The Los Angeles Lakers are hoping to put last season’s disappointment behind them. To do that, they’ll need LeBron James to be himself and Russell Westbrook to get acclimated. Perhaps most importantly, they need a great season from Anthony Davis.
The 28-year-old Davis, who struggled with injuries last season, is fully healthy and ready to rebound in 2021-22. But staying healthy isn’t the standard for AD. In fact, one Lakers teammate said he expects the talented big man to play at an MVP level.
Anthony Davis is coming off of a down season
When Anthony Davis arrived in LA after seven seasons with the New Orleans Pelicans, it result was that of a Hollywood movie. Davis was the perfect complement to James, averaging 26.1 points in 62 regular-season contests. He was even better in the postseason, scoring 27.7 points on 57.1% shooting to lead the Lakers to a championship in the bubble.
While it would have been ideal to build off of a great 2019-20 season, Davis instead took a step backward in year two.
Davis’ scoring average fell down to 21.8, the third-lowest of his career. His field-goal percentage of 49.1% was the lowest of his nine-year career, as was his 73.8% rate from the free-throw line. Worst of all, the 2012 first overall pick missed 36 games, exactly half of the season, due to calf and Achilles injuries. A groin strain also prevented him from playing in all six games of LA’s first-round series against the Phoenix Suns.
Following LA’s preseason finale versus the Sacramento Kings, Davis confirmed he’s ready for the season.
“I feel good,” Davis said. “That’s what preseason is for, to try and get in a rhythm and that’s why I wanted to play the majority of games, play five out of six, was trying to find that rhythm. … So I feel good going into opening night.”
Rajon Rondo believes Davis can be the MVP
If there’s one person who believes Davis can return to the All-Star level he’s capable of, it’s Rajon Rondo. The two-time champion point guard is back for his second go-around with the Purple and Gold.
Recently, he told The Athletic about his expectations for the eight-time All-Star.
“My expectation for him this year is MVP. Nothing less than MVP and a championship, and he’s a guy that can do it.”Rajon Rondo
The 35-year-old Rondo was with Davis during LA’s championship season but left to sign with the Atlanta Hawks afterward. While the four-time All-Star split the season between the Hawks and LA Clippers, Davis was struggling to stay healthy and be productive. Now, Rondo thinks people are sleeping on his All-Star teammate.
“People stopped talking about him or whatever you want to say,” Rondo said. “But the expectations of this team, if we’re the number one seed or we’re heading into the playoffs [as] the top-ranked dogs and AD’s the leading scorer, AD’s our defensive anchor, then you have to put him in that [MVP] category.”
The Los Angeles Lakers need Anthony Davis to win a championship
When you think of the current construct of the Lakers, LeBron James is the face of the team and the most important player. Russell Westbrook is the All-Star capable of being the best player on the court on any given night. But Anthony Davis is the ultimate wild card, someone who will either bring glory to the Purple and Gold or send them home early.
At his best, Davis is an unguardable force. The 6-foot-10 big man is a matchup nightmare, particularly at center, who exploits the bigs of other teams on a nightly basis. He can get a shot off from anywhere on the court and dominate down low. Defensively, he swats shots as well as anyone and has the athleticism to defend outside of the paint.
But last season, AD was down across the board. When he wasn’t injured, he was putting up career lows in scoring, rebounding, and blocking. Because he wasn’t nearly the dominant force he was the season prior, the Lakers were beatable even with him and James on the court.
As tough as the Western Conference is, the return of prime AD will make the Lakers serious title contenders. It will also help boost his case to win his first MVP.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.