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Lakers News: Buzz on Anthony Davis as Defensive Player of the Year, Alex Caruso

Maurice Bobb@@ReeseReportFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2019

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 16:  Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers defends against a shot by Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors during the second half of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on October 16, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Anthony Davis made three things clear when he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers this past summer: He wanted to win an NBA Championship, he wanted to win the Most Valuable Player award and he wanted to win the Defensive Player of the Year award.

The Lakers are off to their best start at 19-3, good for the finest record in the Western Conference, so a championship is not out of the question.

The 6'10" big man is playing at an MVP level, averaging a team-high 26 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 2.7 blocks, and 3.2 assists per game.

The MVP trophy may be difficult to earn considering the elevated play of James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and even his own teammate LeBron James.

But that DPOY award?

Davis is the front-runner, and the only man standing in his way is Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid.

"I think he can and will win Defensive Player of the Year this year," Lakers head coach Frank Vogel told ESPN's Dave McMenamin. "I think there's no one in the league like him defensively in terms of being able to guard all positions, protect the rim the way he does and deflect the basketball, contain the basketball. There really isn't anyone in the league like him, and if our team defense continues to play at a high level throughout the year, I think he'll win it going away."

Davis' impact on the defensive end can't quite be defined just by the numbers, although they're very good.

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His defensive rating through 21 games is 102.9, which isn't as good as Embiid's 94.3 rating, but defensive rating isn't the ultimate arbiter in the DPOY race.

Last season, Rudy Gobert took home the award and had a defensive rating of 103.6.

What mattered most was that his team, the Utah Jazz, had the second-best defensive rating in the league at 105.3, and he was the defensive anchor for that team.

That's what will make Davis' case this year.

L.A. was ranked No. 13 in the league last season with a defensive rating of 108.9. It has improved dramatically to No. 3 at 102.7.

And the biggest reason for that turnaround is Davis.

"I take pride in my defense," Davis said. "Anytime late game when guys feel like they can score on me, I take it personally and try to play without fouling and get stops for my team. In those situations, two of their best players, you want to make sure you want to stay home and do what I do best and play defense and make them take tough shots."

Davis felt like "he should have won it" back in 2017-18, when he came in third in the voting for DPOY, but he's evolved as a defender, blocking shots at the three-point line as well as on the low block.

"I think the biggest thing for me that was different is the way the game has changed guarding 4s [power forwards]," Davis told Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times. "A lot of people run the corner action where they put the 4 in the corner, they set a pindown and now I'm chasing and being in pick-and-rolls where I'm guarding the ball instead of guarding a screener."

Rajon Rondo played with Davis during his exemplary season with the New Orleans Pelicans, so he's witnessed the growth firsthand, and he's already confirmed his vote for the six-time All-Star.

"I got him as MVP and Defensive Player of the Year," Rondo told McMenamin. "So, if he only gets one, I'll be pissed. My expectations are really high for him, so we have to continue to win as a team and, hopefully, the rest of the world will understand and see that he's a really big part of why we are who we are."

        

Alex Caruso Building Hard-Nosed Reputation on Defense

Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

This year, the Lakers have built their success on defense, and everyone's eating.

Especially Alex Caruso.

When Caruso comes off the bench, he electrifies the team on both ends of the floor.

He's only averaging 5.1 points, 2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game, but when it comes to Caruso, it's not the what, it's the how.

Caruso is playing late in games on the floor with James and has developed a cult following among Lakers fans not just because of his above-the-rim acrobatics, but for his hard-nosed play on the defensive end.

Fans love his grit and swagger.

The Lakers have come to love how he scrapped his way from their G-League affiliate the South Bay Lakers to become a vital part of their championship chase.

"Going through the G League and talking to GM's, asking them questions about what it takes to make an NBA roster, one of the consistent things was 'Can you guard multiple positions,' and 'Can you exceed in your role,' and I was like, 'I can do that. I can find a role.' I think the best part of my game is I can play multiple roles," Caruso told NBA.com's Mike Trudell.

"I'm not being asked to be in 15-20 pick and rolls and distribute the ball. My role is to play really good defense, be efficient offensively and just bring that edge and that intensity."

It's still early in the season, but Caruso has a defensive rating of 95.5, which is the fourth best in the league among players that play at least 20 minutes per game.

That defensive acumen is one of the main reasons coach Vogel trusts him late in games.

"Caruso is a star defender. I think he's elite," Vogel told Trudell. "When you study him on tape or just watch him in summer workouts, you see he has pretty good feet and good length. But there are a lot of 6'5" defenders that you think should be great defenders cause they're long, but they're not good defenders. But Alex is. He has great instincts and that's the biggest thing with him.

"It's not always just about physical ability, it's about IQ. It's about activity, hands, containment ability, willingness to take chargers, the ability to mix it up and get on the boards and rebound the basketball. He does all of those things at a very high level."

With Rondo out late last year, Caruso stepped into a starting role and put up multiple double-digit point and assist games.

But now that he's counted on as a spark off the bench, he's good with whatever role helps his team win games.

"I've always been a good defender, just because I have a want to stop the other person," Caruso said. "I have a competitive edge in me where I get more mad when my guy scores than I do if I were to score 20. I find more joy out of frustrating the other team. I just want to win the game and be the reason the other team is frustrated or can't score.

"Whether that's noticed or not, it doesn't matter, as long as I know I'm doing it and I'm having an impact. That's what really counts."

     

Maurice Bobb covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow Maurice on Twitter, @ReeseReport.