Today, the Los Angeles Lakers officially introduced new head coach Darvin Ham to the media, fans, and the NBA world at large. The press conference covered a number of topics, including Anthony Davis’ fluctuations in performance and the continued uncertainty surrounding Russell Westbrook’s fit on next year’s roster.
Notably, Ham spoke to general manager Rob Pelinka’s exit interview promise of a coach who would “hold players accountable.” Ham specifically mentioned Anthony Davis as one player he expects to help draw better efforts out of.
“I think he’s the key,” Ham said, repeating himself for emphasis. “We’ve all seen what can happen when he’s healthy, when he’s playing at a high level, when he’s in a good rhythm. We saw it in the bubble. His skill set, his size, his versatility, his defensive acumen, his relentlessness, his ability to give multiple efforts defensively is key. It’s going to be the foundation of the type of standard we set within a ‘Darvin Ham Era.’ It’s going to be built on that defense and he’s going to be the main piece, the centerpiece of it.”
Ham touched on LeBron James and Russell Westbrook, too, only to quickly pivot back to the other member of the Lakers’ “Big 3,” a moniker Ham repeated numerous times throughout his presser:
“LeBron’s going to be great, LeBron’s going to be LeBron. Russ is going to be Russ. But we need consistency out of Anthony Davis. We need him to be healthy, we need him to be in a good mental space and we need him to be as consistent as possible. Back to playing that championship basketball,” Ham said. “We’re going to do everything in our power to support him, give him whatever he needs and keep him moving forward and getting stronger as the season gets longer.”
While Davis’ degradation in play might be overstated by some, his lack of availability since the Lakers won the 2020 NBA Finals can’t be. Davis missed 42 games this past season after missing 36 of the 72 regular-season games the year prior. And unfortunately, the lasting image of that season’s end was Davis in pain on the ground as the Phoenix Suns advanced past the Lakers in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs.
Still though, even when Davis has been on the floor, he hasn’t been the 2019-20 version of himself. Sure, a generous fan might chalk up Davis’ shortcomings in 2020-21 to the shortest offseason in NBA history following the Lakers’ championship in the Orlando bubble, but the opportunity to use that excuse faded with last year’s lengthy offseason. And again, Davis didn’t come close to providing the same level of value that he did in his lone championship season.
But no matter how things ultimately go, Ham’s comments suggest that the Lakers’ fans and front office alike won’t have to worry about Frank Vogel’s relaxed coaching style being the reason that Davis doesn’t maximize his talents. Hopefully, Ham will keep him honest and will find ways to optimize the team’s defense around him.
If Ham can squeeze 70-80 All-NBA-caliber games out of Davis this season, then the Lakers will finish far better than the 33-49 they ended this campaign with... even if Westbrook is still around.