I am by no means a Star Trek head, but there’s an episode from their decades old The Next Generation series I saw way back when that always stuck with me. The episode featured a cameo from the Scotty character in the OG series that featured William Shatner. I can’t recall how he got there, but Scotty was somehow in this future version of the extended Star Trek universe and on the Enterprise, trying to teach game to a young Geordi La Forge — who served in the same chief engineer role that Scotty did back in the day.
Anyways, as the episode progressed, some mechanical problem with the ship arose, and Geordi — as is his job — was tasked with fixing it. The captain of the ship asked him for a time estimate of how long the repairs will take, and Geordi told him he could do it in something like two hours. As Geordi began his work in the bowels of the ship, Scotty asked him “so, how long is it really going to take you?”, to which Jordi responded in a somewhat irritated tone “two hours”, wondering why this would even be a question.
Scotty was flummoxed by this response. Frustrated, even.
The old sage then began a short rant, explaining that if a job is going to take two hours, “you don’t actually say it’s going to take two, you say it’s going to take four.” That way, it was explained, when you finish in two, you look like a hero and get the credit of a miracle worker. That, Scotty said, is how to play the game. Under promise, over deliver. And then you reap the benefits of notoriety and credit befitting of someone who is obviously great at their job.
In thinking back about this random episode of television, my mind drifts to the relationship between the expectations set and credit bestowed... and one Anthony Davis, the season he just had, and how it might have been better for him if he had a bit more Scotty in him.
Throughout the regular season and then over the course of the playoffs, Anthony Davis seemed perfectly content playing his exquisitely dominant game, but doing so in a manner that — based on how it was so often discussed — delivered only exactly what was expected, rather than highlight the necessity of the efforts he was actually providing and how those efforts actually exceed what should be expected in the first place.
Davis, in all his glory as a dominant, two-way star, was consistently one of the best players on the court. By the time the playoffs began, he had become the focal point of the opponent’s game plan on both sides of the floor. “How can we keep Davis away from the paint on both offense and defense?” was an integral question every team were asking themselves because not doing that probably meant losing.
However, even as Davis nuked team’s offenses with his defensive instincts and ability, the commentary around his play so often skewed towards how many points he scored in comparison to his last game, and whether he could “string two good games together in a row” — as if only one side of the ball mattered as the team continued to win games.
Of course, there’s a part of me that doesn’t really care about the general perception of AD or how his production and impact are framed. After all, not all observers relish in questioning his exploits (just the loudest ones), and opposing coaches and players seem to perfectly understand the effects of treating him as though he weren’t one of the league’s absolute best. I also understand there’s context to everything and, at least during the regular season, Davis’ health and games missed were a part in the dialogue around him as a player.
But then, there’s the other side of why this matters. The reason it ultimately irks me to see Davis so consistently judged and labeled as though he’s less the player he is or how the context of his impact is so often tied to his offensive production when he’s one of the best defensive players in the world (while also being awesome on offense most nights anyway).
First, when the history of the league is told, at least part of it will be explained through the accolades, awards, and tangible accomplishments of the players not only against their peers from the same generation but in how those measure up against the purported best players from other generations. Davis, to this point in his career, has been fairly well recognized as one of the game’s best — through All-Star appearances (8), All-NBA team appearances (4), All-Defense team appearances (4), and in being named to the 75th Anniversary Team.
However, this past season, Davis, though limited to 56 games (far from alone as a star playing that number of games this season) had one of his best seasons, but found himself on the outside looking in on every significant honor the league bestows on the supposed best players from that season. Davis did not make the All-Star team, any of the three All-NBA teams, nor either of the two All-Defense teams. Meanwhile, players who played a similar number of games (Steph Curry) and minutes (Jaren Jackson, Jr.) found themselves on the receiving ends of top honors like 1st team All-NBA and Defensive Player of the Year.
Second, it’s not as though it is difficult to see how well AD was playing, or to gauge how much he’s impacting the game when he’s on the court. During the regular season, the Lakers were +8.1 points per 100 possessions better when AD was on the floor than when he sat, and they won 55% of the games in which he played. Compare those numbers to Domantas Sabonis (+2.6 net rating, 59% winning percentage in games played) or Julius Randle (+0.3 net rating, 57% winning percentage), and is it really that clear who should have made an All-NBA team when also accounting for counting stats and defensive impact?
And maybe a part of this is because Davis truly seems to not care about any of the credit. When asked about not making the All-Star team, AD said he’d enjoy the extra time off and would spend it with his family. In the aftermath of him not being named to either the All-NBA or All-Defense teams, Darvin Ham essentially said that AD shrugged it off:
Asked if he thinks AD was bugged by not being named to an All-Defensive or All-NBA team, Ham said AD doesn’t care (which Davis has echoed). Said he just wants to win.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) May 11, 2023
It’s tough to make a good argument about excluding AD aside from games played, but others were in same range. https://t.co/6zMj6cWAfy
But I care!
Davis is one of the best players in the league, and he should be discussed as such. Are there health concerns? Yes, but go add up the number of games that Kevin Durant has played in the last 4 seasons and compare those to Davis. And then go do the same for Kawhi Leondard. And while they too catch heat for their availability, they are universally hailed as elite, difference-making players when they are available. They aren’t nitpicked about their production in any given game or, worse yet, that their general injury history is somehow a demerit for how good they actually are in general — or used a cudgel against how good they will be in any given game.
Soon, the Lakers will reportedly offer AD a contract extension that can add three additional seasons onto the two remaining on his current contract. I can already tell you that some will scoff at the numbers in that deal and, once it’s offered, some will debate whether or not he’s “worth” that amount considering his injury history. There’s obviously room for debate and nuance in such discussions, and I think it’s fair to wonder if paying Davis through his age 35 season is the right decision.
(Editor’s Note: The Lakers agreed to that three-year, max contract extension with Davis a few hours after this story originally published)
But what’s not debatable is how good Davis is or how much credit he deserves for any and all success the Lakers have achieved since he’s been with the Lakers, including climbing out of the hole the team was to begin the regular season to make a run to the Conference Finals.
There is no nuance there. And Davis should get appreciateed for it, even if he’s more like Giordi and not enough like Scotty.
You can follow Darius on Twitter at @forumbluegold.