Anthony Davis using play to silence critics: ‘I know what I’m capable of doing’

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Looking at him now, it’s hard to believe Anthony Davis was considered a potential liability heading into this season.

He was nicknamed “Street Clothes” by TNT analyst and Hall of Famer Charles Barkley after missing so many Lakers games because of injuries. Pundits mocked him for being soft. He was even at the center of trade rumors. 

But Davis has recently shattered those narratives by playing some of the best basketball of his career, transforming himself back into an MVP candidate. All of that negativity was nothing but noise to Davis, who furrowed his famous unibrow dismissively when asked what impact those rumblings had on him. 

“Nothing,” Davis told FOX Sports. “People who talk who don’t know the game — fans, whoever it is. My job is to go play basketball. I know what I’m capable of doing. 

“There were two injuries I couldn’t control. Somebody getting pushed into my knee or falling into my knee, and landed on someone’s foot. I know I’m comfortable with my game. I know the things I’m able to do on the basketball court. And I let my game speak for itself. Everyone who’s talking can do whatever they have to do.”

This season, Davis went from being an embattled star to a fully realized supernova. 

Davis had 55 points on 73.3% shooting, 17 rebounds and three blocks in Sunday’s 130-119 win over the Washington Wizards, the first player to have at least 50 points on 70% shooting and 15 rebounds in a regular season game since Patrick Ewing in 1990. In Friday’s 133-129 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, he had 44 points on 66.7% shooting, 10 rebounds and three blocks. 

He entered Sunday’s game with the second-best player efficiency rating this season, trailing only Nikola Jokić. He’s leading the league in rebounds with a career-high 12.8 per game, he’s third in blocks (2.4 per game), and he’s averaging a career-high 28.6 points. He has led the Lakers to the second-best half-court defense in the league and an 8-2 record over their last 10 games.

All of this should come as a giant sigh of relief for Davis. But similar to how he ignored the recent chatter, he’s unmoved by his resurgence. 

“This doesn’t surprise me,” Davis said. “This is what I’m supposed to be doing. This is what I know I’m capable of doing. It’s not a thing where I’m excited how I’m playing. It’s like a, ‘This is what I’m supposed to do’ feeling. I have high expectations of myself, so, when I don’t play how I want to play, I’m my own biggest critic. But if I continue to keep playing like this, and if our team continues to keep playing like this, we could be really good.”

After Davis played only 76 combined games the past two seasons, his stock plummeted. The Lakers were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in 2021. Last season, they missed the postseason entirely. 

Over the summer, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook dominated the headlines for various reasons. Meanwhile, the talk around Davis was comparatively hushed. When a player can’t stay on the court in the NBA, he’s consigned to the fringes of the collective consciousness, even if he’s an eight-time All-Star who helped lead the Lakers to a championship in 2020 and was the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year that season.

Heading into this season, Davis wasn’t even considered a top-15 player by most rankings. Over the last two seasons, he had averaged his fewest points since his second season in the league and his fewest rebounds since his rookie year.

When asked if he felt underrated, Davis stressed that he doesn’t feel the need to prove anything to anyone — except himself. 

“No,” Davis said. “I feel like I am where I’m supposed to be. I don’t get into the ratings or rankings. That’s not my job. I don’t care about any of that. It’s my job to help this team get wins and compete for championships. And we’re on track to having a complete team and putting everything together to be able to compete.”

When Darvin Ham was hired as Lakers head coach in June, he believed Davis was the key to the franchise’s success, not James or Westbrook. 

Ham thought James would be James, and Westbrook had to be better than he was last season. But he looked at Davis as the real difference-maker. As soon as he got the gig, he took Davis out to dinner and impressed upon him a very important message: This whole thing depends on you. 

Davis acknowledged he had to find his rhythm at the top of the season. But when James was sidelined five straight games because of a strained left adductor, Davis knew he had to put the flailing Lakers on his shoulders.

He more than answered the call. 

During a four-game stretch over that time, Davis averaged 35.5 points on 62.3% shooting, 18.3 rebounds, 12.5 free throws, 2.3 steals and 2.5 blocks. And he was a plus-50. 

Davis was brilliant on both ends of the court. He played the game his way, dominating down-low and pounding opponents for four straight 30-point, 15-rebound games. 

“AD was the best player in the league over the last four to five games,” James told reporters when he returned Nov. 25. 

So far this season, Davis has unquestioningly been the Lakers’ top star for the first time since he teamed up with James in 2019. 

Even after James returned, Davis has been aggressive and engaged, approaching each game as though he’s the No. 1 option. That’s not an easy task. There’s no question that James has a unique gravitational pull about him, similar to that which affects planets revolving around the sun. He commands so much respect and attention that it’s hard for his teammates not to defer, even if they’re superstars themselves. 

But Davis has grown as a leader both on and off the court this season. It’s something Ham demanded from him, knowing that could take his game to another level.

“I believe in you and you have my utmost faith that you can turn this thing around, what you’ve been through the last couple of years,” Ham told Davis, as the coach recounted to reporters recently. “Focus on your body, whatever you need, don’t hesitate to reach out, and we’re going to push you. I want you to be more of a commanding presence, not only on the court but with your teammates.”

Davis has since transformed into the best version of himself. 

Davis had the fifth 50-point game of his career Sunday. He’s now the second Laker in NBA history, along with Shaquille O’Neal, to have back-to-back 40-point, 10-rebound games. Making things even more impressive, one of those performances came against a Bucks team that entered Sunday’s game with the best defensive rating in the league. Davis outshined two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo on a night when he scored 40 points. 

Ironically, when Davis was asked if he felt he had something to prove at media day in September, he strongly denied that he felt any pressure to become “whatever player they want me to be, this Greek God.” But since then, he has become a version of exactly that. 

This has always been James’ goal for Davis. And after witnessing Davis turn into a beast while he was sidelined, James knew nothing more needed to be said. 

“I don’t need to have a talk with AD about, ‘If I come back you need to be [the first option],” James said. “No. AD will be AD. And we’ll figure it out around him. I’ll figure it out. I’m OK with that. And I can do that. But we got to get the ball, keep the ball in AD’s hands.”

Davis’ skill level has always been off the charts, but one of the biggest things James has tried to teach him is to remain even-keeled. Davis has long worn his emotions on his sleeve. When he’s playing well, he’s elated (following one of his recent dominant performances, he played a song from “South Park” on his cell phone and playfully danced in front of his locker). But when he hasn’t played well in the past, he has been devastated. 

Over the last four seasons, James has helped Davis learn the importance of not getting too high or too low. Davis is now showing that he has internalized that message when it counts most. 

When Davis was being ripped, he kept believing in himself. And now that he’s at the top of his game, he’s not emotional about that either.  

The Lakers need Davis to be fully engaged, consistently. When that happens, he’s at the top of the league.

But nobody knows that more than Davis. 

When asked how good the team can be if he continues playing at such a high level, he didn’t hesitate.

“Really good,” Davis said, flashing a smile.

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.


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