Unselfish is Overrated: Anthony Davis needs to dominate

Anthony Davis (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)
Anthony Davis (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images) /

It is time for Anthony Davis to take charge.

Way back on February 6th, the Los Angeles Lakers faced off against the small ball version of the Houston Rockets for the first time. Although many thought the Lakers and Anthony Davis would dominate inside, that meeting showcased some glaring vulnerabilities that we swept under the rug and have yet to address.

Despite having three seven-footers on the roster, the Lakers played right into the tiny hands of the Rockets in the form of 17 turnovers and an appalling 33 attempts from downtown.

To make matters worse, The Lakers won the rebounding battle by a mere 4 boards despite the size advantage. As I watched in disbelief as both teams walked off the floor, it sank in: The Lakers are too unselfish.

Despite making two-thirds of his shots, the Lakers refused to pound the ball into Anthony Davis as he attempted an unassuming 21 shots from the field for just 32 points.

Meanwhile, LeBron James racked up 15 assists and shot just 8-19 from the field and 1-8 from deep. To make matters worse, the Lakers allowed the 6’3 historically awful shooter Russell Westbrook to play the role of unstoppable interior force en route to 41 points.

So what on earth happened? It’s quite simple: The Lakers were given the blueprint (pound the ball inside!) to beat the Rockets, yet they refused to use it. In a game where Anthony Davis could have had a historic scoring night, he and the other Lakers felt the need to share the ball, space the floor for three-point shots, and ultimately try to beat the Rockets at their own game.

Although this was one regular-season game, it’s been something I’ve kept tabs on in case of a potential playoff matchup. It seems I was right in doing so.

Flash forward five months and these vulnerabilities are alive and well. In Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals, the Lakers are still having the same problems.

As a team, The Lakers jacked up 38 threes. The Rockets, who essentially play five guards at all times, only attempted 39. Despite this massive size advantage, the team rebound numbers were deadlocked at 41 apiece.

Most important of all, Anthony Davis was not assertive enough.

Despite scoring 25 points on 63 percent shooting from the field, Anthony Davis only attempted 16 shots. In comparison, his future Hall of Fame running mate LeBron James attempted 15 shots while connecting on just seven. LeBron, a good but not great shooter, hoisted up seven attempts from behind the arc. He only converted on two.

In most situations, the Lakers rely on their Hall of Fame 6’8 superstar LeBron James to handle the ball. For the most part, it’s worked. Even at 35 years old, LeBron has played marvelously this season. He led the league in assists at over 10 a game. He led the Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference and found his way into the finalist podium for the regular season Most Valuable Player Award.

However, what we have often overlooked this season is Anthony Davis. It was Davis, not LeBron James, that led the team in scoring this season at 26 a game. Before the pandemic uprooted the season, Davis was averaging closer to 30 a game and was among the league’s best scoring the ball.

Additionally, Davis dominated on the defensive end of the floor this season as well. As a result, he found his way into the final three nominations for the Defensive Player of The Year award. Although he lost, I personally felt he was snubbed at the hands of Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Unfortunately, Davis has been comfortable playing second fiddle to the future Hall of Famer. In the process, he’s forgotten that he will likely be in the Hall of Fame himself. Although it’s great to see Davis looking up to LeBron and following the more experienced and established star, all great sidekicks have their moments.

In Laker history alone, there are numerous instances of this. As a rookie, Magic Johnson rose to the challenge and won Finals MVP for a Lakers team missing Kareem Abdul Jabbar due to injury. Later in the 80s, James Worthy returned the favor for Magic Johnson and dominated across the stat sheet in the NBA Finals to help defeat the Pistons and capture a Finals MVP as well.

More recently, the late Kobe Bryant had moments in the 2001 playoffs where he erupted for multiple 40 point games. In the Finals the year before, he converted on the game-winning tip in to seal a win when Shaquille O’Neal fouled out of the game.

Despite the greatness of LeBron James, Anthony Davis needs to get selfish and dominate. He’s a fantastic player too. He can’t worry about outplaying James and drawing attention to himself. At times, a team needs its second-best player to eclipse its best player.

With James racking up just seven assists on subpar shooting in the series opener, Anthony Davis needs to break the normal offensive flow, demand the ball in the low post, and make the Rockets play for daring to put smaller players on him.

Although this may sound selfish at first, it will ultimately open things up for his teammates. Once Davis gets going, the Rockets will be forced to double team or suffer a historic night. When the double comes, Davis can make plays out of the low post and get his teammates the open three-point shots that they thrive on offensively.

In short, the Lakers need to abandon the drive and kick offense and let Davis lead the charge on both ends of the floor. They need to stop casting up triples that lead to long rebounds that are easy for smaller players to get to.

They need to hit the offensive boards and make the Rockets pay with second-chance buckets. On the defensive end, the Lakers need to look to Anthony Davis and the other bigs to protect the basket and prevent drives by Westbrook and Harden that lead to open threes.

Next. Free agents to replace Rondo if he leaves. dark

If all goes well, we should see the opposite of showtime tonight: an old-school, physical, and interior-oriented approach to the game.