If you rewind 10 months, back to October 2020, Anthony Davis was being discussed as one of the two or three best players in the world. It was easy to see why: The Lakers had just won the championship and, while LeBron James was the Finals MVP, it was Davis who consistently proved the ultimate matchup buster that every team in their way could not account for. Too big for small-ball, too skilled and athletic for the more paint-bound behemoths, Davis ran roughshod over whatever obstacle opponents threw at him on both ends of the floor with insane shot making and unmatched defensive versatility.
Fast-forward back to today and, well, those conversations are mostly absent. Further, within the framework of the Lakers, he seems to be noticeably absent from the top talking points about what will drive (or sink) the team’s chances this season. It’s an exaggeration to say that AD has been forgotten, but he’s definitely not on the tip of everyone’s tongues when discussing some of the league’s best players, or as a difference maker who can tilt the league’s title odds back towards his team.
Maybe it was the way this past regular season did not meet expectations, and then how his postseason ended in injury while his team lost in the first round. Or maybe it was the very loud trade for Russell Westbrook and then a just-as-eventful free agent period that saw the team add Carmelo Anthony and bring back Dwight Howard (among many other eye catching moves). Or maybe it’s that he wasn’t courtside in Las Vegas, or seen in those viral workout photos with LeBron and Westbrook.
Whatever the case, though, it feels like not enough time has been spent considering Anthony Davis’ immense talent, and how much his skills specifically matter to this iteration of the Lakers.
From my vantage point, Davis is uniquely suited to be the bridge player between the supposed ill-fitting duo of LeBron and Russ. It’s Davis who can serve as the best pick and roll partner Westbrook has ever had, either rolling hard to the rim or popping to the perimeter — just as he does for LeBron. It’s Davis who can space to the corner or above the break to give Russ additional room to work in isolation off the dribble or out of the post — just as he does for LeBron. And it’s Davis who can fill any role on a fastbreak, pushing the ball himself, filling an outside lane, or rim running to help jumpstart the team’s running game for two of the most ferocious transition players in the league.
Defensively, it’s Davis who can take the toughest assignment on the floor, whether it’s a power wing or a big man, while also switching onto primary ball handlers in P&R’s whenever it’s needed. It’s Davis who can make any defensive rotation on the backside, contest shots on the perimeter, close down the restricted area to protect the rim, trap anywhere on the floor, or shade behind the point of attack to simply offer his teammate support and deter an aggressive drive. It’s Davis who can be the fulcrum of any defensive gameplan, serving as both heat seeking missile and human eraser, deployed anywhere while still seemingly being everywhere all at the same time.
Because for as culture-setting and identity-driving both LeBron and Westbrook have been for their respective franchises for the last decade-plus, it’s the 28 year old Davis whose generational talent and two-way ability can make him the perfect teammate for Westbrook in many of the same ways he was the perfect teammate for LeBron in their two seasons together. Davis’ unique ability to be both a dominant big and a terror in the mid-range offensively while being one of the best defenders in the world makes him the best support system a perimeter-based star can have.
It’s easy to see all the ways that Bron has helped AD in their time together. And it’s exciting to consider all the ways that Russ can bring out the best in AD and help him thrive, too. But, let’s not skip over the part where Davis helps those guys; let’s not forget how dominant he can be all on his own and how his specific sets of skills are tailor-made to help his co-stars be the best version of themselves too.
Because, when it’s all said and done, and it’s time to figure out how you’re going to beat these Lakers, I can guarantee you opposing coaches won’t be forgetting how much Anthony Davis matters. We shouldn’t either.