We all knew it was just a matter of time. Everyone realized that a player as good as Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis was bound to emerge from his slump.
Anthony Davis is a marvelously gifted basketball player. At 6-10, he is quicker than most men his size or bigger and he overpowers smaller opponents. He has a silky smooth jump shot with a release point too high to be blocked and uses his outstanding athleticism and footwork to drive past defenders to the hoop.
In his initial Lakers season, AD was voted to the First Team All-NBA. He averaged 26.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.3 blocks per game. His field goal percentage was 50.3% and he shot 33% from deep and a team-leading 84.6% from the free-throw line.
He was even better in the postseason where the respective averages were 27.7, 9.7, 3.5 and 1.4, and his percentages were 57.1%/38.3%/83.2%. He was voted runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year, but teammates and many others thought he deserved to win the award.
But for the first 14 games of the Los Angeles Lakers’ season, Anthony Davis hadn’t quite resembled the same dominant player, particularly as a scorer.
His average had dropped 5 points to 21.1 and his free throw percentage to 72.5%, which was one of the lowest among Laker regulars.
Somewhat surprisingly his field goal percentage was up to 52.5%, primarily because he was connecting on a career-high 35.1% of his three-point attempts.
Yet AD was frustrated by the drop in his production. In an interview following the Lakers victory over Milwaukee, he said that he “sucked”, that he was having difficulty finding his shooting rhythm and didn’t know what he could do to recover his form.
Up until that point, the Lakers haven’t truly missed the world-class Anthony Davis. GM Rob Pelinka decided in the offseason that the team needed additional offense to complement AD and LeBron James.
So he acquired Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell, who are both averaging double figures in points and Marc Gasol, who is shooting 38% from beyond the arc, is an excellent passer and sets bone-crunching picks.
But if the Lakers are to successfully defend their title, everyone knew they would need Davis to resemble the player he’s been all his career. However likely that was to happen “eventually”, nobody knew just when he’d bust out.
The primary reason for AD’s slow start was the unprecedented short time period between the Finals in October and the beginning of the new season. The prevailing thought was that since Davis is just age 27, shouldn’t it be easy for him to bounce back quickly?
The answer is a bit more complicated. Let’s remember that AD has publicly said that he prefers playing power forward to center. The main reason is so he can avoid getting constantly pounded by bigger opponents down low. Nonetheless, last season roughly 12 of his 34 minutes each game were at the 5.
He played even more time at center in the postseason. JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard, who played 36 minutes a game in the regular season, combined to play just 25 minutes in the playoffs. And McGee was ultimately benched for seven games while Howard only played in 18 of the Lakers’ 21 games.
As a result, by the time the season ended, AD was worn down. His body needed a longer offseason to rejuvenate. Some anticipated that he might be rested for a few games early in the season, but he had played in all 14 Lakers games, although his minutes had decreased to 32.7 from 34.4.
He tried to ease his way into the flow, but that didn’t work, at least not the way he expected. He was taking two fewer shots a game from the field and 3 ½ fewer foul shots. As noted earlier, even though his three-point percentage was up, his mid-range and free throw accuracy were down.
Before the team traveled to AD’s old hometown, Chicago, to face the Bulls, he had scored over 30 points only once and over 25 points just four times. But he exploded for a season-high 37 points on 14-21 shooting in just 28 minutes. He hit 2-3 from beyond the arc and 7-9 from the free-throw line. He hit shots from all over the court and even chipped in 3 assists.
Davis’ big night was welcome in a game when the rest of the Lakers’ offense struggled. All Lakers not named Davis shot just 38% from the field (22-58) and a woeful 12.5% (2-16) from behind the three-point line (one game after shooting 19-37, 51%, from deep against Milwaukee).
AD raised his scoring average by a full point to 22.1. While he won’t score 37 points every night, it’s a safe bet that he’ll average more than 22 the rest of the way. And that makes a Lakers offense that already ranked in the top five even scarier to the rest of the league.
All statistics courtesy of www.basketball-reference.com