The endorsements are rolling in for Anthony Davis as Defensive Player of the Year, which feels a little hasty less than a week into December.
Head coach Frank Vogel stumped for Davis on Tuesday, and teammate LeBron James echoed the sentiment after the Los Angeles Lakers' 121-96 road win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday. To say we should consider the potential for bias from those sources is an understatement. Vogel and James (and surely, soon enough, the Lakers' PR department) won't be the last to advocate for a co-worker's award-worthy play.
Maybe Davis will deserve DPOY several months from now, and maybe he won't. What matters more is the impact he's having on a surging Lakers team—on both ends.
To be fair, AD's presence on D was a key to the Lakers' victory. Utah was hesitant around the cup all night, constantly aware of his looming presence. He blocked three shots but changed plenty more, helping to limit the Jazz to 34 points in the paint, well below their season average.
That shouldn't be a surprise. Davis leads all high-volume rim protectors in defensive field-goal percentage allowed at the rim.
He was even a deterrent much farther away from the bucket.
Just for posterity, the numbers through roughly a quarter of the season suggest AD is right in the mix for award consideration.
He trails Rudy Gobert, Joel Embiid and a few others in Defensive Player Impact Plus-Minus, and he ranks fifth among players with at least 600 minutes in Basketball Reference's Defensive Box Plus/Minus. The Lakers' performance on defense has been excellent, ranking fourth in the league (102.7 points allowed per 100 possessions). But it's also true that they post a better defensive rating with AD off the floor than on.
He was also 9-of-11 from the field for an efficient 26 points against the Jazz, including a perfect 4-of-4 in the restricted area.
One of those four close-range makes was a little louder than the rest.
There's no award for it, but Davis' two-way stability is most deserving of praise. Playing the second night of a back-to-back set in Utah usually amounts to a schedule loss. That the Lakers' first game in the set came at altitude in Denver on Tuesday only added to the potential for a letdown.
Instead, Davis anchored them on both ends and was key to a 34-26 first-quarter blitz against what should have been a desperate Jazz team. Utah came in having lost four of the five games on its recent road trip, and several of those included brutal first-half deficits. If ever a team should have been motivated to summon a hot start, it was the Jazz on Wednesday.
But Davis and the Lakers iced them early and for the duration, winning their 10th consecutive road game.
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
For the 4th time in franchise history, the Lakers have won 10 straight road games. The previous 3 teams went to the NBA Finals (1971-72, 1972-73, 1999-00). Tonight was also the 8th game the Lakers allowed fewer than 100 points this season, already more than all of last season. https://t.co/6fQW7Pqm6X
It's important to note that L.A.'s defensive ferocity and refusal to coast are antithetical to what we've seen from most of James' recent teams.
In Cleveland (we're talking James' second stint), defense was optional, and urgency for regular-season games was hard to come by. We can't ascribe all of the Lakers' focus to Davis, but doesn't it stand to reason that AD—the guy who hasn't won at a clip commensurate with his skills, the guy who may have more to prove this season than anyone else—deserves most of the credit?
He's never been a part of a team this successful, and it often feels as though he's as committed to sustaining that success as anyone on the roster. It's more appreciation than desperation; Davis is getting his first taste of high-level play, and it seems to agree with him.
And because we tend to ascribe more value to statistical production that coincides with winning, can't we also agree that although Davis isn't averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals or blocks, his contributions to a 19-3 Lakers team are at least as impressive as anything he's done in the past?
If it's possible for a player to have his best season without producing personal highs statistically, this must be what it looks like.
Oh, and the best part of Davis' steady brilliance is that he still allows the Lakers to coast...once they've built a lead so insurmountable that they can kick off their shoes and relax.