For the first time in his seven-year career, Anthony Davis is playing with someone that is on his level of superstardom. Sure, DeMarcus Cousins and Jrue Holiday were great players when Davis shared the floor with them on the New Orleans Pelicans, but Davis was still a level above both of them. The same can’t be said of Davis and LeBron James.
In their first season together, Davis and James have averaged a combined 51.4 points, 17.1 rebounds and 13.4 assists with Davis leading the way in points (26.1) and rebounds (9.3). Davis also averaged 2.3 blocks per game in the regular season, which ranked third among all players in the NBA.
However, as well as Davis has adjusted to playing with James, there are moments that it’s obvious that he is still trying to find his comfort zone. For example, in Game 1 of the Lakers’ first-round matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers, Davis shot 33.3% (8-24) from the field and posted a plus-minus of -20, which was tied for the team-low with Danny Green.
The very next game, Davis set the tone on both ends of the floor and tallied 31 points, 11 rebounds and 3 assists in 29:21. Davis is only the fifth player in the shot clock era to record at least 30 points and 10 rebounds in under 30 minutes in the playoffs and the first Laker to ever do it. He was far and away the best player on the floor.
In an effort to try and understand why Davis was struggling to be consistent, I spoke to Scottie Pippen, who was the No. 2 to Michael Jordan during their championship runs with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. While Pippen didn’t see the parallels between him and Davis, he did offer Davis — a Chicago native — some advice.
“I think for Anthony, he just has to be aggressive,” Pippen told Silver Screen & Roll during the Michelob ULTRA Courtside experience on Saturday. “I was more of a ball-handler, so I could build my aggression up from 94-feet, whereas Anthony Davis is more of a half court player, where he relies on LeBron, pick-and-rolls and guys dropping the ball into him in the post. I would just say I think he needs to stay aggressive.
“I liked last night that he gave a variety instead of like in Game 1, where I feel like he turned into a pure jump shooter. He allowed the defense to dictate his offense. In (Game 2), I felt like he took the ball to the basket, he shot it well from the outside and it made it very difficult for them to predict his next move.”
Pippen’s former Bulls teammate BJ Armstrong was quick to chime in on Pippen’s behalf, and elaborated on why he believes Pippen and Davis’ situations aren’t comparable.
“Scottie was the one player where he never allowed the way he shot the ball dictate his contributions to the game,” Armstrong said. “Scottie could dominate a game by not scoring the basketball and that’s the one thing you always try to do as a player. Scottie mastered the art because he could dominate the game with the way he defended, initiated and rebounded the ball.
“Anthony Davis, as you saw last night, he shot the ball well, but it didn’t matter with Scottie because Scottie was going to dominate the game whether he scored it or not, and more times than not, he was able to score 20, 30 points. I think that’s difference when you’re playing in a game with a great player is that you don’t allow the way you shoot the ball to dictate your contributions to the game.”
The hope is that Davis doesn’t have many scoring nights like the one he had in Game 1, but if he does, it’s important that he finds other ways to impact the game. Davis might not be able to control whether his shots go in every night, but he can control his defensive effort and create opportunities for his teammates on offense. Superstars score the ball at a high level, but they also adapt to the situations that they’re in. And while Pippen and Davis may not be exactly the same players, making the most of a secondary role no matter how he’s shooting is something the latter can take from the former.
We’ll see how Davis looks as the playoffs progress, but if the last two games are a sign of where Davis is at in his development, the Lakers have every reason to be confident.