, I was a 6'10" rising senior. I rolled my right ankle and hopped off the floor after scoring six points in six minutes. It was bad. The trainer was like, "You're done for the tournament." I had to use crutches and all that. When I got home, my dad said, "Hey, you've got all these letters from different schools." I was like, What? He showed them to me -- Michigan State, Syracuse, everybody was making me an offer. The offers came just off those six minutes. That was the only time they had seen me play as a 6'10" player. It was the craziest thing. It was amazing to see how everything had changed in the blink of an eye -- off just six minutes.