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Can Anthony Davis be the key for the Lakers this season?

So many legacy-defining questions will be answered by Anthony Davis’ performance this season, all of which will determine whether he is capable of being a franchise superstar for the Lakers’ present and future.

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Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Welcome to our Lakers Season Preview Series! For the next several weeks, we’ll be writing columns every weekday, breaking down the biggest questions we have about every player the Lakers added this offseason. Today, we take a look at Anthony Davis.

There is no superstar in the league this season who has more to prove than Anthony Davis. Two years after making a case as the best basketball player in the world, AD has severely regressed into a shell of the two-way elite player we saw two seasons ago. In the past two seasons, his durability and abandoned jump shot were his clear weaknesses, and it didn’t help that missing 76 out of 154 games significantly damaged his reputation.

This graph below from our friends over at Bball-index perfectly depicts AD’s regression on offense over the past two years. Last season, he put up 23.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, and shot an abysmal 18% from the 3-point line in 40 games — a slight downgrade from his numbers two years ago when he averaged 26.1 points and shot 33% from the 3-point line in 62 games. Last season was also Davis’ worst offensive year with the Lakers since donning the purple and gold armor.

That’s why this season, the pressure is on AD to prove that he is, still indeed, THAT guy. Can he once again play at the same level as LeBron James does every year? Can he go back to being the elite two-way threat he was not long ago? Can he go back to averaging 26.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game, similar to how he did two years ago? And most importantly, can he be in uniform for at least 75 games?

So many legacy-defining questions will be answered this season, all of which will determine whether Davis is capable of being a franchise superstar for the Lakers’ present and future. With his value at an all-time low, the best way for The Brow to redeem himself is to have the strongest vengeance season we’ve ever seen from a Laker great. For that to happen, AD needs to be the biggest key to the Lakers’ success this season.

What is his best-case scenario?

The best case scenario for Davis is to obviously stay healthy. He needs to improve his overall scoring (especially perimeter shooting) and be an anchor both on offense and defense, just like what Darvin Ham has already assigned him to do. That’s what will place him in the MVP or even DPOY conversations, which we all know he’s very much capable of being part of when he’s at his peak.

I’ve been emphasizing AD’s perimeter shooting because it’s extremely vital to his game and it provides versatility to his offensive bag. After shooting lights out in the Orlando Bubble, Davis has only made 39 (!!) out of his last 170 3-point attempts (22.9%) in the past two years. He’s also drawn 1.5 fewer fouls per 75 possessions compared to the title year. For AD to have a successful year on offense (especially under Ham’s 4-out-1-in system), he needs to dramatically improve in these two categories.

The good news for Davis is that the offense will now run through him this season (at least, according to Ham) which means more opportunities for him compared to last season, when his usage, according to Cleaning the Glass, was just 24.9%, marking the lowest of his career since the 2014-2015 season. AD needs to make the most of the opportunity of being the focal point of the Lakers’ system to not only maximize his overall skillset but also prove he’s worth building the team around.

What is his worst-case outcome?

The worst-case outcome for AD is if he has another injury-riddled season and sits out half of the Lakers games for three straight years in a row. Not only will this tarnish his reputation even more but it will also question his untradable status on the Lakers. If AD once again shows that his health isn’t reliable enough or worth the $40 million in cap space he’s taking up on the roster, there’s a possibility that he could be in trade conversations next summer.

Aside from his health and value, another potential unfortunate outcome for Davis is if his performance on the court continues to depreciate. Remember that video clip that surfaced around the internet and national media which caught him saying he hasn’t shot a basketball for months? That might just come back to bite him if he doesn’t find his rhythm and shoots miserably once again throughout the season.

Expect more criticism and questions about AD’s commitment, regression and inability to take the torch from LeBron James as the Lakers’ franchise superstar if he fails to have a breakout year. If he doesn’t come into the season in top shape (not overweight nor bulked up), and fails to play like a high-caliber DPOY or MVP candidate, then it might just be time to say goodbye to the elite Anthony Davis we once knew. He’ll no longer be viewed and be in the same category as his fellow big men counterparts like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and even Joel Embiid — which should matter to someone who has desires of cementing his name as one of the greatest to play the game.

What do you think is the most likely role for them?

As stated above, Ham has said multiple times that Davis is the key to the Lakers’ success, both on offense and defense. And given how this current Lakers roster is constructed, the one-time champion will most likely spend a lot of time in the power forward slot (shocker, I know!) with younger and more versatile bigs like Damian Jones and Thomas Bryant alongside him.

That said, if Davis is playing power forward, he’ll most likely take on the helper and secondary rim protector role which he excelled in two seasons ago. He also should occasionally be in charge of guarding the opposing team’s best 3-and-D wing players, especially since Los Angeles has a scarcity of wing defenders on their roster as currently constructed.

On offense, Davis is expected to dominate inside the paint which won’t be a problem for him because though he may have struggled shooting the ball from the midrange and perimeter last season, he still had a 54.3% effective field-goal percentage last season — which means he can still find ways to score despite his woeful perimeter shooting. He’ll also be in charge of creating his own shots in the post, finishing pick-and-rolls, rolling to the basket to catch dimes and lobs as well as pop from the midrange and perimeter if he feels confident with his jump shot.

Moreover, Ham’s well-established 4-out-1-in system will likely feature Davis in the dunker spot. As the man in the middle of the paint, he’ll have to create opportunities for his teammates by finding the open cutter, running dribble handoffs, and setting ball screens.

To get the best out of AD, he also needs to be surrounded with enough spacing and help on defense to save energy. That spacing will allow him to be more aggressive on the half-court, run in transition, fly around on defense, and most importantly, be the key to the Lakers’ success this season.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.