The Lakers’ early problems have obscured Anthony Davis’ return to All-NBA form, but as Los Angeles moves out of the Western Conference basement, it is because to Davis playing the best basketball he has since helping the Lakers win the championship in 2020.
As the centre for the Los Angeles Lakers, Davis is averaging 28.6 points and 12.8 rebounds per game. His mix of strength and agility allows him to dominate opposition fives. Perhaps Darvin Ham’s biggest accomplishment as the Lakers coach thus far is Davis’ willingness to play the five while still embracing the role of a dominant centre. Davis has resisted the idea of becoming the Lakers’ primary five for years despite years of pleading from fans and observers. He has evolved into that this season out of pure necessity on a squad lacking depth at centre. And as a result, he and the Lakers have both improved.
Davis’ shot diet drastically changed after switching to centre this season, focusing nearly entirely on the basket and in the paint. In his career, until Sunday’s game against the Wizards, in which he scored 55 points on 22 of 30 shots, Davis was shooting 66.3 percent of his shots from within 10 feet of the hoop, including 38.5 percent of his attempts near the rim, the greatest rate since his rookie year. It’s a crucial change that has been required but difficult to convince Davis to make because, following a career-best shooting performance in the Bubble, Davis’ jumper has significantly deteriorated in the two-plus seasons since.
Given the multiple ailments he’s endured over his career, Davis’ hesitation to transition to a full-time centre was understandable, but when he plays with force and attacks downhill, he is unstoppable. He knew that Washington had no true one to protect the rim, so he attacked ruthlessly right away against the Wizards.
Because he had just started working inside and the Wizards had nothing for him, his shooting chart from that game is nothing short of stunning.
His performance against the Bucks was equally amazing, but it also demonstrated how his renewed confidence has given his jumper new life. He used some early pull-up jumpers to draw Brook Lopez out of the paint, giving himself more space to work inside later.
He continues to be a defensive juggernaut, recording 2.4 blocks and 1.4 steals a game while policing the paint and correcting errors made by guys on the perimeter at the basket. Darvin Ham can be innovative with his defensive looks thanks to his athletic ability to switch when necessary or hedge and recover.
Since that 2020 championship run, Lakers fans have been waiting to see this version of Davis, but due to a combination of injuries, reluctance, and roster bottlenecks at the five, we are only now getting to see it. That’s a testament to Ham, who has worked tirelessly behind the scenes despite few roster acquisitions to turn the early season around. When it comes to Ham’s star-whispering skills, getting Davis to play as a dominant centre is just as astounding as getting Russell Westbrook to thrive as a bench player.
While Davis’ performance doesn’t alter the Lakers’ roster needs—shooting is still an urgent need around Davis, LeBron James, and Westbrook—it might alter the front office’s calculations. Many people, including, apparently, the Lakers’ decision-makers, questioned if this team could be a contender even with LeBron in Year 20 even if they acquired reinforcements and made a significant move. Only if Davis returned to his All-NBA form would that be the case, and after 22 games this season, he has gradually become just that.
Because it represents a fundamental shift in Davis’ style of play rather than just his getting hot as a shooter, the current stretch of play feels especially significant. While going 4-of-6 from outside the arc the last two games surely helped, shooting can come and go. The 87 other points he’s amassed are considerably more amazing because they come in a far more sustainable way.
Big men on the other team should have no chance against Davis. That aptitude has never been in doubt. It has always been a question of whether he will stand up for himself, and during the past month, he has done just that.
As long as that keeps happening, Davis will stay in charge. Even without it, as long as he plays with the intensity he has been playing with recently, the Lakers can expect on him to be a leading option, which drastically alters their outlook on this season. The shooting can make him completely unstoppable and deliver things like 99 points in two games.