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5 reasons Anthony Davis belongs in the NBA MVP discussion

After dropping 55 points and leading the Los Angeles Lakers to another win, Anthony Davis is now a legit NBA MVP candidate.

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Anthony Davis firmly belongs in the 2022-23 NBA MVP conversation. A few more historically dominant performances in Los Angeles Lakers victories and he may suddenly find himself in pole position.

On Sunday, AD dropped 55 points (the second-most of his career) on 22-of-30 shooting (9-of-9 from the free-throw line), 17 rebounds and 3 blocks as the Lakers (mostly) cruised to a 130-119 win over the Washington Wizards. After losing 10 of their first 12 games, Los Angeles sits at 10-12 and three games behind the Golden State Warriors for the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. AD's preeminence is the main reason why.

Admittedly, there are more nuanced prisms through which to evaluate the Lakers' stunning shift in tides than the MVP discussion in December. Yet, the fact that a healthy AD is playing the most effervescent ball of his career — whilst seizing the reins to the team — is literally the best possible development that could have happened to these Lakers (Russell Westbrook thriving as a Sixth Man is No. 2).

“The first and foremost thing is his health,” Darvin Ham said after the Wizards win. “I think he's feeling great, his body is feeling great. He's had a few back issues early on, but he's worked his way through them, and you can just see it in his face, as well as see it in his play. He's having fun playing the game of basketball pain-free. And the guys know it. They know I make him a top priority in terms of who we need to play through.”

On Sunday, the Capitol One Arena crowd broke out into “MVP” chants for Davis in the second half. Afterward, his teammates couldn't help but talk MVP.

“Jayson Tatum is playing his ass off, but when you're talking about people in the MVP race or category, that probably will change after tonight,” said Patrick Beverley. “(AD) should be up there, for sure.”

“He's been unbelievable, man” added LeBron James. “On both sides of the floor. I mean, playing like the MVP of this league.”

The Lakers, as currently constructed, need Davis to play at an All-NBA level to stay competitive. He's done that, and then some. In the wake of a performance for the ages, let's break down the degree to which he's destroyed worlds — and why he belongs front and center in the MVP discussion as the Lakers ascend.

5 Reasons AD is an MVP candidate

Production

Davis is averaging 35.3 points, 15.6 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks over his past nine games, including seven wins — three of which came sans LeBron. A few other staggering statistical nuggets following his double-nickel:

  • Davis became the only Lakers player besides Shaquille O'Neal to post 40 points and 10 rebounds in consecutive games.
  • He's the first Laker since Kobe Bryant to drop 40+ points in consecutive games.
  • He's the 10th player in NBA history to drop 55 points and 17 rebounds in a game.
  • He's the only player since Kevin McHale (since blocks became an official stat in 1973), to put up 55 points, 15 rebounds, and three blocks, per ESPN.
  • AD is the first dude in 32 years (Patrick Ewing) to record 50+ points, 15+ rebounds, and 3+ blocks on 70% shooting in a regular season contest.
  • He's the first player in Lakers history to record 40+ points, 10+ rebounds, and 3+ blocks in back-to-back games.
  • Davis tied Kobe's record of 40 total made FGs over two games.
  • He's dropped 20+ and 10+ in 10 straight games.

Believe me, I could go on.

Davis — coming off two frustrating injury-plagued campaigns — wanted this. As Ham revealed, the big man left his coach a handwritten message before the season: “Throw the ball to AD.” So far, the Green Bay Packers fan is putting the team on his back.

“This doesn't surprise me,” Davis proclaimed. “This is what I'm supposed to be doing. This is what I know I'm capable of doing. It's not a thing where I'm excited how I'm playing. It's like a, ‘This is what I'm supposed to do' feeling.'”

For the season, Davis is averaging 28.6 points, a league-leading 12.8 rebounds, 2.4 blocks. He's making 59% of his shots and has even found a groove with his jumpers and free throws (83.2%). He ranks No. 1 in PER, No. 2 in Win Shares (behind Luka Doncic), No. 2 in WS/48 (behind Nikola Jokic), No. 5 in Box Plus/Minus and No. 6 in VORP.

“Just straight dominance,” LeBron said. “Straight dominance.”

During the Lakers 8-2 stretch, AD is averaging 35.3 points, 15.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 2.9 blocks.

Simply put: When he plays other-worldly, the Lakers win. When he's simply human, they lose. He's consistently done the former. It's hard to be more valuable than that.

Defense

AD's offensive stats are eye-popping, but he's arguably been the league's best defensive player, as well.

Davis ranks second in blocks per game and second in Defensive Win Shares. By the eye test, he seems to gobble up or alter everything that comes his way. His career-best rebounding rate is indicative of the increased physicality he's played with this season, which both sets the tone for the Lakers and enables him to finish defensive possessions and start transition opportunities.

 

Mind you, he's doing all this for a team that is relying on him to carry a massive offensive load and play full-time center — often as the lone true big on the court. (AD finally embracing the center position in 2022 is an equally important development. A vast majority of his shots are coming in close range, though he's also been silk from the midrange as of late.)

In the past, Davis has expressed a desire to be named the NBA's top defender. If he's in the DPOY mix late in the season, keeps up the production, and the Lakers are well above .500, only Giannis and Tatum can compete with him in terms of two-way value.

Winning

AD isn't sniffing the Maurice Podoloff Trophy until the Lakers are ensconced in the playoff race. The three worst teams (by record) to roster an MVP winner are: The 33-39 1955-56 St. Louis Hawks (Bob Pettit), the 40-42 1975-76 Lakers (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and the 46-35 2016-17 Oklahoma City Thunder (Westbrook). FiveThirtyEight projects Los Angeles to finish 36-46.

However, as Friday's win over the Milwaukee Bucks — in which AD dropped a brilliant and gritty 44 against Giannis Antetokounmpo's 40 — made clear, the 10-12 Lakers can realistically envision themselves climbing into the heart of the muddled Western Conference playoff picture, based on AD's two-way aggression and how the offense is starting to click.

For his part, AD is focused on impacting winning games rather than awards.

“Everything is going well for us right now,” Davis said in D.C. “Guys are shooting the ball well. Guys are communicating on defense. We’re doing it all as a group. But for me, it’s just being locked in, staying with a mindset of being aggressive, not taking the game off and coming out with the mindset of dominating. … Whatever I got to do to help the team win — whether that’s scoring, rebounding, blocking shots. Whatever it is, I’m just trying to do my part.”

“If your mindset is on winning a championship, the rest will take care of itself,” he continued. “That's always been my thought. I put the team first over any individual awards or accolades that come with it. So if we continue to do what we do and win basketball games, the rest will take care of itself.”

Strength of 0pponent

The NBA MVP race is akin to the College Football Playoff: style points matter.

The Lakers' ongoing six-game East Coast trip — against mostly playoff-caliber squads — is an essential barometer for the organization as trade season approaches. For the first quarter of the season, the Lakers have mostly staggered against good teams and handled bad ones.

Through two games, the Lakers have aced the road test. They outfought the Bucks while playing nearly flawless ball. They led by double-digits for most of the Wizards game (albeit without Bradley Beal). Matchups with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, and Philadelphia 76ers — followed by a gauntlet slate til Christmas — loom. The brutal schedule littered with national TV games will provide Davis with steady opportunities to pad his resume.

Individually, AD has drawn immensely difficult matchups during his recent hot streak. If Davis doesn't outplay each name in the below tweet, the Lakers aren't rolling.

“Sooner or later, he'll be in the (MVP) conversation,” said 7'3 Kristaps Porzingis, who watched AD convert hook shots and contested fadeaway Js over his outstretched arms throughout Sunday evening.

Becoming The Guy

It's hard to imagine an MVP coming from a team that includes a four-time winner (LeBron James) and the 2017 winner (Russ) — both of whom are playing at a high level. But, LeBron, the Lakers brass, and, frankly, the NBA world, have been waiting on AD to demand the keys to the car. This — along with sustained health and his return to bubble form — is AD's narrative case.

“We’ve been talking all summer about him just being the go-to guy. I told him none of this is going to work if he’s not right,” said Ham. “Not only available to play but playing at an extremely high level, which he’s doing right now. I’ve said that to him, to the team, you guys. Like, we need AD to be special in order for us to get to where we need to get to.”

“He's totally picked up the torch and he's running with it,” Ham continued. “And he's bringing us along for the ride. It's totally great to see.”

LeBron — soon to be 38 — has pined for Davis to become the Lakers' best player. It's safe to say that vision has come to fruition.

“Me, as a leader of the team, it's part of my job to make sure, to reassure AD how great he is, how great he is in this league, not just for this team, but for this league,” LeBron said. (He's) playing like the MVP of this league.”