The Lakers’ early struggles masked Anthony Davis’ resurgence back into All-NBA form, but as LA climbs out of the Western Conference basement, it was on the back of Davis playing the best ball we’ve come across since seen him help the Lakers win a title in 2020.
Davis is averaging 28.6 points and 12.8 rebounds per game as he has embraced the role many have long wanted of him as LA center and dominating opposing fives thanks to his combination of strength and speed. Davis, who is not only ready to play the five but also embraces the role of a dominant center, is arguably Darvin Ham’s greatest accomplishment to date as a Lakers coach. For years, fans and analysts have been begging Davis to become the Lakers’ full-time five, but he has long resisted the idea. This year he’s joined a squad with no depth at center out of sheer necessity. And both he and the Lakers are better for it.
The move to center has allowed Davis to make huge changes to his shooting diet, working almost exclusively on rim and color this season. Early in Sunday’s game with the Wizards, when he had 55 points on 22-of-30 shooting, Davis attempted 66.3 percent of his shots from 10 feet from the basket, the highest percentage in his career, including 38.5 percent of his Try the rim, most since the second season of his career, per basketball reference. It’s an important change that was needed but difficult for Davis to achieve because after an incredible heat in the bubble, where he shot the ball better than ever in his career, his jumper fell significantly in the two-plus seasons since.
Davis’ reluctance to become a full-time center was understandable given the various injuries he’s sustained throughout his career, but when he plays with force – attacking downhill – he’s just unstoppable. That was the case for the Wizards as he realized Washington had no one to truly protect the rim and attacked mercilessly from the jump.
His shot chart from this game is just beautiful as he was just going to work indoors and the wizards had nothing for him.
His performance against the Bucks was just as impressive but also showed how his confidence also breathed life back into his jumper as he pulled Brook Lopez out of the paint with some early pull-up jumpers and later made more room to work inside.
He’s still as dominant defensively as ever, posting 2.4 blocks and 1.4 steals per game, patrolling the paint and erasing mistakes from perimeter players on the edge. His athleticism allows him to make substitutions when needed or to cover and recover, giving Darvin Ham an opportunity to get creative with his defensive looks.
This is the Davis that Lakers fans have wanted to see since that 2020 title run, but through a combination of injuries, resentment and roster logjams among the five, we’re only just beginning to see him in action. That’s a credit to Ham, who did Yeoman’s work on the bench to turn around the early season despite minimal additions to the squad. While leading Russell Westbrook to succeed as a bencher, most of the discussion has centered around Ham’s ability to be a star whisperer, but leading Davis to play as a dominant center is equally impressive.
While Davis’ game doesn’t change the Lakers’ needs on the roster, as shooting remains a pressing need at Davis, LeBron James and Westbrook, it may change calculus for the Lakers’ front office. With LeBron in 20, many wondered if this team could be a contender even as they added reinforcements and made a big move — including reportedly Lakers decision-makers. That would only be the case if Davis returned to All-NBA form, and he’s steadily worked his way through 22 games this season to be just that.
What makes this current run of the game particularly important is that Davis isn’t just getting hot as a shooter, it’s a sea change in how he plays. The shooting can come and go and while playing 4 of 6 from deep in the last two games has undoubtedly helped, the 87 other points he’s amassed are far more impressive because they’re scored in a much more sustainable way .
Davis should be able to dominate opposing big men. That ability was never a question. There has always been a question of whether he will prevail and over the last month he has done just that.
As long as this continues, Davis will dominate. Shooting can make him really unstoppable and get things like 99 points in two games, but even without that, as long as he’s playing with the strength he’s had lately, the Lakers can count on him to be a leading option, which changes their outlook for this season enormously.