By this point, everyone knows the story. As a high school sophomore, Anthony Davis stood at just 6’2 and was nothing more than a fringe college prospect. Over the next 18 months, he grew eight inches and became the No. 1 prospect in the country.
Davis’ transformation resulted in a 6’10 forward with the skillset of a guard (the position he had played his entire life). In theory, that sounds incredible and as the NBA continues to reinvent the modern NBA big, AD’s skillset makes pretty much everyone drool. It’s why he’s an impossible matchup for almost every other NBA big, and why he’s currently averaging 28.5 points, 10 rebounds and 3.7 assists during these playoffs, not to mention his 1.3 blocks per game as well.
But it’s also why he’s a picture perfect 2020 NBA center that basically refuses to play the five and why, sometimes, he has games — like Game 3 of the West Finals — that look like that of a one dimensional scoring guard and not of one of the most dominant forces in the game.
In the Lakers’ 114-106 loss to the Nuggets in Game 3, Davis finished with 27 points on 9-of-17 shooting. He was 9-of-10 from the charity stripe with a +/- of +4 in the loss. On the surface, a fine stat line, but let’s get into the details and break down numbers.
First of all, Davis only had two rebounds, and he got BOTH of them in the fourth quarter. Eleven different players including Rajon Rondo, Jamal Murray, Paul Milsap, and Torrey Craig, had more rebounds than Davis. Instead of fighting for rebounds, he was falling down in key moments and hanging out around the 3-point line.
That is true. He did do that. pic.twitter.com/rCk7LFy7Lm
— Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn) September 24, 2020
The Lakers are down three with four minutes left and instead of boxing out Jokic and grabbing a rebound he already had position for, he inexplicably goes crashing to the ground. Do you see a lot of contact? I don’t. Jokic is many things, known for his ability to completely overpower you with his toughness and brute strength is not one of them. Especially when you’re 6’10 and 253 pounds like Davis is.
And now we get to his shot selection. The most infuriating part of this is that he was absolutely dominant again inside the paint. It would be one thing if he couldn’t get it going on the interior due to the Nuggets packing it down inside and so he made the adjustment and tried to get things going from outside. But that wasn’t the case. Denver doesn’t have a player who can stop him.
Through three games, Davis is 20-of-29 shooting from inside the paint. That’s 69%. Through those same three games, Davis has taken more shots outside of the paint than inside in two of the three games. Ultimately, he’s 12-of-32 outside of the paint — or 37.5%. Finally, he’s 29-of-32 from the charity stripe.
So what does that tell you? He’s dominant in the paint and he’s either scoring at will or getting to the free throw line where he’s shooting 90.6%.
The tape shows something similar. They just can’t stop him when he’s in the paint. Let’s take a look at a couple of clips from Game 3 courtesy of ESPN on YouTube.
Let’s start at 0:11 in the video. Davis has Milsap sprinting right at him and no one under the basket. Instead he takes a 3-pointer only to get going downhill and get a free dunk off a Lebron pass.
Now jump to 1:40, here you’ll find AD at his best: 1-on-1, facing up on the basket being aggressive in the post against Jerami Grant. The result is an and-1. There are a lot more like that in this game, but not enough. Denver was able to go small in this game and play Grant at the five because Davis wasn’t punishing them for the lack of size on the floor.
But instead, Davis refuses to assert his dominance on the Nuggets’ interior defense for the entire game. You’ll find him lolly-gagging around the 3-point line, not competing for rebounds in close games and settling for jumpers even when Murray has switched onto him.
AD has taken more shots outside of the paint in this series than inside, even though he’s scored 69 points in the paint and from the free throw line in three games. The reality is absolutely infuriating.
Davis is the most dominant player on the floor in the Western Conference Finals. What needs to happen next is for him to realize it and actually show it for 48 minutes. As great as buzzer-beating threes are, Los Angeles wouldn’t need them if AD would play the game his strength and size allow him to play against a Nuggets team that doesn’t have a great option to guard him.
Photo by: Keith Allison / Wikimedia Commons