Anthony Davis probably isn't going to make an All-NBA team this season. After missing 26 games and surprisingly getting snubbed as an All-Star, most of the momentum for the third-team All-NBA center slot swung to Sacramento Kings' Domantas Sabonis. Conveniently enough, the two of them now have a common playoff opponent.
Draymond Green and Kevon Looney spent seven games bulldozing Sacramento's star big man. Sabonis saw his points, rebounds and assist averages dip precipitously against Golden State's interior duo. His field goal percentage fell from above .600 in the regular season to below .500 in the playoffs. The Warriors won Game 7 on the back of 13 third-quarter offensive rebounds that Sabonis was helpless to prevent. He was helpless against Green and Looney on Sunday.
The roles were reversed on Tuesday. Green and Looney had no answers whatsoever for the Los Angeles Lakers' big man. Davis became just the second player in NBA history to finish a playoff game with 30 points, 20 rebounds, five assists and four blocks, joining Tim Duncan on that short list. He shot 90% from the floor in the first two quarters, becoming the first big to do so with 20 points and 10 rebounds in a playoff game since tracking began in 1997.
The Lakers were so afraid to face the Warriors without him that Davis played all 24 minutes in the second half. In the process, they handed the Warriors just their 13th home loss of the season. Davis was so dominant inside that the Lakers managed to become the second team in NBA history to win a game in which their opponent made 20 or more 3-pointers while they themselves hit six or fewer. The first team to do so? Also the 2022-23 Lakers who beat the Mavericks on Feb. 26 despite that deficit because Davis had 30 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks. It was a historic interior beatdown from Davis on the two players who just committed a similar beatdown on Sabonis.
Now, the idea that Anthony Davis is a better player than Domantas Sabonis is hardly groundbreaking. The comparison exists to serve a bigger point. All season, Davis has been overlooked and underrated. He's already proven, emphatically, that he is at least one of the three best centers in the NBA. In truth, he's going a whole lot further. With the title of "best player in the NBA" seemingly vacant at the moment, why can't Davis seize it in a possible championship run?
Before we consider his candidacy, we have to define our terms here. Davis is never going to be an 82-game player. Durability has been, and will always be, a weakness. If you're building a team from scratch, that's a reasonable excuse to avoid Davis. But there aren't 82 games left on the schedule. Davis is healthy here and now, and if the goal is strictly to win the 2023 championship, he's making a strong argument that he should be the pick, and when the dust settles, there's a real chance he emerges with the oft-discussed metaphorical title belt among the league's elite.
The justifiable knock on Davis is that he is a limited half-court shot-creator. That's a legitimate flaw, but every candidate in the field has one. Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was the for "best player in the world" status before his first-round exit at the hands of the Miami Heat, shares that same weakness. Joel Embiid just won his long-awaited MVP award, but the Brooklyn Nets held him to just 20 points on 46.2% shooting in the first round. He's now dealing with a knee injury, causing him to miss games for the fifth time in his six trips to the postseason. The lone exception? A four-game 2020 sweep against the Boston Celtics. Nikola Jokic won the two prior MVP awards, and is the best offensive player of the bunch. His defensive limitations have been on display in his prior postseason losses, though, one of which came against Davis. Both Jokic and Embiid could earn chances to face Davis later in the postseason if their teams continue to advance.
Stephen Curry is getting his chance now, and, as the reigning Finals MVP, is the default holder of our hypothetical belt. It'd be hard to hold his Game 1 loss against him considering the 50-point Game 7 he just dropped on the Kings just two days earlier, but it's worth noting that Curry made a career playoff-high 13 2-pointers in that victory. He made just four on Tuesday while missing his seven other tries. He, like the rest of his teammates, were terrified of facing Davis at the rim.
That is the major point in his favor in these debates. He can't score with Curry, but the defensive gap between the two is incalculable. That isn't just true of him and Curry. It's true of him and everyone else in the field. Davis just faced the Defensive Player of the Year in the first round, and he completely overwhelmed Jaren Jackson Jr. Here's how their defensive numbers compared in the first round:
Field Goal Percentage Allowed
And then there's the sidekick argument. Davis isn't even the most famous Laker. So long as LeBron James is on his team, fans and critics alike will struggle with the idea that this team belongs to Davis now. Were James healthy, that might not be the case. But the foot injury that nearly ended his season has completely changed the way James plays. He is averaging a little over 22 points per game in the playoffs so far, the lowest average of his playoff career. Most of those shots aren't individually created either. In the Memphis series he attempted just 2.3 shots per game out of isolation and 2.2 out of pick-and-roll. At his peak, he averaged nearly 14 combined in the 2018 postseason. James can't carry the Lakers right now. The burden to do so is on Davis.
He's never needed to do it for an extended period as a Laker, and it's a role he's still adjusting to. He managed to average over 32 points per game for a month-long stretch early in the season that James missed, but got hurt immediately afterward. Even now, there are nights when the jumper isn't falling or a minor injury renders him mortal.
But the version of him we saw in Game 1 against the Warriors, which is the player we saw for most of the Memphis series and whenever James was hurt in the regular season, is more than enough to lead the Lakers to a championship. This isn't a typical Lakers superteam, either. His co-star is hurt. His supporting cast is young and many of his key role players just arrived in February. He has a first-year head coach that was hired by a general manager the fan base wanted to fire.
And none of it has mattered thus far in the postseason because Davis has exceeded our wildest expectations. He's not a perfect basketball player, but there isn't one in the field right now. Instead, the eight remaining teams each have exceptional but flawed stars duking it out for the hypothetical belt. Davis is among those stars, and right now, he's outclassing them. If he continues to do so, he's going to emerge from the pile as not only an NBA champion for the second time, but the league's best player for the first.