As the immense Lakers hype machine builds towards opening night, two inconvenient truths lie below the surface.
Both concern Anthony Davis, and both are dirty little secrets that Lakers fans don’t want to address.
The first is Davis’ injury history, and while this isn’t really a secret, it might as well be with the way Laker Nation and the national media are glossing over the full extent of the issue.
Let’s start here: across his short seven-year career, Davis has already suffered more than 40 injuries.
A swift bust of mental arithmetic will tell you that’s almost six injuries per season, or one per month.
The man has the same kind of unpredictable “on again, off again” relationship with basketball that you had with your first high school girlfriend.
If that isn’t wild enough for you, check out this list detailing every body part that Davis has ever injured:
- Ankle (left and right)
- Knee (left and right)
- Toe (left and right)
- Hip (left and right)
- Quad (left and right)
- Thumb (left and right)
- Shoulder (left and right)
- Finger (multiple)
He has also injured most of those body parts many times over.
Especially concerning is not just the sheer volume of injuries, but the way they have occurred.
Against the Nets on Saturday, Davis sprained his thumb on a regulation block attempt.
In previous seasons, he left a game after diving into the crowd the same way hundreds of players have before him, sprained his groin despite barely moving or being touched and injured his knee while merely jostling for position in the post.
These are the sorts of things that only ever happen to Davis, and it should come as no surprise that he hurt himself just three games into the preseason.
The man is as delicate as a newborn giraffe.
As I wrote back in May, it’s hard to build a team around Davis when he’s in and out of the lineup this much.
I said it then and I’ll say it now: in what other industry would it be acceptable for a company’s highest-paid (or second-highest paid) employee to suddenly and randomly be out of action six times a year, every year?
While Davis is rarely sidelined for long, his time in New Orleans shows that his absences are highly disruptive, both for himself and his team.
And when those absences are this alarmingly frequent, there’s always a good chance that at least one of them will arrive at a particularly problematic moment, like in a pivotal playoff game.
The Lakers better hope most of this can be blamed on the Pelicans’ training staff, because the only other explanation is that Davis has the most fragile body the NBA has ever seen.
As for the second problem alluded to off the top…
When Davis entered the league in 2012, New Orleans coach Monty Williams insisted on playing his rail-thin rookie at power forward alongside a traditional center, the theory being that this would save AD from engaging in bruising battles with the league’s most imposing big men.
Since then, Davis has added 32 pounds, completely transforming his body to the point that now he is one of the most physically breathtaking bigs in the league, the kind of monster Williams originally shielded him from.
And yet, all these years later, Davis still hates playing the five, like someone who was allowed to forgo their vegetables as a child and has no plans of changing in adulthood.
Perhaps part of this is because Davis is conscious of his seemingly daily injuries.
But the Lakers would clearly be at their best with Kyle Kuzma at the three, LeBron James at the four and Davis at the five.
It’s their most talented frontcourt lineup and their best option in terms of fit.
A lot has been made of how well Davis previously played alongside fellow big man DeMarcus Cousins, with Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka even trumpeting that point during Davis’ introductory press conference in July.
But Pelinka is conveniently ignoring the fact that Davis went nuclear the moment he shifted to the five in Boogie’s absence, powering the Pelicans to sweep the Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs (despite not even being favoured to win the series).
Part of that spike in form stemmed from AD making a conscious effort to carry the Pelicans after Boogie went down, but it was clear he was benefiting tremendously from all the newfound space that Cousins previously occupied, as was New Orleans’ entire system.
The Pelicans just looked immeasurably better with Davis at center and shooters surrounding him.
This is the pace and space era, and yet this past offseason Davis was using his sway with Lakers management to push for the signings of behemoths like Cousins, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee, before fantasising aloud about massive lineups featuring two of those guys sharing the floor and presumably clogging the paint like a suburban train station toilet.
This is one of many reasons why coaching decisions shouldn’t be left to players.
Sometimes they just don’t know what’s good for them.
Unfortunately, the Lakers have already caved to Davis’ demands.
“We’ve got to do what’s best for his body,” Pelinka said the day he presented Davis with his Lakers jersey.
“Having him bang against the biggest centers in the West every night is not what’s best for his body, the team, or the franchise.”
Who exactly are all these bruising centers, anyway?
This is a league littered with dynamic stretch fives, not bruising centers like Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Oakley.
Davis moving away from the center position might be fair enough on the rare occasion that LA faces a more traditional, forceful centre like Joel Embiid.
But every other night?
Play the damn five.