November 30, 2023

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With a 2-10 record and an injured LeBron James, the season very easily could have ended a week ago for the Los Angeles Lakers. A few more losses and their hole would’ve been too deep to climb out of. Instead, the Lakers have clawed their way back up to 4-10 with a stretch of winnable games ahead of them. Who do they have to thank for that? Anthony Davis.

“He’s the best player in the league,” Lonnie Walker IV said after Friday’s 128-121 victory over the Pistons. “It’s all about bringing it night in, night out.”

That honorific might be a bit much, but Walker isn’t far off. In L.A.’s past two victories, Davis has accumulated a combined 75 points and 34 rebounds. In four games without James by his side, he is averaging 32.5 points, 13 rebounds and 2.5 assists. His struggles in asserting himself next to James and Russell Westbrook were one of the dominant stories for the Lakers to start the season. Now he’s keeping the Lakers afloat without their best player, and their coach hopes he can keep it up even when James returns.

“LeBron knows that we need Anthony to play like that,” Darvin Ham said after the game. “We [all] know we have to get A.D. going. That gives us our best chance to be successful.”

Davis has played more aggressively largely by necessity. He tends to take a passive role when sharing the floor with James and Westbrook, who are both extremely ball-dominant. But as these past few games have proven, good things happen to the Lakers when they funnel the ball inside to Davis.

And fortunately for him, reinforcements arrived Friday. While James missed the Pistons game, reserve guard Dennis Schroder and backup center Thomas Bryant both made their season debuts for the Lakers. Bryant in particular is notable for his prior success as a 3-point shooter. The Lakers haven’t been able to pair Davis with a traditional big man often this season because doing so would ruin their spacing offensively. If Bryant can consistently make 3-pointers at the center position, Davis could theoretically slide back to the power forward slot where he is more comfortable.

But against the Pistons and Nets, Davis looked comfortable no matter where he played. After two disappointing and injury-riddled seasons, the Lakers are finally getting the version of Davis that helped them win the 2020 championship. Only time will tell if he can maintain this style of play with a fully healthy roster, but if he can, the Lakers might have quite a few more wins in front of them.

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