Lakers

AD’s Recent Renaissance Reignites Lakers’ Playoff Hopes

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Are the Los Angeles Lakers back from the dead?

Based on the team’s recent performances, it seems L.A. might be a team on the rise. Who would’ve thought?

The Lakers are 6-4 in the team’s last ten games and won five of their last seven contests. As of Dec. 1, L.A. sits just two games out of the final Play-In Tournament spot.

Is it too good to be true? Possibly.

To be fair, the Lakers’ last six wins have been against the Spurs three times, Nets, Pistons and Blazers once each. It’s not the most competitive of schedules, but it’s a great sign given how L.A. struggled last year against relatively easy competition in 2021-2022. Unlike last season, the Lakers are winning the games the team is expected to win this season.

There are many factors at play here, but Anthony Davis continued to return to superstardom remains the most impactful.

Last season, Davis struggled with injuries and underwhelming play. Looking more broadly, AD’s impact waned tremendously since his outstanding performance in the NBA’s 2020 Bubble. It took a toll on the Lakers’ ability to maintain success as LeBron James continues to age.

But now, Davis appears to be back to his former self. If performances like these keep up, the Lakers will continue to be a team to watch for.

Anthony Davis by the numbers

At his best, AD’s statistics continue to trend upward since his injury-riddled 2020-2021 season:

Davis Season Stats (2021-present)

  • 2020-2021: 32.3 MPG, 21.8 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.6 BPG, 49/26/74 shooting splits
  • 2021-2022: 35.1 MPG, 23.2 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, 2.3 BPG, 53/19/71 shooting splits
  • 2022-2023: 34.2 MPG, 26.3 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.5 SPG, 2.3 BPG, 57/24/82 shooting splits

The change in counting stats doesn’t jump off the page, but AD’s return to form looks great, especially on his efficiency.

Last season, Davis ranked as one of the worst jump shooters in the league. So far, he cut down his three-point attempts to his lowest volume since 2014-2015. He also transformed more into a rim-runner and power-finisher. For a big man, 57% from the field is elite compared to his lower-efficiency percentages from the past two seasons.

Additionally, AD’s continued (knock on wood) health is a great sign for the Lakers. He’s played in 18 of the team’s first 20 games. His availability, especially with James recently out due to an injury, is a start. His improved play in the non-LeBron minutes keeps the Lakers in games. That wasn’t the case last season, and it’s the biggest reason why L.A. continues to trend upward.

Davis’ rebounding and defense is the biggest shocker so far. Davis looks more like his peak days with the Pelicans, especially his dominant 2018-2019 campaign.

In fewer minutes, AD is averaging the most rebounds and blocks of his career in four seasons.

Statistically, the good-old days of Anthony Davis are back. In a sense, that means the Lakers could be back as well.

Is Davis’ recent play sustainable?

Can AD keep this up? The sample size says that’s uncertain.

As always with Davis, the injury concerns remain a legit issue the Lakers will need to deal with. Davis has never played at least 75 games since 2017-2018. His health record and availability continue to remain in constant flux.

Prior to this season, AD missed around 40% of all games during his tenure in Los Angeles. There are still plenty of games left to go this season. Given what we know, AD is unlikely to play 70-75 games.

In terms of his play, that remains an even bigger question. The efficiency and scoring production will probably keep up. At the very least, it might regress minimally.

On offense, AD lacks a reliable jump shot. He’s shifted his game almost entirely in the paint, from crashing the offensive glass to isolation post-ups and rolls to the rim. If Davis wears down, there’s no Plan-B option for him as a scorer. And for a center, Davis’ efficiency declined the last two seasons. Maintaining that volume and efficiency is a tall task.

In general, it’s hard to believe Davis’ offensive performances and elite rebounding will slow down.

However, AD’s defensive play seems less reliable. He plays the majority of his minutes at center. The wear-and-tear will become much more of a detriment for AD by the January-February marker of the season.

Overall, it comes down to sample size. If AD continues to stay healthy, the performance will keep up. But if he starts tacking on injuries here or there, that could spell trouble moving forward.

The Lakers’ outlook moving forward

For now, the Western Conference remains an open contest.

On paper, give credit to the Lakers for embracing their biggest strengths. L.A. ranks comfortably in the top ten in defensive rating, despite having one of the worst offenses in the league.

For now, the Lakers remain one of, if not the worst shooting teams in the league, But they make it up by dominating the interior. Through 18 games, the Lakers rank second in free-throw makes and fifth in attempts, fourth in two-point makes and seventh in attempts, and sixth in rebounds.

Moving forward, the road gets tougher from here. The Lakers will need to, at some point, earn some wins against the Western Conference. There are only so many games against the Spurs and Rockets on L.A.’s schedule.

However, for the first time in a couple of years, hope is in the air for L.A.’s quest to get back to the playoffs.

For a franchise in this current state, hope is all the Lakers could ask for right now.

But if Anthony Davis’ play falls, so too will L.A.

About Dominic Chiappone

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