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Season Review: Anthony Davis

If Anthony Davis is not that dude, this season (and especially this postseason), he proved he’s pretty darn close.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s easy to poke at the holes in Anthony Davis’s game. The things he’s (relatively) bad at are obvious, and he’s lacked a signature viral moment since his Game 5 game-winner in the Bubble against the Nuggets that fans might be able to latch onto.

Just to cover the bases for his detractors: yes, his long-range jumper has all but evaporated from his game; yes, his scoring comes and goes in bunches and can be largely dependent upon his teammates’ playmaking for him when his faceup game falters; yes, he’s missed at least 20 games in every season since 2018-19 (including 36 this past year); and yes, his on-court impact has taken a step back since the Lakers’ championship run in 2020.

Still, at 85 percent-or-so of the best basketball he’s ever played, Anthony Davis is darn freaking good at basketball.

How Was His Season?

In a season that ended 24 points short of a Finals berth, Anthony Davis came through on his end of the bargain. Challenged by Darvin Ham to lead the Lakers, Davis played through literal head-to-foot injuries to suit up in every Lakers playoff contest, anchoring their league-best defense while averaging 23-14-3-3 on better than 50% shooting from the field.

In the end, AD was undeniably the Lakers’ most valuable playoff performer, evidenced by the team’s inability to tread water when he left the floor as much as their success with him on it. For a point of reference, just look at the gap between his on/off splits and LeBron’s. While the Lakers were 18.2 better per 100 possessions with AD on the floor than when he sat (team-best), they were 12.9 points worse when LeBron played compared to when he sat (team-worst).

That’s not to say that LeBron is washed. LeBron scored 40 points in Game 4 against the Nuggets, including 31 in the first half, and was shouldering an offensive playmaking burden he was, frankly, too injured and too old to carry to fruition. In fact, LeBron may very well be “better than 95% of the NBA...maybe 95.” Therefore, by extension, Anthony Davis remains one of the game’s very best players, even when he’s not hitting jump shots with much consistency. While it would be nice for AD to start banging threes like he did in the Bubble, he just did all of this while making just 26% of his threes this past season.

Anthony Davis is a world-beater on defense; he is a one-man wrecking crew. He gobbles up everything at the rim when he has credible perimeter defenders flanking him (the best block rate in the playoffs), and scarcely fouls while doing so (79th percentile foul rate amongst bigs in the playoffs).

The Lakers’ defense was awesome with him on the floor (88th percentile in the playoffs), and mediocre at best when he sat (27th percentile in the playoffs). While some of this speaks to the Lakers’ need for a playoff-caliber backup big man, and ideally one who could space the floor enough to share the floor with Davis on occasion, the fact that the team no longer has one does not fall on Davis’s shoulders.

Should the Lakers Bring Him Back?

Even amid rumblings of the aging King’s dissatisfaction with his prime prince, with championship aspirations, the Lakers would be wise to retain their best player heading into the season. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Lakers get better by trading Anthony Davis, which is the only reasonable path towards his departure — if the franchise does truly intend to contend for as LeBron James is willing and able to compete at a high level.

Will He Return?

Anyways, Davis is under contract for at least another season before an early termination option could let him walk away from the $43 million he’s set to earn in 2024-25. Still, Davis has no choice in the matter this offseason, he’s a Laker so long as the team doesn’t trade him. Further, he’s not even three months removed from claiming he wants to have his jersey retired in the rafters along with other Lakers greats, and continuing to win in L.A. would only help his case on that front. AD’s almost certainly a Laker for the foreseeable future, but who knows — things happen too fast in the NBA for absolute certainty.

Cooper is a lifelong Laker fan who has also covered the Yankees at SB Nation’s Pinstripe Alley — no, he’s not also a Cowboys fan. You can find him on Twitter at @cooperhalpern.

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