Anthony Davis Offers a Glimpse of Los Angeles Lakers' Future

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistAugust 21, 2020

Los Angeles Lakers' Anthony Davis reacts after coming down on his ankle during the third quarter of Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)
Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

LeBron James has appeared in 241 playoff games. He's only fallen shy of the 10 points he scored in Thursday's 111-88 win over the Portland Trail Blazers twice.

The Los Angeles Lakers still won by 23—and it didn't even feel that close—because LeBron may be playing with the best No. 2 he's ever had.

In fact, if the Lakers win it all in 2020, those roles might be reversed. Maybe this postseason is the one in which Anthony Davis takes the torch.

On Thursday, he scored 31 points on 13-of-21 shooting, grabbed 11 boards and dished out three assists. And he did it all in 29 minutes, which was more than enough for him to help the Lakers restore order to this No. 1 vs. No. 8 series.

StatMuse @statmuse

Anthony Davis tonight: 31 PTS 11 REB 13-21 FG 3-4 3P in 29 MINS He is the first Laker with a 30/10 playoff game in 30 minutes or fewer since 1975. https://t.co/3syZzzuJAH

LeBron, meanwhile, got his 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting. He also had six turnovers. By game score, it was the sixth-worst playoff performance of his career.

At no point during Thursday's action did it feel like it mattered, though. AD was in control, and there was nothing the Blazers could do about it.

He stepped out for threes. He soared over Hassan Whiteside for offensive rebounds. He scored inside. He was locked in on defense. And he did stuff like this:

Los Angeles Lakers @Lakers

That's not fair. A big man shouldn't be able to do that. (📺: @SpectrumSN & ESPN) https://t.co/gZygFCK748

What is anyone supposed to do about that?

Even in today's talent-rich NBA, Davis is anomalous. He was the only player in 2019-20 with at least 100 blocks and 100 two-point makes from 10 feet and out. He was in the 72nd percentile for points per possession in isolation, the 78th percentile as a roll man and the 81st percentile as a cutter.

On the other end of the floor, AD anchored the No. 3 defense in the NBA. The Lakers gave up only 107.3 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor.

And all of this versatility comes from the physical frame of a traditional 5, which is where Davis should eventually wind up as a Laker.

On Thursday, he played just under 10 minutes without JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard on the floor. Throw LeBron into that equation and you might have L.A.'s title-winning lineup.

On the season, the Lakers are plus-14.3 points per 100 possessions with LeBron on the floor and Davis at the 5 (compared to plus-5.3 when LeBron is on and AD is at the 4).

There aren't many, if any, centers who can effectively handle all the different ways AD scores. Old-school, more lumbering types can be pulled away from the rim for isos and jumpers. Try a smaller, more mobile player on him and Davis will punish him as a roller or post player.

Surrounding AD with more shooting makes his scoring opportunities easier, too.

"Is size just overrated in this league?" ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz asked on The Lowe Post. "'Built for the playoffs.' What the hell does that mean? Built for the playoffs now means, 'Do you have four shooters on the floor?'"

If perimeter defenders have to pay attention to Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, it's tougher to double Davis or pack the paint, and that leads to better looks. In 2019-20, the Kentucky product had a scorching 58.3 effective field-goal percentage when McGee and Howard were off the floor. It was a below-average 50.5 percent when he shared the floor with either center.

The bigger impact of Davis at the 5 may be on defense, though. In those "LeBron on the floor and Davis at the 5" lineups, the Lakers give up just 100.2 points per 100 possessions (99th percentile).

When he's in the middle and surrounded by players who can switch all over the rest of the floor, L.A. is nightmarish for opposing offenses. That's only going to get more important in each successive round.

Kim Klement/Associated Press

If they end up in a Western Conference Finals with the Los Angeles Clippers or an NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics or Toronto Raptors, positional versatility will be critical. The more modern looks give that to the Lakers.

And regardless of whether AD realizes as much, surrounding him with that versatility unlocks a higher level for him, too.

The best version of this team is the one on which Davis dominates. Consistently.

"This is the Anthony Davis, I want EVERY NIGHT," The Athletic's Ry Cole tweeted Thursday, and the league is more likely to get that when he's at the 5 and LeBron is still on the floor.

This is undoubtedly one of the most talented duos ever put together. Their chemistry seemed to be there almost instantly, which has a lot to do with LeBron possibly planting the seeds for a peaceful transition of power.

LeBron to AD was, by far, the most prolific assist combination in the NBA this season. Davis was even the Lakers' leading scorer.

The playoffs are a different beast, and we'll surely get some classic LeBron performances over the coming days and weeks. We already got one in Game 1 when he had the first 20-15-15 showing in postseason history, albeit in a loss.

But Thursday showed us what the Lakers' next title team might look like. At the peak of his powers, Davis can be the best player on a championship team.

Yes, even one that includes LeBron.


Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, PBPStats.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass.