Anthony Davis might be the best basketball player in the world right now. After rumbling for 34 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks that still don’t fully capture his value for the Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, it’s clear that Davis is ascending to another plane as an NBA superstar.
LeBron James saw this coming. Not just before the Finals began, but before Davis was even a Laker. As he told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports before Game 1, this level of potential was exactly why he wanted the Lakers to do whatever it took to get Davis on his side:
“There’s a reason we wanted him here,” James told Yahoo Sports. “He’s a complete player, and now the world is seeing what he can do in games that matter. All he ever wanted was a chance. That’s all anybody ever wants. And now that he has it, I think you’re going to see him flourish and he has. We haven’t seen the best of AD yet. He’s just scratching the surface.”
The scary thing for the rest of the league is that James may not be wrong. A lot was made about the Lakers’ gutting their young core in the trade for Davis, keeping only Kyle Kuzma before re-signing Alex Caruso and drafting Talen Horton-Tucker.
But Davis is young too. He only just turned 27, and is theoretically only just now fully entering his prime as a basketball player. We’ve already seen how much he’s improved as a passer over the course of the year — it was on display in Game 1, with Davis easily picking apart Miami’s double-teams much more confidently than he would have when the season started — and he’s improved as a 3-point shooter, going 17-45 (37.8%) so far in the postseason, allowing him to rank second in true-shooting percentage (66.4%) among players to make it out of the first round. If Davis has actually added the three to his game, he becomes even more unstoppable.
But wherever one ranks him among the top players in the game right now or all time, there is no disputing that the playoff run Davis is on is remarkable, as our own Jacob Rude pointed out:
- Only three games shooting sub-50% from field.— Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) October 1, 2020
- Seven 30-point games
- Nine double-doubles
And the more advanced numbers also paint the picture of Playoff AD being a very real thing. All regular season, James was by far the most impactful player on how much the Lakers’ outscored their opponents by, and the team was 10.4 points per 100 possessions worse when he sat than when he played. And if judging strictly by net rating — and you shouldn’t, it’s a limited stat — the Lakers were actually 1.1 points per 100 possessions worse with Davis on the floor. Now, there was a lot of noise in that, including Davis playing in a lot of lineups with regular season Rajon Rondo, but it was still a stat that didn’t look great for Davis.
In the playoffs, the script has totally flipped. The Lakers are never worse than when Davis sits, getting outscored by 7.7 points per 100 possessions. When he’s on the floor, the Lakers are outscoring their opposition by 13.5 points per 100 possessions, an insane swing of 21.2 points that is easily the largest on the team.
To put it more simply: With Davis on the floor, the Lakers are a historically dominant playoff team, and when he sits, they have the metrics of a team getting swept.
Now, Davis is a unique type of best player in the world in that he needs capable ball-handling around him. Despite every single national TV broadcast ever mentioning that Davis played point guard in high school and his solid handle for someone his size, he’s never going to be a star in the vein of a prime James or Kevin Durant, for example.
But when Davis does have someone who can both threaten a defense and feed him the rock, these playoffs have shown just how much of a matchup nightmare he can be, blowing by bigger, slower defenders and shooting practice jumpers over smaller ones like they’re traffic cones. And all that is without mentioning that he’s the best defensive player in the league, a versatile menace capable of staying in front of all five positions and a nightmare as a weakside shot blocker. In the postseason, he has been the Lakers’ best player on both ends.
But that uniqueness of needing another strong wing alongside him to look like the best player in the world may be why Davis says he wants to follow James to nine more NBA Finals. Nine may be a stretch — we have to assume LeBron will age at some point, right? — but whenever James does start to decline, Davis has shown during this run that he’s more than ready to pick up the slack, and transition into an MVP candidate in his own right.