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On Anthony Davis, and effort selection

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The Lakers need Anthony Davis to stay on the floor, but he’s not going to stop crashing to the floor for loose balls, even if he winces a bit while getting up and teammates have pushed him to be more discerning with his dives. He only knows one way to play.

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NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Lakers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Every Lakers fan knows the feeling well. The pit in your stomach that forms when Anthony Davis crumples to the floor after throwing his 6’10”, 253-pound body to the deck in his perpetual pursuit of loose balls. Even just 19 games into the Davis era, you likely can already picture him grimacing, grabbing whatever body part he just rammed into the ground, and then either trying to walk it off or heading back to the locker room.

So much of basketball analysis centers on selection. If a player shoots too much, they have issues with shot selection. If a player has a turnover issue, it’s said they need to be more selective about the types of passes they make. The same goes for a player who gambles too much for steals.

But Davis forces us to expand our analysis in the same way his unique skillset expands what we see as possible for a single player on the basketball court. What about choices that aren’t measured by traditional counting stats? What about “effort selection?” It’s a clever term, coined by Pete Zayas of Laker Film Room to perfectly describe the increasingly familiar visual of Davis crashing to the ground while hustling his ass off, no matter what the score is, and regardless of what injuries Davis is dealing with.

Well, if effort selection is a thing — it’s not a commonly used term in basketball parlance, or any other areas (yet) — Davis certainly doesn’t have it. Despite accumulating a “sore shoulder,” rib injury and most recently a shot to the elbow that left him cringing in pain on the sidelines for a bit this week, Davis hasn’t changed the way he plays. Even if Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel admitted the other night that his star forward hitting the ground so much worries him “a little bit,” although he also thinks Davis does a decent job of recovering from his constant fist fights with the floor.

“He has a good knack for knowing how to fall,” Vogel said. “You never want to see your better players hit the deck too much. It’s a little bit like a running quarterback. Sometimes you want to ask them to pull back a little bit to minimize the hits.”

Vogel also acknowledged that Davis’ teammates have been talking to him about being a bit more choosy on when he lays it all out, but for Davis’ part, he says he can’t change. He only knows one way to play.

“I don’t play careful. If I’m gonna play, I’m gonna play,” Davis said. “I do what I’ve got to do to help the team win. I still play the same exact way.”

BASKET-NBA-CHN
Anthony Davis says he’s never going to stop laying it all out there for the Lakers, even if fans, some of his teammates and his head coach all worry about whether he’ll get up the next time.
Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images

It’s hard to argue with the results, even if the methods give fans — and probably his coach — heart palpitations on a regular basis. Davis is a dark-horse MVP candidate, probably the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year and the Lakers are a league-best 17-2 so far. Davis himself is averaging 26.1 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 1.5 steals per game, and has helped the Lakers assemble the fifth-best defense in the NBA. The way he plays has been pretty damn effective.

He also does well in the statistics we can use to reasonably extrapolate effort. Among players 6’7” or taller, Davis ranks second in the league in loose balls recovered (34), only trailing Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons, per NBA.com. Davis also ranks ninth among such players in deflections (52) and is tied for seventh in charges drawn (4). Those are plays that result in stops, free possessions and other positives that don’t necessarily show up in traditional box scores, and they absolutely do have value.

It’s also hard to blame Davis for not being in a rush to shift away from what got him to the NBA in the first place. He may be one of the best players in the league and the key to the Lakers’ championship contention now, but before his high school growth spurt he was just a scrappy, under-recruited point guard who needed to do all the little things just to have a chance at basketball success. Whether that’s the explanation for his never-ending effort, or if it’s something else entirely, Davis doesn’t plan on changing the way he plays anytime soon.

“If I step on the floor then I’m going to give it my all,” Davis said.

The Lakers — and their fans — will just have to keep hoping that Davis doesn’t take too hard a fall while doing so. And more importantly, that he keeps quickly springing back up after, even if he grimaces a bit in the process.

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.