The case for and against the success of Anthony Davis continuing

Anthony Davis

The Los Angeles Lakers have won three games in a row for the first time since Jan. 2 – Jan. 7. This streak has come while LeBron James has been in street clothes; Anthony Davis has put the team on his back, putting up numbers that invoke the memory of the highest tier of greatest Lakers big men of all-time. Just take a look at the awe-inspiring statistics below that we haven’t seen since those fabled players once wore the purple-and-gold.

And speaking of the team being on AD’s back, that back tightness of his must have seen its final days over the four-day break that he was able to enjoy last week. He’s been on a tear ever since, finally showing signs of a guy who wrote “Throw the ball to AD” on a whiteboard for all teammates to see before this 2022-23 campaign started. He’s now averaging 25.6 points and 12.0 rebounds per game, marking his highest scoring average since the 2019-20 championship season and the highest rebounding average since his final 2018-19 season with the Pelicans.

Of course, I’m not here to be an oblivious homer. We have to point out the obvious caveats. This three-game run of his has come against the Nets, the Pistons, and then most recently the Spurs. These teams have abysmal frontcourts to throw at AD to deter the numerous shots in the paint he’s had recently. And the best big man on all three teams — the Spurs’ Jakob Poeltl — didn’t even play in the Lakers’ blowout of the Spurs on Sunday.

Since it has come against such weak competition, would it be foolish to expect this type of production from Anthony Davis to continue? We won’t be able to find out the answer to that question until the next couple of weeks passes by, but there are numerous factors that are working for, as well as against the idea of us fans getting to watch AD do this more often.

First, you have to consider how AD has been able to tally so many points and rebounds over the last few games. Both of those statistics have mostly come after his guards — most notably Austin Reaves, Lonnie Walker, and Russell Westbrook — have got past the first line of defense to start approaching the paint. After this, they either put up a mid-range or short-range shot attempt that they wouldn’t usually take if they didn’t have a monster in AD waiting to corral a possible rebound, or they quickly dish it to AD to let him either get fouled or dunk it home.

But will that same formula work in a game like tonight’s vs. the Suns? There are many reasons that a game against the Suns (1st in net rating across the league) would be much tougher for AD and the Lakers than a game against the Spurs (30th in net rating). But most notably in regards to this thought experiment, guys like Mikal Bridges, Torrey Craig, and even Devin Booker may prove to be more capable deterrents on the perimeter than what the Spurs, Pistons, or Nets have. And then even if the Lakers guards get past those guys, Anthony Davis will be banging against DeAndre Ayton all evening, a big man who makes all the others for those three lowly teams seem like… I don’t know… me?

Luckily, after they play the Suns tonight the Lakers will then play a back-to-back in San Antonio against the Spurs yet again (this year’s schedule is so weird). But after that, their schedule reverts back much closer to what we saw in the first two weeks of the season. However, even with that improved competition, there are still some reasons to give hope to the idea of continuing to see this type of Anthony Davis.

The most important of which is that we will hopefully see the return of LeBron James this week. LeBron has missed the past four games due to an abductor strain in his groin, and although the team has a much better winning percentage without him than with him this season, it’s needless to say that they’ll desperately need him against the Suns of the world. He’s currently questionable for Tuesday’s game, however, a return is seemingly on the horizon if it doesn’t come tonight.

And as for the reasons that LeBron will help AD continue to play this way, I shouldn’t really have to point out the obvious ones in LeBron’s facilitating prowess. But other than that, LeBron is also probably the biggest and strongest four the Lakers can put out there next to AD at the five. LeBron should alleviate AD’s load in that sense, allowing these monster performances of his to continue for a long time.

In addition to LeBron helping bolster the frontcourt around AD, the Lakers also received a boost recently in that department with the debut of Thomas Bryant. In the two games he’s played in, he’s averaged 11.5 points and seven rebounds per game as his high motor and size has proved to be a great compliment not only alongside AD, but alongside Westbrook and the rest of the team as well.

Lastly, Austin Reaves continues to rise. He’s averaged 17.8 points and 3.3 assists per game over the last four games, tying Patrick Beverley as second on the team in assists behind Westbrook’s staggering 11.3 mark. As mentioned previously, his assertiveness lately and generally good playmaking has been a contributing factor towards AD’s success. And other than that, he has provided a level of offensive talent the team has been missing from someone like Beverley, who continues to struggle on that end this season.

No matter whether AD’s tear will continue, we must give credit to him even while bringing up the inferior opponents that have allowed him to thrive. As we’ve come to get accustomed to over the past two or three seasons, Davis can easily fade into the background on the offensive end while letting LeBron and his other teammates try and do it themselves. Davis isn’t doing anything cute to attain these gaudy numbers, in fact, he’s been doing it almost exclusively in the old-fashioned, grind-it-out, tough-nosed way via the painted area.

It’s been a refreshing change of pace from the former All-NBA big man, and hopefully one we don’t have to be surprised by again moving forward.

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