Anthony Davis has always been a household name. But nearly 11 months ago, he made it clear that he wanted and deserved something more.
From his wonderfully dominant season in Kentucky that led him to being selected first overall in the 2012 draft, to being an All Star in six of his first seven campaigns with New Orleans, Davis’ legend grew to a point where he needed a grander stage. He required a team — and city — that would transform him from a star to one of the faces of basketball.
In sports, athletes have always had somewhat of a love-hate relationship with Los Angeles, and the annoying intricacies that come with it (looking at you traffic). But for even the most obscure indie-film star or band, eventually Hollywood comes calling if you generate enough buzz. Although the allure of the bright lights has proven to not be for everyone.
This has been seen most recently with Kawhi Leonard’s decision to come to Los Angeles, but instead of joining the Lakers opting for the more subdued Clippers to better match his persona and avoid the hoopla that comes with playing on a potential super-team.
In baseball, third-base-extraordinaire Anthony Rendon, recently picked the (Los Angeles/Anaheim) Angels over the Dodgers in free-agency due to his distaste of the “Hollywood lifestyle.”
New #Angels 3B Anthony Rendon on #Dodgers: “It’s not that we didn’t want to play for them, they’re a great organization that’s built to win. But what we heard about how the organization is, the Hollywood lifestyle, it didn’t seem like it would be a fit for me and my family.”— Mike DiGiovanna (@MikeDiGiovanna) December 14, 2019
While Leonard and Rendon’s reasoning in skirting the marquee teams of their respective leagues is more than understandable, Davis, on the other-hand, wanted all the smoke that came with shouldering one of those franchises. So far, he’s proving to be more than capable of not only handling the spotlight, but excelling within it.
After circling the Lakers and Los Angeles with a red pen during his initial trade demands, Davis has taken full advantage of the national attention he is receiving both on and off the court (Ruffles money baybee).
His team has won 24 of their first 27 games, are top five in both offensive and defensive rating, and are tied for the best record in the league. While it is unsurprising that Davis has played a large role for the Lakers’ successes, his seamlessness in adapting within a new ecosphere has been remarkable.
His partnership with LeBron James has bucked common convention when it comes to new star pairings, as the duo have exhibited chemistry akin to decades-long teammates.
According to PBP stat’s nifty assist combos page, James has already assisted on 86 of Davis’ makes this season. That’s not only is first in the league in terms of assists to a singular teammate, but 23 more than the next closest pairing (Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris).
While Davis has reaped the benefits of James’ playmaking, and swimmingly navigated the potential landmines that arise with playing beside another star, he has also individually altered his game to be more of an on-ball threat.
Although those who have not watched the Lakers closely this year may assume the team simply runs James/Davis pick and rolls ad nauseam, that has not been the case.
On the season, only 13.6% of Davis’ offensive possessions have been classified with him as the “roll man” according to Synergy. That is the lowest percentage of his career, and way down in comparison to specific seasons. Frank Vogel has instead decided to deploy his star big man in the post. A lot.
Through the team’s first 27 games, Davis has already logged 155 post-up possessions, the second-most in the league, and a number that accounts for a whopping 23.9% of his overall shot profile (a career-high for Davis).
Despite posting better efficiency numbers in other, more familiar actions such as the roll man and on cuts, Davis is sporting the third best points per possession on post-ups among players with at least 75 chances this year. It’s something that’s added yet another layer to his already dynamic game, and also allowed James to catch a breather in the process.
Now for the scary part (for other teams, at least): There is reason to believe Davis is somehow still getting better.
After a relatively slow shooting start by his standards, Davis has diversified his offense and also seen steady upticks in his efficiency.
As Positive Residual’s visual above shows, Davis vastly extended his range in November compared to the first month of the season.
Although his perimeter shooting continues to wax and wane, he is currently posting his highest 3-point frequency ever, according to Cleaning the Glass. When coupled with his otherworldly 85.8% shooting at line (third-best among players who have attempted at least 150 free-throws) there is reason to believe his stroke will eventually come along.
This month, as the Lakers are smack-dab in their toughest stretch of games yet, Davis has been downright dominant when the team has needed him the most.
Averaging 30 points per contest in December, the big has devoured defenses at and near the rim. That’s been a common trend this year, as he is posting yet another career-high shooting-wise, converting his attempts within four feet at a 76% clip.
For as good as Davis’ offensive game has been, and unfathomably looks to be getting better, his defense continues to astound.
With an array of clutch swats and timely rotations out to the 3-point line while downright striking fear in the eyes of his opposition, Davis has not only helped pave the way for the Lakers’ defense, but cemented it as one of the league’s best.
As of this article, the Brow is first in the league in total blocks, eighth in shot contests, 11th in steals and 17th in deflections. He’s shown a transcendent ability both instinctually and physically that continues to prove to be one of the most elite and rare skillsets the NBA has ever seen.
While Davis’ role and impact has definitely bolstered his case for Defensive Player of the Year honors, it may not properly quantify how much he has changed the Lakers’ fortunes.
His former team, the Pelicans, serves as a good example. New Orleans is facing the cruel world that is life without Davis, as they are riding a 12-game losing streak and are only 1.5 games up on the Warriors for the worst record in the West. For comparison, Los Angeles has registered more wins in December than they have all season. Defensively, the team has also sorely missed Davis’ presence in the paint as they currently are 29th in defensive rating. Los Angeles is third. There are broader personnel changes beyond Davis that affect those ratings as well, but it’s hard not to see the symbolism.
Last year, and the multiple ones before it, the Lakers faced similar hardships as they saw their basketball mortality in the mirror. They were slapped with the realization that the path they were on was leading them down the dreaded trail of mediocrity. A change of course was desperately needed.
That’s why Davis is here. And at the tender age of 26, Davis has arrived to the city, the stage and spotlight he was yearning for. Since arriving, he’s proved to be worth all the attention he craved.
All stats and video per NBA.com unless otherwise noted. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts.