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Victor Oladipo, Pacers

Anthony Davis could be the key to unseating the Golden State Warriors

Over the past few weeks, an NBA beast has been awakened. Anthony Davis has single-handedly terrorized the league, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans in the playoff race despite a lack of high-quality NBA personnel. It speaks to the singular power a superstar can have. And it speaks to our imaginations as we try to consider what he’d be like on better teams.

The Anthony Davis path of destruction

Ever since DeMarcus Cousins went down with an injury, Anthony Davis has been playing like the fearsome player we all dreamt about when he was a 20-year-old kid tearing up the league. He’s been averaging 31 points per game with nearly 13 rebounds and over three blocks and two steals a game. It’s not like the advanced stats frown on him either.

Anthony Davis has a 33 usage rate (30 is elite) and an above average true-shooting percentage of 58 while his turnover rate remains below 10 percent. He’s sixth in RPM’s version of wins too. Basically, he’s picked up a gargantuan load on offense and he’s still efficient, making just his offense all-league worthy.

His team, correspondingly, has played well during that time frame, which includes a 10-game win streak. The Pelicans are within striking distance of teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves, who sport a collection of all-stars in Karl-Anthony Towns, Jeff Teague, and Jimmy Butler for a good chunk of the season; as well as the Oklahoma City Thunder with Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and a tough defense surrounding them.

This hasn’t been luck either.

The Pelicans aren’t hitting an unsustainable amount of 3-pointers, for example, and neither have their opponents. They’ve simply been very good despite starting lineups with Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, an over-the-hill Rajon Rondo, Dante Cunningham, and the now 35-year-old Emeka Okafor. And the bench, of course, is even worse.

The presence of Nikola Mirotic has helped, but much credit should be given to Anthony Davis. Not only has he buoyed their offense with the loss of DeMarcus Cousins, but their defense has been fine too. It’s been a sensational job, but the question is, are his talents wasted there? Would the world be better if he fought against the Warriors machine in another jersey?

Let’s look at some trade options.

We’ll try to build a core six that can compete with the Warriors. If you can match their firepower at the top of the roster, you can beat them with a decent bench, which is easier to build once you have your stars.

Warriors’ average RPM of starting lineup + Andre Iguodala: 2.9.

The fabled green Boston Celtics

Anthony Davis, Celtics

Original Photo: USA TODAY Sports

Where would a trade speculation column be without Boston? The Celtics still have one of the best asset collections out there on the market, along with the rare combination of being a number one seed too. You can see Anthony Davis fitting seamlessly with their team and any lineup combination they have, as he’s a versatile big man who can clean up the boards, shoot from outside, or score inside. Plus, they’ll probably keep Aron Baynes at center, who can guard some of the stronger post players, saving Davis on match-ups he’s clearly dreaded throughout his careers. When Gordon Hayward comes back healthy next season, that’s a strong, balanced starting lineup.

Trade proposal: Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, and dealer’s choice of a draft pick.

For the financial side of the trade to work, you need Horford’s large contract, and you gotta throw in a young talent like Brown to even the deal on the talent side. Plus, Boston still has many draft picks to sell, from the Lakers’ this season to the Grizzlies in the future and their own. So just imagine whatever collection of draft picks it’d take for you to deal Davis.

Average RPM of starting lineup + Marcus Smart: 2.5

They don’t quite have the firepower of a team with multiple MVPs, to be sure, but it’s enough to make for a tough series and they still have a great bench with the potential for an even better one with how well they’ve been drafting. If Boston wants to take their team to another level, you gotta sacrifice some of that depth for top-end talent. And yes, this assumes Hayward is healthy and can repeat his 2017 RPM.

Up in the north, the Toronto Raptors

Anthony Davis, Raptors

Original Photo: USA TODAY Sports

Strangely, one of the two teams with a point differential that matches the Warriors are the Raptors in Toronto. They don’t have any MVPs or much national attention. Despite playing in one of the largest cities on the continent and being the sole representative of Canada, they’re hardly on featured televised games. However, if Davis wants to win, he should consider the Raptors.

Trade proposal: Jonas Valanciunas, Pascal Siakam, CJ Miles, Norman Powell, a lifetime supply of maple syrup, and their 2020 draft picks.

Toronto lacks any major assets you’d need to trade for someone of Davis’ caliber, so this one is unrealistic. Kyle Lowry is getting old, DeRozan has a huge contract, and they don’t even have their own 2018 draft pick, or anything else of note. They only have a cache of useful young role players. They’d have to dream the Pelicans really love Jonas, or maybe concoct a DeRozan trade that shuffles around more players to remove the logjam in the frontcourt — that’d probably involve a third team.

Average RPM of starting lineup + Fred VanVleet: 2.9

Surprisingly, their top six players would match the Warriors’ RPM. Fred VanVleet has a shockingly high RPM. Davis would fit well too, playing next to Serge Ibaka or Jacob Poetl, and helping to solidify the NBA’s (arguably) most underrated defense. The Raptors are deep, but if they want to succeed in the playoffs, they need to turn a great top 10 into an awe-inspiring top 7 or 6.

Cleveland rocks, Cleveland rocks

Feb 26, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) is defended by Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) in the second half at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans won, 125-116. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

You’d have to sell Anthony Davis on Cleveland. But if LeBron James stays in Cleveland, the sell should be easy. Plus, the Cavaliers desperately need an answer on defense, and Davis is the type of athletic player you’d want against the Warriors.

Trade proposal: Kevin Love, Ante Zizic, rights to Artūras Gudaitis and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (or anything else possible so they don’t have to trade one of their few players who actually try on defense, Larry Nance Jr.), and Brooklyn’s 1st round pick.

Kevin Love has to be included to match Davis’ contract and to offer the Pelicans an all-star talent in return. Admittingly, this isn’t the best package, but guys like Jimmy Butler have been had for less. And if Anthony Davis has leverage on where he wants to go, they may have to settle for less.

Average RPM of starting lineup + Kyle Korver: 1.8

The Cavaliers would look substantially better with Anthony Davis, but they’ve been so bad this season many of their core rotation players have awful RPM numbers. If you believe George Hill and JR Smith can play even at a league average level, then their average RPM would rise to 2.4. This even includes Larry Nance Jr. in the equation. It’s enough to make noise in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but it’s still shy of the Warriors.

The fit with the Houston Rockets

Feb 26, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) is defended by Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) in the second half at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans won, 125-116. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s the obvious one: as constructed on paper, the Rockets are already good enough to challenge the Warriors. Davis can play the Clint Capela role, but with a substantially more varied offensive game. Imagine if they had the option to kill teams with lobs to the basket and space the floor with a center — with the same guy. They’d have the kind of firepower in starting lineups that could go toe-to-toe with the returning champions.

Trade proposal: Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, Zhou Qi, future draft picks, and a Jedi hand wave to trick the Pelicans into considering this haul.

Sadly, this is yet another unrealistic trade, but the Rockets are the best option to beat the Warriors, and if you want to make sure, just add another all-star. Capela’s the only trade chip worth anything big in return, and this assumes they’ll make the trade after he negotiates a new contract. Eric Gordon was included to make the contracts balance out, assuming Capela doesn’t get paid as much as Davis. New Orleans can also throw in a garbage contract like Alexis Ajinca, who’s making $5 million for three years, to cancel things out.

Average RPM of starting lineup + PJ Tucker: 3.8

But if the Rockets somehow do land Anthony Davis, they will have the power to thwart the Warriors. Chris Paul and James Harden alone have mind-boggling numbers, and once you add in Anthony Davis, who should fit in perfectly, and you got a trio that can realistically beat anyone in the playoffs. With a good set of role players, on paper that’s enough to beat Golden State.

Unfortunately, I doubt we’ll see any of those trades happen. Few teams have the assets to trade for him, and as fun as it would be to see Davis catch lobs from Chris Paul in Houston, New Orleans would be crazy to settle for that package. If he wants to win, he should go there; but if you want the ideal combination of trade assets with a team good enough to compete, dream of green in Boston.