Anthony Davis looks around during his introductory press conference on July 13, 2019.
(Erica Rodriguez/Los Angeles Lakers)

Anthony Davis: Dominant in Any Position

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

During Saturday’s introductory press conference for the newest Lakers star, Anthony Davis, GM Rob Pelinka called him the “most dominant young basketball player in the world.”

At age 26, the 6’10’’ big man with guard skills and seemingly endless reach averaged 25.9 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals last season in New Orleans despite playing his fewest minutes (33.0) since his 2012-13 rookie season. He’s already made three All-NBA 1st Teams and been an All-Star every season outside of that rookie year.

“There is no more complete basketball player in the game,” Pelinka continued. “There is nothing he can’t do. He can shoot. He can make plays. He can defend 1-5. He can protect the rim. He can handle the ball. His dedication to his craft is unparalleled. And to sit here next to him and to think he’s going to be a pillar on our franchise for many years is something we’re incredibly proud of.”

Thanks to the presence of LeBron James, Davis will for the first time benefit from not being the sole focus of the opposing defense, which should only boost his efficiency (Davis is a career 51.7 percent shooter with a 27.5 PER).

As the press conference went on, I was thinking about to what degree Davis would be playing the 4, certainly his most comfortable spot over the years, vs. the 5, where he dominated Portland in a 2018 1st Round sweep, and where basketball’s been heading.

After all, the sport has evolved considerably of late, with Golden State often playing Draymond Green at center in their most impactful line ups, and many traditional back-to-the-basket, rim-protecting centers getting played off the court in crunch time due to isolations and switches initiated by players like LeBron, Steph Curry or James Harden.

Yet there’s certainly still value to a classic big man, as Marc Gasol proved in helping Toronto win the Finals last season ... especially one that can hit threes. In fact, DeMarcus Cousins, Davis’s teammate in New Orleans, was key in helping the Warriors win Games 2 and 5 in those same Finals.

So, towards the end of the presser, I asked Davis if his thinking has evolved at all about playing the 4 vs. the 5. His initial answer was very clear.

“I like playing the 4, I’m not even going to sugarcoat it,” Davis responded, who turned to his new coach, Frank Vogel, midway through his answer. “I don’t really like playing the 5, but if it comes down to it, Coach, I’ll play the 5.”

Davis, however, quickly qualified his comment.

“But the game has become so positionless, that you can put five guys on the floor and they just play,” he continued. “You’ve seen that thing about (LeBron) running the point … that’s a super tall point guard … it really doesn’t matter. Just put five guys out there that fit best with each other, and go out and win.

Pelinka then offered some further clarity.

“When Anthony and I first started talking about the roster, he did say, ‘I’d love to have some fives that can bang with some length,” said the GM. “He’s 26. We want a decade of dominance out of him here, so we have to do what’s best for his body and having him bang against the biggest centers in the West every night is not what’s best for his body, or the team or the franchise.

“That’s why we were so excited when we got commitments from JaVale McGee, who just with his size and length and (Davis) playing at the four, that length is extraordinary. And then with DeMarcus making a commitment to come here, again, he complemented and played so well with AD in New Orleans and you can just tell he’s made a commitment to his body and having a huge year. I said yesterday, Boogie is one of the X-Factors for us, but we wanted to make sure to honor what Anthony asked for when we traded for him, to get some fives that he could play with.”

Vogel will ultimately decide how to distribute frontcourt minutes this season, and possibilities are expansive.

Is it 20 minutes per game for Cousins and McGee, with eight left over for small line ups featuring Davis and LeBron? How much of that depends on the opponent? If an opponent goes small, do you match it with a Kyle Kuzma-LeBron-Davis frontcourt? Do you bludgeon it with LeBron-Davis-Cousins? Even in a small lineup, do you play Davis at the 4 defensively so he can fly over from the weak side to protect the rim, and put the strong-enough-for-anybody LeBron at the 5? What if that team isn’t playing a big? How about a supersized line up with LeBron at point, Danny Green at the 2, Kuzma the 3, Davis the … you get the idea.

Here’s one thing you can bank on: AD will be on the court when it counts, and to use Davis’s words, he'll “just play.”

His position will depend on the circumstance. He'll be dominant regardless.

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