Oh, that an NBA career were an arc.
Far too often, there’s a tendency to treat the progress of a player as a perfect ballistic curve, physics rendered onto the plane of existence. One starts at the y-intercept of a rookie season, perched to take flight from the stoop of drafted expectations and previous performance, looking toward an upward trajectory in one’s formative years as a professional. As the rookie learns and gains experience, productivity grows parabolically, reaching an apex when mental acuity matches physical ability. There, the player exists in his purest form, an excerpted distillation of what he was, who he is, and where he might someday go. As the corporeal form fades and the ethereal knowledge grows, the curve trends downward, a graceful descent into the waning years. In the end, perhaps one’s career terminates below its initial starting point; more poetically, one hopes that at worst, it stops where it began.
Yet rarely is the theoretical practical, and even less so when dealing with a human being on a basketball court. The life of an NBA player is measured in fits and starts, three steps forward, two steps back, a shimmy to the left, a lateral crescendo to the right. No matter how much one desires causal ascents and declines, no one’s career is as smooth as hoped. And unfortunately for New Orleans Pelicans starter Anthony Davis, the triumphal arc of his career has been interrupted by the uncaring impasse of injury. Davis initially injured his hand against the New York Knicks, and the Pelicans confirmed today that the injury would sideline Davis for much longer than we’d hoped:
NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Pelicans announced today that Anthony Davis has been diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture of the fifth metacarpal of his left hand. The injury occurred during the first quarter of the December 1 game against the New York Knicks. Davis underwent further evaluations by team doctors this morning in New Orleans and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.
It’s depressing news, as Davis had been off to a spectacular start to his second season. He’d grown increasingly comfortable with his fit both on his team and within the greater context of the league, posting an otherworldly PER and learning more each and every day as the breakout defender he’s expected to be. His improvements, spectacular as they were, seemed almost too good to be true; no player is allowed such a gloriously pristine learning curve. Today, and for the next month and a half or so, Davis stands as another reminder that for all the talk of such curves, reality too often is a jarring, listing careening from one checkpoint to another, devoid of steady development.
Davis will be back in due time, though his Pelicans may very well have seen their playoff aspirations snuffed out by a fluke injury to their star player. For now, however, his rise to the basketball heavens has stalled, through no fault of his own. It’s simply — and too often — the way of the NBA’s world. Advancement in the league is a flawed process, no matter how perfect the subject.