By helping the Lakers capture the 2020 NBA championship, Anthony Davis not only justified his trade demand, but also proved himself as one of the best players in the league. His resume can no longer be impugned due to first round exits and lack of playoff success; he’s a champion, and no one can take that away from him.
Davis is also just 27 years old, meaning that he likely hasn’t even fully entered his prime, and has plenty of room to grow in obvious areas. How great he already is with so many adjustments left to make and skills left to improve has the Lakers’ coaching staff excited about the possibility of what he can eventually become.
Assistant coach Phil Handy told David Aldridge of The Athletic that Davis isn’t even close to the full limits of his potential:
“Him and (Lakers assistant) Mike Penberthy, they spend a lot of time together,” Handy said. “Mike’s another great skill development coach, and Mike’s done a great job with AD. But I tell AD all the time, you are not even scratching the surface yet. You don’t even really understand the tools that you have in your toolbox. … Whatever he wants to do on the floor, he can do it.
“There is no limit to this kid’s game. He can handle the ball, he can shoot the 3, he can play off the bounce, he can in the post, he can play pick-and-roll. He can do everything on the floor. And I think that him having an opportunity to play with LeBron, continue to play with (Rajon) Rondo, and now to become a champion, I think you’re going to see him just move into a whole ‘nother space of confidence of who he is as a player. I think over the next few years, people are just going to see all these different elements of his game just start to be consistent, every night, in different areas. He’s special, man.”
For his part, Penberthy — the Lakers’ shooting coach who helped Davis become a mid-range assassin and 38.3% 3-point shooter in the postseason — told Ryan Ward of Lakers Daily that Davis “is right there with” LeBron James as the best player in the world already:
I think you can make an argument he’s the best player in the NBA right now.
He can do it all, man. I’m telling you. I saw it up close this year. This is my third year being with him. I thought this year he made huge strides in his development and really took a step forward. He made some big-time clutch shots for us. Shots that won games and sealed games. That was a big focus of ours when I was working with him in the offseason and during the bubble break was obviously shooting, but he got better in the post. He read double teams better. He figured out how to get to his midrange in the Portland series. He guarded everybody in all those series that we played.
This is all significant. Phil Handy has coached Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard, among others. Mike Penberthy played on the Shaq and Kobe Lakers. Both of these men have seen greatness up close and personal, and so for them to glow about Davis like he is some mythical superhero shouldn’t go unnoticed. They know what the greats look like, and even they are in absolute awe of Davis’ potential, almost to the point of giggling glee.
Can Davis actually live up to such big talk? That will ultimately be up to him, but as long as Davis sticks to his plan to remain in a Laker uniform, expect both the shooting coach he’s already had success with and the best player development coach in the NBA to keep helping Davis refine his game.
And if Davis can continue to improve as a shooter, scorer, ballhandler and passer like Penberthy and Handy think he can, that will be a terrifying development for a league that Davis just ran roughshod over even without those increased skills.