LOS ANGELES – The last time the Lakers were 3-1 or better to start the season, Anthony Davis was a senior in high school, while LeBron James was in his first year with the Heat and still did not have an NBA title. Davis, in the time since then, burst on the scene thanks in part to a growth spurt that occurred earlier in his high school career, cemented his future at Kentucky, transformed how he played, and became one of the NBA’s most unique players since, well, James.
Davis as a Laker may have felt inevitable after more than two years of rumors, but that doesn’t take away from what he’s doing on the court now that he is in L.A. The big man — sometimes a 4, sometimes a 5 — has been the Lakers best player, giving LeBron the trusted partner he needs and putting the league on notice through four games. If he’s healthy, this team will give almost every other NBA squad fits in a seven-game series.
Through four games, Davis is averaging 28.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, three assists, and three blocks in 33.3 minutes per game. Arguably only Karl-Anthony Towns has had a better start to the season, although Lakers fans admittedly are biased toward AD, showering him with “MVP” chants following a virtuoso performance in the team’s 120-91 win over the Grizzlies on Tuesday night.
40 and 20 for Anthony Davis, with Dwight Howard trying to get the MVP chant going. pic.twitter.com/HfUVj8GOKG
— Dime (@DimeUPROXX) October 30, 2019
Davis made an emphatic statement in three quarters of play, putting forth a 40-point, 20-rebound effort that featured him relentlessly attacking the paint en route to going 26-for-27 from the free throw line. Nothing the Grizzlies tried worked. And for the second straight game, James was able to defer; he collected his first rebound in the fourth quarter and finished with 23 points, eight assists, and two boards. (The last time James was held to zero rebounds? Yup, 2010.)
“He was dominant,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said of Davis after the win. “He was obviously impacting the game on both ends of the floor, but just the pressure he puts on the defense with his ability to spin out of lobs, his ability to attack the basket with the ball, and then what he’s doing on the glass is spectacular as well. They didn’t have an answer for him tonight.”
Few teams will have an answer for Davis this season if he’s able to tap into that well and continue to find a comfort in partnering with James. Since media day, James has said he wanted the offense to run through AD, and while some of that might be based in self-preservation and helping James extend his dominant career, it also is because, quite simply, this may make the most basketball sense. Davis poses a serious mismatch for most defenders — he can handle the ball, use his explosiveness to corral rebounds, and finish around the rim or draw fouls. And, at 26 years old, he’s still finding ways to tap into his sheer offensive brilliance.
Whether he’s playing at the 4 or the 5, he’s going to find ways to make his minutes count, even if the positional tug of war will play out season-long.
“Instinctually you want to go to it full time because it can be so lethal,” Vogel said on Davis playing the 5 after the team’s win over Utah on Friday night, “but I don’t know if that’s the smartest approach with Anthony at the 5, banging against centers night in and night out. So it’s going to be an opportunistic thing for us.”
That’s for Vogel and the coaching staff to figure out based on feel. He indicated following the win Tuesday that he doesn’t “yo-yo” his rotations, instead working in five-game increments. The team still has to figure out how to integrate Kyle Kuzma and Rajon Rondo when they’re healthy, figure out the best distribution of point guard minutes between Quinn Cook, Alex Caruso, Rondo, and elsewhere, and determine how to rotate the bigs — including Davis — on various nights. The questions of how often to go to Davis there, and playing Davis with LeBron rather than staggering minutes, will be something to monitor all year.
Some nights, it won’t really matter who plays where, because there are two first-team All-NBA players on the Lakers.
This was always the end goal, even if it meant a lost year a season ago, even if it meant parting ways with picks and all of the team’s youngsters outside of Kuzma. Davis was always the prize, especially after James arrived in L.A., and everyone around the league knew that.
“We know what we have in AD and the fans know who they have,” James said after the game. “Every time they announce his name, they know who they have. It just solidified why we went out and got him, tonight was one of those games. He was big time for us.”
No player had ever posted a 40-20 night in fewer than 43 minutes before Tuesday. Davis did it in 31. This was the first 40-20 night for the Lakers since Shaq did it in 2003. He set a franchise record for made free throws with 26. All of this happened even though he left the floor after the third quarter to ice a shoulder he had re-taped earlier in the game following an injury against the Hornets on Sunday.
What’s scary isn’t that AD put up 40 and 20, it’s that Tuesday night’s stats weren’t even gaudier. And following the game’s conclusion, James looked into his crystal ball and made a prediction better days are on the horizon for Davis.
After watching Davis put up Shaq-esque numbers, James told the press that “I don’t even think he’s scratched the surface yet.”