Welcome to our Lakers Season Preview Series! For the next several weeks, we’ll be writing columns every week day, breaking down the biggest questions we have about every player the Lakers added this offseason. Today, we take a look at Anthony Davis.
There are two kinds of superstars in the NBA today: Those that are good enough to be considered tangentially a part of that group, and those who are so great that one can’t possibly discuss the best players in the league without mentioning them.
Anthony Davis is somewhere hanging in between these two tiers — his play in the bubble left him in just about everyone’s top-five and showed his true ceiling, while a down year in 2021 left him on the outside looking in — and this upcoming season will determine where he ultimately lands in that conversation.
The question for Davis is simple: Is he satisfied with one championship ring in his vault? Or does he want to help raise more banners, and to be great enough to go toe-to-toe with his childhood idol and teammate LeBron James for the right to be known as the best basketball player in the world?
Davis himself has mentioned multiple times that he wants more championships, but his performance and availability last season did not back that up. That’s why this season, the pressure is on the 28-year-old to prove that his health can be relied on, and that he can still hang with the best players in the league.
For Davis to do that, his upcoming season needs to be the complete opposite of last year’s. He can’t ease into the start of the season, nor can he begin training camp out of shape. He can’t miss 50% of the regular season again due to injury. He can’t be passive on offense and frequently settle for jumpers. He can’t always depend on his playmakers to spoon-feed him the ball, and most importantly, he can’t only give 100% effort when he wants to.
Instead, Davis needs to enter training camp with vengeance on his mind. He needs to anchor the Lakers’ defense and frequently mark his territory in the paint by physically imposing himself inside. His versatility, agility and height can help him score at will. AD has to go back to rolling to the rim more than popping. He needs to go back to dominating in the post, and getting to the foul line more than he did last year.
Thankfully for Davis, this current Lakers roster is built for him to be the best and most important player on this team.
AD is the only versatile big man on the roster that can space the floor, dominate inside, and create his own shot while at the same time not getting picked on defensively. Davis is too big of a player for small defenders to contain, and too agile for the bigger ones to keep up with. When the Brow is aggressive and imposes his will inside the paint, the opposing defense has to pay so much attention to him that it creates more opportunities for his teammates to score.
Russ x Bron x AD ⚡️⚡️⚡️ pic.twitter.com/zE5ojuPA82— Late Night Lake Show Podcast (@LateNightLakers) September 24, 2021
Davis now also has three elite and proven playmakers alongside him who can serve him more dishes than a buffet has to offer. Aside from James, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo are competent enough to throw AD lobs, work with him out of the pick and roll, and put the big man in the best position to score on the perimeter.
Furthermore, after a whole offseason of speculations on whether he will play more at the 5 or not, Davis finally confirmed on media day that he is indeed going to spend more time at the center position this season. His sudden urge to play there is a good sign for the Lakers, because it’s a strong indication that the Brow is willing to do whatever it takes to have a breakout season.
And that is why the opportunity for Anthony Davis to be an elite superstar this year is attainable. The most important thing he has to do to make it happen is conquer his biggest nemesis — injuries.
The biggest threat that has hindered AD from constantly being in the conversation for the best basketball player on the planet is not his big men counterparts such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid or even Nikola Jokic; it’s his durability.
His nagging injuries have created a reputation that’s become unfair to him in how outsized and all-encompassing it has become. The long list of injuries he has endured are mostly the ones he’s suffered from unfortunate and freak incidents on the basketball court — not because of his conditioning or inherent injury prone-ness.
Take AD’s previous full game at STAPLES Center versus the Phoenix Suns as an example. Davis was chasing Devin Booker on a fastbreak, and after successfully swiping the latter’s shot, the big man landed awkwardly and hyperextended his knee. While Davis may have been strong enough to play through the pain and even told Yahoo! Sports’ Chris Haynes post game that he was fine, little did the superstar know that this play was going to lead to another serious injury and send him and his team off to an early summer vacation.
Afterwards, he blamed himself.
Anthony Davis: "We had the pieces, we just couldn't stay healthy. A lot of that is on me -- a main guy who couldn't stay on the floor."— Bill Oram (@billoram) June 4, 2021
It’s unpleasant accidents like this that has prevented Davis from being seen as the most dominant big man in the game today. It doesn’t help that recency bias has strengthen the narrative about Davis’ reputation as an injury-prone player as well.
And if AD wants to change this particular description that’s been attached with his name, he has to finish this season in perfect shape physically and mentally — because after all, the Lakers’ championship hopes strongly hinges on his health, and the basketball world has already proven it’s collective memory doesn’t even stretch back a year to what Davis did during the team’s 2020 title run.
One significant advantage for Davis and the Lakers this year is that they’re coming off a longer offseason. AD mentioned in his first interview with the media this season that strengthening and taking care of his body were his main priority this summer. Unlike last year where he only had a 72-day offseason to recover and ramp up, Davis had three months to get his body right and work on his game. It’s already made a huge difference.
“My body feels great. It was a lot of just waist strengthening, getting the Achilles back right. The Achilles was actually fine towards playoff time, but then it was the groin and the knee, so that was the main focus this summer. Just basically starting from scratch and building my body back up to where I’m comfortable again, and I feel like I got to that point,” a well-rested Davis said.
Moreover, Davis’ head coach Frank Vogel recently implied to the folks over at Spectrum SportsNet’s “Lakeshow” podcast that his big man did indeed work extremely hard on his body this summer.
“He put a lot of work this offseason into his body. A lot of work. And we had a moment, maybe two weeks ago, where he had been training at home, and we had a conversation about ‘these are some of the concerns we have with our team, we think we’re good here, we think we’re good there,’ and then he comes in for a workout, and it was the first time we had kind of seen him for a while, and his body looked imposing,” Vogel said.
“We all just looked at each other like ‘we’re gonna be really good this year.’ Just looking at that guy right there, we’re gonna be really good this year,” Vogel added.
Based on how AD showed up to media day and training camp and Vogel and Rob Pelinka’s latest comments on Davis, it seems like the superstar is poised to enter his 10th season in the league heathy, well-rested, and in the right physical and mental shape.
A healthy, well-rested, physically and mentally fit Anthony Davis is what should be one of the biggest storylines for the Lakers entering this season. So much has been said about this current team’s overall age and vulnerabilities over the last few months but people forget that the Lakers’ best player (at least physically) is a 28-year-old superstar who just entered his prime and is expected to bounce back after undergoing one of the worst seasons in his professional career.
AD hasn’t been in the spotlight all summer. He hasn’t really been seen outside, or on social media (except maybe when his favorite football team is in action or for his wedding). But make no mistake: this silence doesn’t mean Davis hasn’t been working. It’s just the calm before the storm. And in just a few weeks, a hungry and vengeful Anthony Davis should be ready to remind everyone once again he is still “THAT GUY!”.