Heading into the 2022-23 campaign, the knock on 2012 first overall pick Anthony Davis was that he couldn’t stay on the court with consistency. He possessed otherworldly talent that all and sundry could see whenever he suited up, but when, and if, he could suit up was another matter altogether. His brittle body often got in the way of his greatness, causing him to miss a whopping 215 contests in 10 seasons. Which was why not a few quarters have questioned his capacity to take over the reins in the face of Lakers top dog LeBron James’ advancing age and dwindling efficiency.
For a while there, it appeared as if Davis would prove critics right. Right off the bat for the Lakers’ current campaign, he appeared timid and slow, and, worse, ineffective. And with the purple and gold struggling to squeeze every last ounce of competitive juice off their uneven roster, his inability to stand out, let alone dominate, discounted their chances to win. James was clearly on the wane, and yet he appeared to have no drive to institute a changing of the guard.
Admittedly, Davis strove to be available for every match. Given his injury history, it was a testament to the conditioning work he did in the offseason that he had to be sidelined only once in the Lakers’ first 11 outings. Still, he looked relatively listless, not quite submissive but definitely deferential. It was not what longtime habitues of the pro scene — and not what even James — envisioned for him. Something, anything, had to change, and not simply because he needed to prove he deserves every penny of his $37.98-million contract for the season.
The good news is that the real Davis seems to have had the impetus to show up, and how. For some fortunate reason, he found cause to accept his alpha status when James went down with a groin injury 11 games in. Over the next five stops, he showed his brilliance on both ends of the floor; he put up monster numbers on offense even while erasing countless mistakes of the Lakers on defense. And, if nothing else, his excellent run as the go-to guy in the lineup gave him the confidence to keep being so even with his more illustrious teammate back on board.
At this point, it’s evident that where the Lakers will end up depends on Davis. James may be on the way to making history as the National Basketball Association’s top career scorer, but its relevance will increase significantly with collective success. And that success is being fueled in large measure by his singular feats. Considering the way he’s playing, there is no better marquee name. It has taken a decade for him to reach his potential, but the wait looks to be worthwhile.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.