On Wednesday, when the Los Angeles Lakers faced off against the Jazz in Utah, Anthony Davis scored 26 points on 9-11 shooting from the field against two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. As if that didn’t make Gobert look bad enough, Davis also ended the game with three blocks to Gobert’s zero.
If you told a casual fan to pick out the two-time Defensive Player of the Year from the players that were on the court on Thursday, it’s safe to assume they wouldn’t have picked anyone on the Jazz — the team that allowed 121 points, including 52 points in the paint. Meanwhile, the Lakers conceded just 34 points in the paint and held the Jazz to 96 points. As a result, the Lakers moved up to No. 4 in the league in defensive rating, thanks in no small part to Davis’ ability to protect the paint.
After the game, Davis got an endorsement from his Lakers teammate Rajon Rondo (who he also played with in New Orleans two seasons ago) for not just Defensive Player of the Year, but Most Valuable Player (via Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times):
“I got him as MVP and defensive player of the year,” Rondo said. “So, if he only gets one, I’ll be [angry]. My expectations are really high for him, so we have to continue to win as a team and hopefully the rest of the world will understand and see that he’s a really big part of why we are who we are.”
For most players, those are pretty lofty expectations, but Davis has a real shot this year.
Through 21 games, Davis is averaging 26 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.4 steals and 2.7 blocks per game. He’s also ranked first in rim protection percentage and second in opponent field goal percentage when he’s the primary defender.
Davis might have some ground to make up on James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and even his own teammate, LeBron James, but he should be considered the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year — especially after seemingly leapfrogging Gobert in the debate on Wednesday.
If he doesn’t get at least one, it sounds like the NBA may get a strongly-worded letter from Rondo.