I wanted to start this article off with an impressive defensive stat about Anthony Davis, but the Los Angeles Lakers star has produced almost too many to choose from.
Davis currently leads the Lakers in blocks (2.5) and steals (1.5) per game. Davis is also second in the league in blocks per game. Davis has a total of seven games where he’s finished with three blocks and two steals in a game this season, which is the second most in the league. There are only two players in the league that average at least two blocks and one steal per game, one of which is Anthony Davis.
And beyond the stats, it’s clear just from watching Davis play that he’s an absolute monster on the defensive end of the court. Many fans have been leading the campaign for Davis as Defensive Player of the Year, but recently, the locker room has started to stump for him as well.
“He’s the best defender in the league from a versatility standpoint,” said Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel.
Vogel added that Davis is not only able to guard big guys who roll to the basket, but also a basket-attacking guard like Ja Morant. Usually, teams are afraid to switch on pick and rolls when it comes to their big man, but with Davis, the Lakers have no fear whatsoever. Davis not only is quick enough to cover the drive, but is also long enough to contest their jump shot.
“He does everything,” said LeBron James. “He’s able to protect the rim, he’s able to guard in the post, he’s able to switch out to guards, he’s able to block shots when guys are shooting floaters and runners. Get steals.
“He does everything defensively for us. That’s why he’s Defensive Player of the Year,” James continued. “There’s not one thing he doesn’t do well defensively.”
To James’ point, Davis has done pretty well against some well-known guards. This season, he’s held opposing guards to a 34.6% field goal percentage. Here’s how a few of them have shot against Davis when he guarded them, according to NBA.com.
- James Harden (1 game) = 0-3 (0%)
- De’Aaron Fox (1 game) = 0-3 (0%)
- Donovan Mitchell (2 games) = 0-5 (0%)
- Trae Young (2 games) = 1-4 (25.0%)
- Damian Lillard (3 games) = 3-11 (27.3%)
- Luka Doncic (3 games) = 3-9 (33.3%)
- Devin Booker (3 games) = 2-6 (33.3%)
Davis has also averaged a defensive field goal percentage of 31.0% on three-point attempts. Let’s compare that with some other defensive minded centers:
- Bam Adebayo = 33.2%
- Montrezl Harrell = 34.1%
- Rudy Gobert = 34.2%
But when evaluating Davis’ candidacy, a gripe some voters may have is that the Lakers have had a better defensive rating when Davis is off the floor (104.0) than on (105.6). That’s fair to point out, but to counter that, Davis often plays with bench units that torpedo that rating. For example, when the Lakers’ normal starting lineup of LeBron James, Avery Bradley, Danny Green, Anthony Davis, and JaVale McGee have played together, they’ve averaged a defensive rating of 100.8.
On the flip side, lineups with Davis and Rajon Rondo have posted a net rating -4.8 and have had a defensive rating of 112.9, while lineups with Davis and no Rondo are a +10.5, with a defensive rating of 104.6, according to the NBA advanced stats website Cleaning the Glass. Davis’ individual defensive rating climbs five points per 100 possessions when Rondo sits vs. when he plays, according to NBA.com.
Additionally, lineups with Davis and Kuzma are +0.6 and have had a defensive rating of 110.1, while lineups with Davis and no Kuzma are +9.2 and have had a defensive rating of 105.3, again per Cleaning the Glass. To think that the Lakers are a better defensive team with Davis off the court would just be absurd. Basketball is a five-man sport, and recognizing the context that affects these numbers is important.
The last Laker to win the Defensive Player of the Year award was Michael Cooper back in 1986-87. Davis says that while being the first Laker to win it since is “appealing,” that’s also not what he’s playing defense for.
“I mean, I would love to have that award several times before I retire. Which is not soon, but I think I’m just trying to set a standard for one myself, and two my team on the defensive end,” Davis said. “I think if I continue to do that I’ll put myself in a position to win that award, but I just want us to get back to being the defensive team that we are. And I know that starts with me having a defensive mindset.”
There’s only 25 games left this season, and if Davis continues dominating the way he has been on the defensive end of the court, he’s got a great chance of bringing that title back to L.A. Hopefully, that’s not the only title he brings back with him this season.