The Los Angeles Lakers were beaten 109-102 by the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday, Nov. 17. That in and of itself isn’t a big deal, because despite their record the Bucks are a better team.
What is a big deal is the way Lakers star forward Anthony Davis was dominated by the two-time MVP, defensive player of the year, and reigning Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
That prompted ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins to make a stunning proclamation to Stephen A. Smith on “First Take.”
“When Giannis is finished he will go down as the most dominant player ever. Right now, that’s Shaquille O’Neal, but Giannis isn’t even 27 years old yet and when he’s finished with his career, at the rate that he’s going, the rate that he’s dominating the league right now, what he’s already acheived and the way that he keeps getting better…
“The thing that he does that impresses me the most is he wants all the smoke. He takes matchups personally like last night what he did to anthony Davis. He takes it personal. Don’t he remind you of those old school players?”
Let’s get the counting stats out of the way.
Giannis had 47 points, nine rebounds, three assists, a steal, and a block in 36 minutes. Davis could only muster 19 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks in his 37 minutes.
This was total and complete domination in terms of an individual matchup. Now you can argue that Giannis is the focal point of his team’s offense in a way that Davis isn’t. That’s true. But with no LeBron James, Davis has to be the Lakers’ best player.
He hasn’t quite been that for the Lakers since LeBron’s injury. Davis’ ability as a two-way wrecking force is why LeBron wanted him in L.A. Aside from a run in the 2020 playoffs, he’s been fine. But not elite.
FS1 talking head Kevin Wildes thinks the gap between Giannis and AD as players is as wide as an ocean.
Lakers at Bucks Nov. 18 Player Comparison:
AD: 18 PTS, 9-15 FG, 0-1 3P, 0-0 FT
Giannis: 47 PTS, 18-23 FG, 3-4 3P, 8-11 FT
— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) November 18, 2021
Elite production on both ends of the floor is what the Lakers need from AD. Not quite Giannis level for the Bucks, but pretty close.
So far this season, according to basketballreference.com, AD win shares per 48 is only .189. League average is .100. His box plus minus is only 2.6. Giannis is at .256 and 10, respectively.
Dunksandthrees estimated plus-minus stat has AD at +2.8. By comparison, Giannis is at +6.3.
One last stat note, courtesy of Tommy Breer.
Worst plus/minus among all players that have logged at least 300 minutes this month:
Julius Randle: -106
Anthony Davis: -64
Russell Westbrook: -58
Highest plus/minus in November:
Steph Curry: +135
— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) November 18, 2021
One note about traditional plus-minus is that it doesn’t take into account who a player is sharing the floor with. LeBron has been out for all but one November game.
Again Davis has been fine, but not elite. For the Lakers to reach their goal of another championship that will need to change.
LeBron is reportedly going to return to action as early as Friday, Nov. 19. No official word has been made. But if Davis isn’t better, LeBron’s return won’t really matter.
Davis will need to be the type of player many envisioned him being coming out of the University of Kentucky. A 7-foot two-way monster with guard skills. A potential MVP and defensive player of the year candidate.
In short, exactly who Giannis is.
As LeBron’s career winds down, Davis will also have to learn how to be a leader. That takes time and various situations that help forge leadership qualities, something he discussed in the postgame news conference after Wednesday night’s game:
“Yeah, just leadership. Melo is in my ear a lot just about leading the team and controlling the things, especially with LB out. And we don’t have all our guys yet, so guys are playing a lot of minutes right now.
“But it’s my job to make sure that I take command of the team and even when LB is playing. We had a little player meeting early in the season, well before the season, but that was one of the things that guys told me, just make sure I stay in control of the team and just putting guys where they need to be and doing it with leadership, just bring that leadership skill set out and just helping the guys out.”
The time is now for Davis and the Lakers. We will be at the 20-game mark soon. That’s a quarter of the way through the season. Team trends start getting clarified, and who a team is at that point tends to play out through a season.
Yes, the Lakers have been without LeBron, so maybe we take their 20-game sample with a grain of salt. But once he returns it’s time for him and Davis to get on a roll.