After making his return following two months off because of a calf injury that also involves tendonosis in his Achilles tendon, Anthony Davis mostly seemed relieved. Speaking to reporters in his postgame media session—the fact that the Lakers fell to Dallas almost did not seem to matter—Davis heaved a sigh when he said, “Long time coming.”
Lakers fans can relate. The team was 21-6 and within a half-game of the league’s best record when Davis suffered his injury against Denver on February 14 but has since gone 14-18, losing LeBron James to an ankle sprain along the way.
Davis logged only 16:40 of playing time, all in the first half, and scored four points on 2-for-10 shooting. He talked about the game for more than eight minutes in his virtual press conference, but it was two things that he said, less than a minute total, that could be the most important factors in his success over the remaining 13 games of the season heading into the playoffs.
Certainly, at least, they remain the biggest points of doubt among opposing coaches and executives with other teams. The first is whether he can, mentally, get 100% past the lingering effects of the injury. The second is whether, even when healthy, he can fit next to new center Andre Drummond—or, more accurately, whether Drummond can fit next to him.
He addressed both issues on Thursday.
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Anthony Davis & the Shadow of Kevin Durant
Let’s start with the injury. The looming concern with Davis is the image of Kevin Durant from the 2019 NBA Finals, when Durant tore his Achilles after having sat out with an injury similar to the one Davis has now. “If I am in that front office now, that is my nightmare,” one East general manager said. “They’re taking all the precautions. But it has got to be on their minds. And it has got to be on his mind, and I worry that is going to limit him, mentally.”
Davis, though, said that in his short time on the floor, he was able to keep his mind free of such thoughts. That is going to be important because, often with returning players, it takes time to feel comfortable with the injury and secure that it won’t get re-injured.
If Davis has the image of Durant in his mind, it will prevent him from being his usual aggressive self.
I didn’t think about it one time tonight. Honestly, I just went out there and played. It kind of limits what you do if you are out there thinking about your injury, so I just went out there and played and not think about it. Just go out there and have fun and be excited to be back out on the floor, that was my main thing. I was just excited to be back out on the floor with the guys. I never thought about it, I never—it didn’t limit any moves, wasn’t hesitant with anything. So that was a good sign for me.
Anthony Davis & Andre Drummond: No Room for Both?
The other concern is the fit with Drummond. Defensively, the pair present a long, intimidating presence in the paint, with Davis able to defend out to the perimeter. But offensively, both very much like to play in the post. Drummond got 26.3% of his possessions in the post in Cleveland this year, fifth-most in the NBA. He does not leave the paint offensively. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Drummond takes 94.3% of his shots in his career from the paint.
Davis is more flexible, but he still operates best when he is posting up—21.2% of his offensive possessions are in the post. There just is not enough room in the paint for two behemoths, and that is going to be a work in progress for a while. It will get more complicated when James, who also likes he post (14.0% of his possessions), returns, too.
Davis addressed the Drummond fit:
Our defense was really good to start the game. We were really talking, flying around, guys was covering for each other so, tat is the good thing of having another defensive player out there in Drum. Offensively, we will just figure it out. It’s something that comes with time. But we had one practice together and now 16 minutes to play with each other. So that is gonna come with time, just like when Bron comes back, we’re gonna have to reset again and try to get him acclimated with him as well. We’re continuously talking and trying to figure things out. He keeps asking questions, where I want him to be when I have the ball in the post. It is just going to take time, but we’ll figure it out.
It is, indeed, going to take time. But the Lakers have 13 games remaining. There is not much time left.