By Jahmal Corner
(Reuters) – Election season is in full swing for the Los Angeles Lakers who have returned from the All-Star break with one clear campaign in mind: Anthony Davis for NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
The Western Conference leaders have not-so-subtly promoted their big man as the premier defender in the league.
“He’s able to protect the rim, he’s able to guard in the post, he switches out on guards, blocks shots when guys are shooting floaters and runners and steals. He does everything,” LeBron James said after the team’s 117-105 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday.
“That’s why he’s the defensive player of the year. There’s not one thing he doesn’t do well defensively.”
The endorsement was not unwarranted on a night Davis commanded the Staples Center stage.
The 6-foot-10 power forward chased Grizzlies players around the perimeter and repelled them in the paint (area surrounding the basket), finishing with seven blocks and a steal even though he missed nearly all of the first quarter with a calf injury.
“We’re one of the league leaders getting into the paint, and (the Lakers) end up with 14 blocks,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins told Reuters. “They do a good job collapsing the paint. That’s why (Davis) is one of the best players in the league.”
The Lakers (42-12) currently rank fifth in the NBA’s defensive rating, and sixth in points per game allowed.
“He’s the best defender in the league from a versatility standpoint and what we can do (with him),” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “You can put him against size, out there on the perimeter. Not to mention his ability to switch out and mix it up in transition, all the areas he impacts the game.”
Davis is viewed as the favorite to win his first defensive award but has downplayed using it is a motivating factor.
“I’m not playing defense for that, but it is appealing,” he said. “I would love to have that award several times before I retire. I just try to help guys when they’re beat. I’m talking to guys, and covering for guys. I think if I continue to do that I’ll put myself in a position to win that award.”
The Lakers, though, may have a bigger picture in mind.
Davis, who will become a free agent in the close season, reportedly rejected the team’s maximum contract offer in January.
The team wants to keep Davis and James as running mates into the future.
The two players have connected on and off their floor, sharing much family time together.
Davis joked on Friday that James has “bothered me all season.”
“I’m not actively trying to be invasive in people’s private lives,” said James of the friendship. “It just happened organically.”
(Editing by Gene Cherry and Christian Radnedge)