Anthony Davis: Poised to Dominate in Every Way

By Kevin Ding - Senior Writer

Defining greatness as a basketball player is complicated. So many different priorities, so many ways to make a lasting mark. Some might say the record books tell all, documenting unequivocally who did what. Others would preach about the human element in serving a community or inspiring a following, saying true legends are built in the reverential words spoken from a parent’s lips to a child’s ears.

Anthony Davis is ready for it all. Every definition of greatness. Every mark he can make.

It’s because he is uniquely qualified to achieve with the Lakers everything for which he has ever aspired … which is substantial.

Davis, 26, arrives in trade with the talent, drive and opportunity to do it all.

This is a new chapter in my career. Now it’s time to turn the page and keep making the book even better.

Anthony Davis

It starts with his work on the court, of course, which is why he told reporters at the start of training camp last year that all his moves were being made to set him up to be “the most dominant player in the league.”

Davis now comes to the Lakers and gets to team with LeBron James, top 10 already in career assists, at a time when big men have found the quick-shooting, perimeter-oriented modern NBA often fails to maximize them as weapons. James and Davis as a pick-and-roll tandem is such a perfect pairing that about the only debate for opposing coaches shall be which player deserves more to draw the double-team that is going to reduce the defense to ants scrambling before accepting a dose of lethal bug spray.

Davis also comes to play for a head coach who is pledging to maximize interior defensive presence when Davis is a guy who has led the league in blocks three times (2.4 per game for his career)—and had a career-high 1.6 steals per game last season.

“There’s a lot of over-rotating in terms of guarding the three-point line and not protecting the basket,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said of today’s NBA. “You still have to build your defense from the inside out. The paint still has to be the top priority.”

Two years ago, Davis was third for Defensive Player of the Year and third for NBA MVP. Therein lies obvious basis for his belief that he can be the most dominant player in the league. With so many eyes always on LeBron, and the Lakers’ global fan base thirsting for championship contention again, a whole lot of folks will be exposed to all that Davis can do.

In a recent interview with The Crossover, Davis cited “being the next MVP” as a goal. He also said: “This is a new chapter in my career. Now it’s time to turn the page and keep making the book even better.”

Yet it’s not just individual greatness we should expect.

Perhaps it’s taking epic talent for granted, but the truth is that it feels rarer for a superstar to be heralded as a great teammate than a great player or great leader.

When Davis was a finalist for those MVP and Defensive Player of the Year honors at the 2018 NBA Awards ceremony in Santa Monica, he was also announced as fourth in the voting for Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year. The rest of the top five, for the record, was Tyson Chandler, Udonis Haslem, Manu Ginobili and Jamal Crawford—all role players nearing the ends of their careers and embracing mentorship.

Davis is and was in a far different place as a teammate. But he keeps it real with the guys. He cares about them and wants them to have as much time in the spotlight as possible. Even during a turbulent final season in New Orleans, his teammates went on record as saying Davis was such a swell guy that it was hard to be too frustrated with anything.

In this regard, the more significant challenge in Davis’ career has been becoming that great leader. He likes being one of the guys, and it has taken time to realize that he can’t always be just that.

I know in order for us to win, in order for us to have success, I’ve got to get out of my comfort zone.

Anthony Davis

When I sat down with him for an extended interview in New Orleans a few years ago, he put it this way: “I was always a guy who was quiet on the basketball floor. Even in high school, at Kentucky, here, I was always a quiet guy. Outside the locker room, we can talk and kid all day. But I’ve always just been a guy who is real laid-back. I know in order for us to win, in order for us to have success, I’ve got to get out of my comfort zone.”

There are times for him to be his typical chill self. He loves to pique curiosities with “Would you rather …” scenarios in the back of the team bus and keep the jokes coming. However, there are times for him to be direct and demanding—challenging teammates for the team’s greater good.

James and Davis are similar in a lot of ways, seeing a world besides basketball and seeing teammates as people rather than just basketball players. Projecting the upcoming Lakers season as one of relaxed, supported togetherness—no matter the soaring expectations and the star-heavy roster top—is the proper presumption, because both James and Davis are diehard about setting that kind of tone.

But having James around to facilitate the direction he and Davis want to take the team is invaluable. Davis has never had that kind of help. In that sense, he’s also on the cusp.

He’s primed, with James’ support, to settle into what fits him as his genuine leadership voice.

And primed to be a leader on a winning team in his best ways yet.

Pau Gasol was just one year older than Davis is now when Gasol came to the Lakers in a blockbuster trade he wanted to happen. Gasol went from someone unable to win a single playoff game to an undisputed champion commanding universal respect. It solidified the platform for the philanthropic outreach that had always been so important to Gasol, someone who always carried a worldly mindset.

Davis’ path could wind much the same way, with a long list of NBA Cares Community Assist honors on his resume already. Much of his time is focused on encouraging youth health and fitness. Winning the league’s season-long community service honor is actually something on Davis’ bucket list.

Davis will be determined to earn respect by doing the right things in the Southern California community, same as he tries in locker room and on court. The common thread in the search for greatness across the board is that all elements are basically about earning respect.

That was, in fact, the message Kobe Bryant gave Davis back in 2015.

Anthony Davis and Kobe Bryant

Anthony Davis and Kobe Bryant

After all that has been said or written about the Lakers finding someone worthy of taking the torch from Bryant, in Davis they have acquired someone who sees Bryant as a “big brother.” Davis remembers Bryant as the one guy on the gold medal-winning 2012 U.S. Olympic squad to take the most interest in Davis, the lone college player on the team.

Four years ago, at a Nike event both attended, Davis got enough private time to ask Bryant for meaningful leadership counsel. That was the same summer that Davis got a prominent tattoo on his right arm to honor his late grandfather, Lamont Eberhardt—a Kobe fanatic who used to regale a young Davis with tales of Bryant’s accomplishments.

The thrust of Bryant’s advice to Davis was that it’s more important for a leader to be respected than liked. That was a little difficult for a people-pleaser such as Davis to hear.

Yet here is Davis now, after a year of seizing greater control of his career despite the risk of ruffling others’ feathers, ready to dominate in all the ways he can.

His growth was apparent the year before, too, leading the Pelicans to a four-game playoff sweep of Portland in 2018 before running into eventual NBA champion Golden State.

Davis has been steadily building toward this next chapter in Los Angeles, where he believes his true legacy will be established.

He has every right to set the loftiest of goals.

It was back when Davis was growing up on Chicago’s South Side that Eberhardt used to call his grandson, “Champ.” Davis would call his grandfather “Champ” right back.

Eberhardt died in 2010, the year of the Lakers’ last championship, and before Davis reached the NBA. How appropriate it would be now for Davis to put some literal spin to that old nickname?

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Kevin Ding is an independent sports writer, and the statements and views expressed by him do not necessarily represent the views of the Los Angeles Lakers.

To catch up on all of Kevin Ding's in-depth Lakers stories, visit The Point home page.

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