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


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

He earned the nickname “Street Clothes” from TNT analyst and Hall of Famer Charles Barkley after missing so many Lakers games through injuries. Experts mocked him for being soft. He’s even been the focus of trade rumours.

But Davis recently shattered those narratives by playing some of the best basketball players of his career and turning himself back into an MVP nominee. All that negativity was nothing but noise for Davis, who furrowed his famous unibrow dismissively when asked how that rumble had affected him.

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

“There were two injuries that I couldn’t control. Someone was pushed into my knee or fell into my knee and landed on someone’s foot. I know I’m happy with my game. I know what I can do basketball court. And I let my game speak for itself. Anyone who talks can do what he has to do.”

This season, Davis has gone from a struggling 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 scored in 1990. In Friday’s 133-129 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, he had 44 points with 66.7% shooting, 10 rebounds and three blocks.

He started Sunday with the second best player efficiency of the season, behind Nikola Jokić. He leads 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 halffield defense in the league and an 8-2 record in their last 10 games.

All of this should be a huge sigh of relief for Davis. But much as he ignored recent chatter, he’s unmoved by his resurgence.

“I’m not surprised,” Davis said. “That’s what I’m supposed to do. I know I’m capable of this. It’s not a thing I’m excited about as I play. It’s like ‘This is what I am’. I have high expectations of myself, so I’m my own biggest critic when I’m not playing the way I want to play. But if I keep playing like this and if our team keeps playing like this, we could be really good.”

After Davis played just 76 combined games over 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 completely.

Over the summer, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook dominated the headlines for a variety of reasons. Meanwhile, the conversation about Davis was comparatively quiet. When a player in the NBA can’t stay on court, they’re relegated to the fringes of the collective consciousness, even if they’re an eight-time All-Star who helped lead the Lakers to a championship in 2020 and finished second for Defensive Player of the Year this season.

Earlier this season, Davis wasn’t even considered a top 15 player by most rankings. Over the past two seasons, he’s averaged the fewest points since his sophomore season in the league and the fewest rebounds since his rookie year.

When asked if he felt underappreciated, Davis insisted that he didn’t feel the need to prove anything to anyone but himself.

“No,” Davis said. “I feel like I’m where I should be. I’m not getting 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 fighting for championships and we are well on our way to having a full team and bringing everything together to be able to compete.”

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

Ham thought James was James and Westbrook would have to be better than last season. But he saw Davis as the real difference maker. As soon as he got the assignment, he took Davis out to dinner and inculcated a very important message in his mind: This whole thing is up to you.

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

He more than answered the call.

During four games during that tenure, Davis averaged 35.5 points on 62.3% shots, 18.3 rebounds, 12.5 free throws, 2.3 steals, and 2.5 blocks. And he was a plus 50.

Davis was brilliant at both ends of the court. He played the game his way, dominating opponents in four straight 30-point, 15-rebound games.

“AD has been the best player in the league for the last four or five games,” James told reporters upon his return on November 25.

So far this season, Davis has been the undisputed top star for the Lakers for the first time since teaming with James in 2019.

Even after James returned, Davis was aggressive and engaging, approaching every game like he was the No. 1 option. It’s no easy feat. There is no question that James has a unique gravitational pull similar to that affecting planets revolving around the sun. He commands so much respect and attention that it’s hard for his teammates not to procrastinate, even if they are superstars themselves.

But Davis has developed as a leader both on and off the court this season. It’s something Ham asked of him, knowing it could take his game to another level.

“I believe in you and you have my complete faith that you can reverse what you’ve been through for the last several years,” Ham told Davis, the coach recently told reporters. “Focus on your body, whatever you need, don’t hesitate to reach out and we’ll push you. I want you to have a stronger presence, not only on the pitch but also with your teammates.”

Davis has since transformed into the best version of himself.

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

When asked if he felt he had anything to prove at Media Day in September, Davis ironically denied that he felt any pressure to become “whatever they want me to be, that Greek god”. But since then he’s become a version of just that.

That’s always been James’ goal for Davis. And after seeing Davis transform into a beast while he was sidelined, James knew nothing more needed to be said.

“I don’t have to talk to AD about, ‘If I come back, you have to do it [the first option],” James said. “No. AD will be AD. And we will find out around him. I am going to find that out. That’s okay for me. And I can. But we have to get the ball, have the ball in AD’s hands.”

Davis’ skill has always been off the charts, but one of the biggest things James has tried to teach him is to stay balanced. Davis has had his feelings on his sleeve for a long time. When he plays well, he’s ecstatic (he played a song from “South Park” on his phone and danced merrily in front of his locker after one of his last dominant performances). But when he didn’t play well in the past, he was devastated.

For the past four seasons, James has helped Davis learn the importance of not going too high or too low. Davis now shows he has internalized that message when it matters most.

When Davis was torn apart, he continued to believe in himself. And now that he’s at the top of his game, he’s not emotional about it either.

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

But nobody knows that better than Davis.

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

“Really good,” Davis said with a smile.

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has 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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