Road to Repeat: Lakers can’t afford to rush Davis back from injury

“Injury-prone” has been thrown around countless times to describe superstar Lakers forward Anthony Davis. The 6-foot-10-inch big man has been sidelined in a whopping 123 regular season games throughout his nine-year career, a number that continues to rise after Davis was ruled out of games through the All-Star Break on Mar. 7. He suffered a calf strain and a re-aggravation of the right Achilles tendonosis against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday. 

Lakers fans have become all too familiar with seeing their 190 million dollar man crumble to the floor or break out into a limp mid-game. In the NBA bubble in Orlando, Davis had multiple injury scares against the Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, and even in the Finals against the Miami Heat, sending Lakers Nation into a frenzy when their championship hopes were on the line. 

Davis, despite being banged up, anchored the Lakers on both ends of the floor to bring the organization their 17th championship. Playing through multiple injuries, the superstar averaged 26.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game in 28 games in the bubble. 

It was in dominant fashion in which Davis put up those numbers, especially from mid-range, where he transformed his game by going from a 37% mid-range shooter in the regular season to 49% in the playoffs. The degree of difficulty on some of his step-back mid-range buckets was so jaw-dropping it almost felt Kevin Durant-esque — as the defender, you just have to tip your hat to the 6-foot-10-inch sniper because there’s nothing you can do to disrupt his rhythm. 

Davis’ unreal performance in the bubble seemed to hint at an upcoming surge from one of the league’s most talented players. Coming off his first championship at age 27, Davis was set to enter the prime years of his career, similar to LeBron James winning his first championship with the Miami Heat at age 27 in 2012. 

James sustained that high level of play to add another three rings to his resume, and it seemed as though Davis was on a similar trajectory, ready to take the reins of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise from the aging LeBron James. 

Now 29 games into the NBA season, it has been quite the contrary. Coming off a shortened offseason, James has yet to miss a game and is playing at an MVP-level while his counterpart, Davis, is down in all major numerical categories compared to his first season with the Lakers. 

His exceptional bubble shooting hasn’t translated to the new season, connecting on 42.5% from the midrange and a career low 29.3% from beyond the arc since he became a legitimate shooting threat. Anthony Davis just hasn’t looked like the Anthony Davis we were expecting to see. He has looked sluggish, sometimes disengaged, and simply not as effective or assertive as we have grown accustomed to from the Lakers superstar. But most of all, he hasn’t looked healthy. 

Davis’ latest injury, a re-aggravation of his right Achilles tendonosis, is a product of the shortened offseason. 

“Usually when the season is over, I’d take a month or a month-and-a-half off to let the body heal and then get back into training and build up,” Davis explained to media personnel. 

With just two months between seasons, Davis never got the extended period of time he needed to rid himself of any nagging injuries and work back up to shape. Now, Davis has that opportunity. 

The Lakers, sitting at the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference with a 22-7 record, have no reason to rush Davis back into the lineup. While he is slated to return after the All-Star break in three weeks, it will only prove beneficial to hold him out for as much time as possible.

Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka made a plethora of offseason moves to add a dynamic attack to the Lakers offense, while maintaining the best defensive rating in the league. The Lakers depth will now shine bright; guys have the chance to step up and prove themselves in the absence of a ball-dominant player like Davis. 

Forward Montrezl Harrell can provide energy and offense with Davis unavailable, point guard Dennis Schroeder can steady the ship and keep defenses on their heels, and the emergence of 20 year-old guard Talen Horton-Tucker will provide a needed spark off the bench. Not to mention, that guy wearing No. 23 in the purple and gold, LeBron James — he’s pretty good at basketball too. 

For the Lakers, health is of the utmost importance. We know what they are capable of; we saw it last season. But, to capture that elusive 18th championship, they are going to need a healthy Anthony Davis to survive on the road to repeat. 

Sahil Kurup is a freshman writing about the Los Angeles Lakers. His column, “Road to Repeat” runs every other Friday.