The Lakers Need to Practice Load Management and Rest Anthony Davis

The Los Angeles Lakers have something special brewing this season. LeBron James and Anthony Davis didn’t need the time to gel that many thought that they would, surging out of the gate to the best record in the Western Conference at 9-2. After missing the Lakers’ last game against the Golden State Warriors with a shoulder injury, Anthony Davis is set to return to the lineup tonight against the Sacramento Kings.

Are the Lakers rushing him back? It isn’t a question of whether or not Davis can play; he’s one of the best in the world, and even at 80%, he can still be highly effective on the court. It’s a question of whether or not the Lakers should be letting him play instead of giving him some extra time to recover.

Anthony Davis’s injury history

The list of injuries that Anthony Davis has had to deal with throughout his career is about a mile long. It includes all types of soreness, sprains, and contusions all over his body.

Of the 585 games that Davis has been on an NBA roster so far in his career, he has played in 476 of them. Some of those missed games include routine days off and the Pelicans being careful with Davis after his trade demand, but the fact remains that he’s missed nearly 20% of the games his teams have played over his career, and a large number of those missed games are due to injury.

Anthony Davis has often been seen on the bench with the Lakers this season with a heating pad on his injured shoulder. “There’s really never a play I don’t feel it,” Davis recently said. “I try not to let it affect my game. I just play through it and then worry about taking care of it after the game.”

Only ten games into the season, and the Lakers’ new franchise forward is feeling pain on every single play.

The load management trend

Load management in the NBA isn’t a new phenomenon. Gregg Popovich has been a proponent of resting players for over a decade, suggesting that it helps players to extend their careers and be more effective late in the season. In recent years, science and analytics have supported this practice.

The topic has become a sticking point in the NBA as Commissioner Adam Silver has battled with the quandary of balancing player safety with fan entertainment. Resting star players may be good for their health, but it’s bad for the fans that bought tickets to the game or are watching on television.

Last season, the Toronto Raptors used load management to perfection in their handling of Kawhi Leonard. Leonard played in only 60 regular-season games for the Toronto Raptors, sitting out 22 games in 2018-19, often as a healthy scratch. The move paid off; a well-rested Kawhi Leonard had a remarkable postseason, averaging 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game in leading the Raptors to their first championship in league history.

Anthony Davis actually needs the rest

Anthony Davis should rest up during this soft portion of the Lakers' schedule
Anthony Davis should rest up during this soft portion of the Lakers’ schedule | Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

There are pros and cons to load management, both from the team level and the league level. When a player is healthy enough to play, they should probably play, at least with the exception of spots where they might be battling fatigue like on the second night of a back-to-back.

But Davis isn’t healthy. He’s in pain on every play. He wants to play, and that’s great, but what better time than now to get him some much-needed rest?

The Los Angeles Lakers breezed by the Golden State Warriors 120-94 without Anthony Davis on Wednesday night. The team is far better with him in the lineup, but with LeBron James leading the way and a talented supporting cast that’s playing great on both sides of the court, they don’t need him to win against low-level opponents.

The Lakers’ next eight games come against the Sacramento Kings, the Atlanta Hawks, the Oklahoma City Thunder twice, the Memphis Grizzlies, the San Antonio Spurs, the New Orleans Pelicans, and the Washington Wizards. All seven of these teams have losing records. Los Angeles would be wise to give Anthony Davis some time to rest his sore shoulder and ribs during a stretch of the season that they can handle without him.