Anthony Davis’ performance in the bubble has served as both a blessing and a curse on his career.
On one hand, he elevated his level of play to the best of his career, was arguably the team’s best player in the playoffs and won a title as a result.
On the other hand, his career since that bubble performance has been graded in comparison to it. For many reasons, Davis was almost certainly never going to replicate his shooting from the bubble.
But the entire league saw noticeable upticks in shooting in Orlando. It was a very unique situation that produced unique results. Three years later, Davis is one of the few, and perhaps only, who seems to be held to the standard of what he did in the bubble.
As a result, the discussion around him for years has been a frustrating one. At times, he certainly could do better. But too often, the focus is on what he isn’t doing vs. what he is doing.
This season has already offered a shining example. In the opening game, Davis was impressive in the first half against the Nuggets, then as the defense keyed on him, he went scoreless in the second half.
Davis has to be better if the Lakers are going to win that game, let a series, against the defending champions. He’s a star player that needs to be held at a high level.
But too often, the pendulum swings really far in one direction and not enough back the other way. While the criticism was fast after opening night, the praise of his most recent performances hasn’t been nearly as swift.
On Monday, Davis was once again dominant, tallying 26 points and 19 rebounds with five assists as the Lakers downed the Magic. And that was his worst statistical output over the three games that have followed the loss to Denver.
Davis had 30 points and 12 rebounds against Phoenix and 30 points and 16 rebounds against the Kings. He’s shooting 52.7% on the season while also knocking down three of his seven attempts from range.
And none of that even delves into his defensive performance where he, once again, looks like one of the very best in the league. It’s a side of the ball so difficult to measure impact but so easy to see nightly.
He’s been nothing short of dominant for seven of the eight halves he’s played this year, but that one half has drawn the most focus.
“It’s just him being himself,” Ham said of Davis after the win vs. Orlando. “People reference that Denver game like Jokic don’t exist and him having to deal with this guy on both sides of the ball. That’s a load.
“(It’s) him just settling in. The game legs are coming. That’s what the early part of the season is for. I constantly tell him to be aggressive, be assertive,” Ham continued. “He’s the captain of our defense. He’s back there holding down the back line, talking, be active, changing shots, blocking shots and coming up with rebounds, setting screens, rolling hard. Not forcing anything, just taking his opportunities. Guys are looking for him.
“He’s starting to get into a really, really nice rhythm. An efficient rhythm at that.”
Lakers got a couple options out of this ATO to start the second half. Davis screens for Reaves, fake P&R with LeBron into Davis screening. Ball movement gets Russell a three. Magic switch and they go right to AD posting up. pic.twitter.com/7Enq1xSQYJ— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) October 31, 2023
Davis has had games and even stretches like this before. One year ago, he was doing something resembling this to start the season. His offensive impact statistically may ebb and flow but his overall impact on the game rarely ever does.
Right now, though, Davis is mixing the interior dominance he had last year with the outside shooting he showed in the bubble. It’s the best of both worlds and he’s playing as well as he has, albeit through just four games, since the 2019-20 season.
For his teammates, there isn’t a noticeable roller coaster of production that fans often suggest.
“I’ve been playing against him for years and I’ve never seen his level of play, it’s not a wavering thing like everybody says,” D’Angelo Russell said postgame on Monday. “He still finds a way to dominate the game. It’s not on the stat sheet or it’s loud, (but) teams fear him. Knowing what he’s capable of on the offensive end and defensive end, we never lose any love or trust in what he’s capable of. Being a part of what he did last year, seeing his level of play – I mean, I was surprised or shocked, but I was kind of in awe because I see how it progressed over the time we were together. I know what he’s capable of and there’s no surprise from that guy.”
The question is always going to be about his health. Can his body withstand the rigors of the season enough for him to remain dominant? The additions of Jaxson Hayes and Christian Wood should lessen some of the load he has to carry.
Ideally, the Lakers are able to get in an “efficient rhythm” as a team and Davis, along with LeBron James, can rest to avoid the injuries that have plagued both of them.
If the Lakers can keep him healthy, not only are they set for a big finish to the year come postseason time, but Davis might finally, at last, start to receive the individual accolades he has long, long deserved.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.