NBA Twitter is a breeding ground for controversy. The tweet below is a perfect example of this.
Over the weekend, after the Los Angeles Lakers dominated the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, Lakers fans revived the case that Anthony Davis is better than Tim Duncan. In that moment, it sounded like another ridiculous argument from the league’s most obnoxious fanbase. Duncan was a five-time NBA champion. Davis had only been to the Conference Finals once; this season. It was a topic that was met with laughter rather than fruitful discussion, as it should have been.
But the Duncan-Davis comparisons weren’t just ridiculous because of the large gap between their resumes. Duncan’s long Playoff story has long been completed. Davis’, on the other hand, has only been getting started.
Davis’ lack of success in the postseason has long been used as an argument against his value compared to the rest of league’s elite players. While his individual statistics have been impressive (27.42 PER in his entire career, 3rd all-time), he’s never been able to lead any of his teams to deep Playoff runs. Pelicans writers criticized Davis’ lack of effort, especially during the 2018-2019 season. He was a talented prospect, but haters believed he didn’t have it to be in the level of a LeBron James, a Kevin Durant, or even a Giannis Antetokounmpo.
That it? Killer instinct. The desire to dominate. The quality that separates the Shaqs from the Embiids of the world. The quality that separates champions from All-Stars.
Forcing his way out of the New Orleans Pelicans to play with LeBron in Los Angeles only made the naysayers noisier. The moment he put on a Laker jersey; he went from Option 1 to Option 2. From potentially building his own legacy, he’d become an accessory in LeBron’s chase for the mantle of Greatest of All Time.
But the doubters could not have been more wrong. Instead of being an Option 2, Davis showed he was the 1B to LeBron’s 1A. During the regular season, Davis was able to maintain the historical pace he’s been playing in his entire career. His defense remained elite (4.4 Defensive Win Shares, 2nd in the league) and he maximized having LeBron beside him by dominating in the offensive end (6.7 Offensive Win Shares, 3rd in the league). To dominate on both ends in an era that’s favored guards over bigs is testament to how good Davis is. Yet, the question remained; could he bring that same level of production to the postseason?
So far in the Playoffs, the answer to that question is: YES, and it hasn’t even been close. We’re all witnesses to Davis at his very peak. His defense has remained elite, but what has been most impressive has been his offense. He’s showcased a complete offensive game as evidenced by his career-highs in points and assists per 36 minutes.
His passing hasn’t been Nikola Jokic-levels great, but it’s been impressive, nonetheless. He’s been making smart reads on short rolls and even off isolations in the low block. In terms of scoring, he’s blended together his elite finishing by shooting at a high clip from the perimeter (58.1 EFG% off catch and shoots, 47.1 EFG% off pull-ups).
All of those stats are a testament to Davis’ talent but there were still questions about his greatness. If you didn’t count on rings, you had moments to justify just how good a player is in the postseason. Davis never had that moment, until Game 2 versus the Nuggets.
With LeBron struggling the entire second-half, Davis took charge to weather the run the Nuggets were putting up. Aside from catching lobs and finishing around the rim, Davis dominated the perimeter by owning the midrange against Jokic. This was the Brow’s offense at his best.
But it was that shot, with two seconds left, which catapulted Game 2 for him from great to legendary. It was Davis’ chance to show his killer instinct. That he had it. The desire to dominate. The desire to win. Simply put, Mamba Mentality.
With one shot, Davis was able to give his career resume the Playoff moment that it had been lacking. LeBron put it best: “It’s that simple. He’s different.” The kind of different that gives fans the courage to compare him to the likes of Wilt, Kareem, and yes, even Duncan. He’s always had the talent. He’s just needed to grab the moment to prove his bashful supporters correct.
Moments like that shot can have a huge effect for a player’s confidence. Maybe he goes on to dominate Jokic to sweep the Nuggets. Maybe he grabs Finals MVP, besting his teammate, LeBron. Maybe in four years, comparing Davis to a legend like Duncan, wouldn’t be as controversial as it is today.
Right now, they’re just maybe’s, but you can’t deny that they’re a lot more possible thanks to the boost that shot provided for him. This is just the beginning for him. Davis is only getting started writing his legacy.