Welcome to our annual Lakers season in review series, where we’ll be taking a look back at every player on the team’s roster this season, evaluating their play, and deciding if they should be a part of the organization’s future. Today, we take a closer look at Anthony Davis.
How did he play?
Unfortunately, the answer first must be prefaced with another question: “you mean, when Anthony Davis played?”
Due to a pair of debilitating and separate knee and foot sprains, Davis ended the year missing a total of 42 games for the purple and gold. This comes on the heels of his previous season, where he sat for 46 contests.
While both ailments were essentially unavoidable given how they occurred — something Davis himself recently vocalized in order to dismiss the “injury-prone” label he’s been stamped with — his inability to consistently stay on the floor has unequivocally derailed the team’s recent championship aspirations.
In terms of when Davis actually played, he not only once again showcased the massive talents he possesses, but also made subtle modifications around the edges that resulted in career highs and lows.
Perhaps the biggest examples of Davis’ successes and sources of frustration both came on the offensive side of the floor.
According to Cleaning the Glass, Davis’ 24.9% usage rate was his lowest since the 2014-15 campaign. However, this was not necessarily a negative, as his true shooting percentage was up from last season, and his 54.3% effective field-goal percentage ranked as his best mark since 2018 despite woeful perimeter shooting that tanked his numbers.
The biggest reason for the uptick in Davis’ efficiency was making sure more of his looks came closer to the basket given his aforementioned struggles with his jumper. Although his “long 2’s” (shots that come outside of 14 feet) frequency remained exactly the same, his mid-range attempts overall dropped nine percent from last year.
In his patented mid-range jumper’s place were ample chances where he could do damage directly at the rim. The percentage of his attempts (46%) that came within four feet was not only his highest since joining the Lakers, but his best rate since 2013. And his 77% conversion rate on those looks was the best of his career.
In terms of how the Lakers got Davis’ offensive game to steer inward, the result was a product of using him in more downhill attempts. This is something fans of the team have long coveted to see out of the big man, and that he did in his all-too-limited appearances this season.
According to the league’s play-type data, 20.5% of Davis’ offense was derived from serving as the roll man for the likes of LeBron James and Russell Westbrook’s drive and lob game, up nearly six percent from the season prior.
But while his offense near the basket proved to be as devastating as ever, the concerns relating to Davis’ efficiency from distance continued to be the elephant in the room. After blazing shooting performances within the Orlando Bubble, Davis has since completely lost his stroke from behind the arc, making just 39 of his last 170 3-point attempts (22.9%) in the last two seasons.
Although Davis’ 3-point game has never been a strong suit, defenses viewing him as a threat from deep — as well as his sheer willingness to take them — has noticeably been on a decline. This season, perhaps the biggest example of Davis’ spacing limitations was felt when he played in lineups next to other non-shooting threats, like when saddled with another big, or the aforementioned Westbrook.
The Lakers will likely need Davis to ultimately recover his shooting touch and confidence regardless of who is and isn’t on the roster next season. Not only in order to rekindle their offensive juices in the half-court, but to help Davis take that next step in his individual game.
What is his contract situation moving forward?
Unlike nearly every other player on the roster now, and even after this offseason, Davis’ long-term outlook on the Lakers will likely be the most stable.
Beyond his star power, talent and the fact that he just turned 29 in March, the five-year, $190 million contract Davis signed back in 2020 signaled he would be the team’s cornerstone to build around for the next few seasons.
According to Basketball-Insiders, Davis is set to make $37.9 million this upcoming year, and the $40.6 million he’ll make in the 2023-24 season is currently the only money on the team’s books outside of Talen Horton-Tucker’s player option for that season. It’s an important note in terms of the team both being financially in position to re-sign Davis, as well as having enough cap room to maximize the prime of his career by getting him the necessary help.
Davis also has an early-termination option prior to the fifth year of the deal in 2024-25.
Should he be back?
It’s difficult to imagine a realistic scenario in which Davis is not a member of the Lakers next season. Nor should there be. Despite his injuries and lackluster play to which he sometimes falls victim, an engaged and healthy Davis still remains amongst the league’s upper echelon.
He has not only shown to be one half a dynamic one-two punch with James, but is also still one of the league’s best defensive stalwarts (the Lakers allowed 6.4 points less with Davis on the floor this year versus when he was off) to sculpt a game-plan around on a nightly basis.
Davis has also shown flexibility in playing more center, something he was once far more rigid against doing for long stretches. This, in turn, will offer up more optionality when it comes to the team’s future roster-building as well as produce more effective results on the court.
According to Cleaning the Glass, 76% of Davis’ possessions this season came at center, a career-high.
Although there will always be a chance of rumblings about a potential blockbuster trade, there will not be many swaps out there where the Lakers will unquestionably be better off without Davis.
Instead of making massive changes when it comes to their star duo, it will likely be in the Lakers’ best interest to attempt to swap out Davis and James’ supporting cast in favor of more complementary pieces this summer, nail their head-coaching hire and learn from the mistakes that were made this season.
In order for the next iteration of the team to ultimately succeed in getting back into contention, Davis will need to be both available and at the center of it all. Figuratively, and literally.