Los Angeles Lakers X-Factor: Anthony Davis

The first two seasons of the LeBron James-Anthony Davis partnership have unfolded in starkly different manners. In year one, they missed a combined 13 games, guided the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA’s second-best record and rolicked to the franchise’s first title since 2010. In year two, injuries tripped them up and interrupted a title defense. James and Davis were sidelined for 63 games and Los Angeles stumbled to the West’s seventh seed before falling to the Phoenix Suns in six games in the first round.

While concerns surrounding James’ durability moving forward are valid, given his age and recent injury history between last season and 2018-19, he was still an MVP-caliber player prior to spraining his ankle in mid-March. Davis, however, never truly rediscovered the magic of his dominant 2019-20 as one of many stars who were playing catch up because of the absurdly truncated offseason. For the Lakers to punch their second NBA Finals ticket in three years, they’ll be hoping that the four and a half month layoff has revitalized Davis.

Numbers can never encapsulate the entirety of a player, but the decline in some key areas help indicate the contrasting versions of Davis during his first two seasons as a Laker. In 2019-20, according to Cleaning The Glass, he generated a rim frequency of 42 percent, which fell in line with his prior two seasons of 44 percent. He aptly blended his face-up shooting and driving prowess to attack defenses. The result was one of his most efficient scoring campaigns to date before he went supernova from midrange in the playoffs and had the luxury of taking a few more jumpers each night.

Last season, his rim frequency plummeted to a career-low 32 percent. He floated aimlessly more often, settled for contested jumpers and didn’t display the same pop and vigor of months prior — likely due in part to some injury issues. Davis is a solid shooter among big men, but he’s an elite finisher. More than half his shots came from midrange and he converted just 43 percent of them en route to a career-worst 55.6 percent true shooting. Swapping out those looks at the rim for midrange jumpers didn’t suit him.

After a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber regular season and playoff run, Davis followed 2019-20 up with a lackluster showing. He was late as a helper more commonly, didn’t look as spry as a perimeter mover and failed to maintain the impact of his fellow elite defenders around the league, even if he was still good on the aggregate.

Statistically, the waning defensive activity was reflected in a career-low block rate of 2.7 percent. Because the bar he’s set for himself is towering, that still placed him in the 79th percentile, per Cleaning The Glass, but never before had he dipped below the 83rd percentile in his career.

A resurgent year from Davis should be anticipated. Despite various ailments and a brutally short offseason, he was a (very) good player. He just created such lofty expectations following 2019-20, which is a testament to his greatness. Last year, he and the Lakers had fewer than two and a half months between the end of the NBA Finals and their first regular season game. This year, they’ll have close to five months. The hope — nay, the goal — is that’s the sort of elixir for Davis to rediscover his superstar ways and spearhead another prolific season in Southern California.