Two of the best defenders of the last two decades of the NBA met Wednesday inside the Lakers’ practice facility, with Ben Wallace and Anthony Davis meeting up to … talk haircuts?
“He told me he liked my hair,” Davis said, pointing to his afro. “A headband, couple of wristbands and maybe I can win defensive player of the year.”
Davis’ afro is nowhere near Wallace’s at its peak, a haircut so high and robust that you almost forgot one of the NBA’s biggest, toughest centers wasn’t even 6 feet 10. His trophy room is also lacking — Wallace with four of the NBA’s DPOY trophies and Davis, maybe surprisingly without only one.
But as he enters a season with the Lakers wholeheartedly emphasizing defense under coach Darvin Ham, Davis said his goal wasn’t to be recognized as the NBA’s greatest player. Instead, he’s focused on just being its healthiest.
“For me, I just want to be on the floor. I want to be able to play all 82,” Davis said Wednesday. “And if I’m not, I don’t want it to be injury-based where I can’t play. That’s my goal.”
Considering his history, it’s certainly a lofty one.
Davis has played more than 70 games only twice in his career and hasn’t done it in any of his three seasons as a Laker. After playing only 36 games following the Lakers’ 2020 bubble title, he played only 40 games last season after freak injuries to his knee and foot.
“The last two seasons when you’re injured, it’s just hard to get into rhythm. You come in for a couple of weeks, three weeks, and then you’re out for six. It’s hard to establish a rhythm for me personally,” Davis said. “But I think that was the only thing. I always felt like myself, always confident, always ready to go and play. But I think when you’re in and out of the lineup consistently, it’s tough to catch that rhythm.”
He’s the centerpiece of the Lakers’ defense, with the team implementing a new system built around the team’s big men usually dropping in pick-and-roll coverage instead of switching onto or hedging against the offensive player.
“You can see the eagerness in his eyes,” Ham said. “Like, he wants to learn. He wants to be on the same page with everyone else in terms of how we communicate those coverages. So, it’s been good. It’s been really good.”
Add in a healthy Davis — Tuesday he disclosed he played much of the season through a wrist injury affecting his shooting mechanics — and there has been plenty of early optimism.
If Davis is tasked with impacting the defense on the interior, Patrick Beverley will be setting the tone on the perimeter.
Like Kendrick Nunn the day before, Beverley described the Lakers’ practices as a “vibe.”
“I don’t know, it’s like you guys go into the office, you guys have something you thought about the night before, come into work, put it on paper. Everything’s good,” Beverley said, describing the feeling. “The lunch tastes great. The water tastes a little bit better. The coworkers and you are getting along. The sun’s outside.
“Work is a vibe.”
And Wallace being at practice, mostly to observe, only improved it.
“Oh man, that’s the ultimate respect. You know he paved the way for guys like me. Hall of Fame, those blue-collar guys, they’re starting to let them in,” Beverley said. “… I mean what he’s done undrafted, a lot of people haven’t done and still can’t do. One of the best rebounders to ever do it.”
While Ham used slides in front to show the Lakers how they’d defend when camp opened Tuesday, he didn’t have Wallace or Derek Fisher, who also attended the practice, give a speech Wednesday. Their presence, it wasn’t about that.
For the players, Wallace’s presence was a not-so-subtle reminder of the mentality Ham would like to see from his team. And for Ham, it was about comfort, a former teammate and close friend coming to watch his team work.
“He just observed. He and Derek Fisher were there today and I appreciate those guys coming and observing and giving me a little bit of feedback,” Ham said. “But Ben and I, man, we’ve been best of friends since we first played together in 1997 with the Washington Wizards. It was both of our second years in the league and he’s just been a real trustworthy friend, an honest guy. He talked about the energy in the building, how contagious it was and Derek said the same thing. They’re both excited for me.
“But Ben and I have been through some wars together, won championships together so we’re lifelong friends, lifelong brothers for that matter. So just to have him come out and spend a few days with me has been great.”