Lakers

Lakers Banking On Bounce-Back Year From Davis

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Last season’s Lakers can be summed up with one word: Disappointment.

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Coming off a championship in 2020 and an injury-plagued year in 2021, Los Angeles looked to rebound this past offseason with a total roster overhaul.

Before last season, the Lakers acquired Russell Westbrook to pair with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Los Angeles was projected to be the second-best team in the West at the start of the 2021-22 season.

Instead, the Lakers fell completely off a cliff.

The Lakers finished 11th in the Western Conference and with the eighth-worst record in the league. The team finished in the bottom-ten in both offensive rating and defensive rating. After finishing with a top-three defense in 2020 and 2021, Los Angeles’ defense plummeted to third-worst in the NBA this past season.

There were plenty of reasons why the Lakers fell short in 2022. For starters, Westbrook’s fit with the roster was tolerable at best and horrendous at worst.

Besides Westbrook’s ineffectiveness, Los Angeles also relied upon too many past-their-prime veterans. The team started this past season with the oldest roster in the league. Injuries to both LeBron and Davis only made the situation more complicated.

But these factors weren’t the main reason for Los Angeles’ disappointing season. If anything, the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Anthony Davis.

AD’s Struggles with Injury, Inconsistent Play

For the second-straight year, Davis missed at least half the regular season due to injury.

This past season, AD only played in 40 games. In 2021, he missed exactly half the season. For the third time in four seasons, Davis missed at least 25 games.

Anthony Davis Games Played (Career)

  • 2013-2019 (Pelicans): 466 games played out of 574 games (missed nearly 20% of games in New Orleans)
  • 2020-2022 (Pelicans): 138 games played out of 225 games (missed over 40% of games in Los Angeles)

The Lakers traded for Davis to take pressure off LeBron during the regular season. Instead, LeBron needed to carry the Lakers’ offense with AD struggling and missing extensive time.

Injuries aside, Davis took steps back on both offense and defense since the Lakers’ title in 2020.

For starters, Davis’ jumper regressed to historical lows this past season:

In 2020, Davis was the most dominant inside-out big in the league. AD’s ability to be an isolation scorer in the post and be reliable from outside the paint made him an offensive force. In the NBA Bubble, Davis shot 54% from the field and 36% from three. Davis’ effectiveness from three has declined every season since.

Anthony Davis’ Three-Point Statistics (2020-2022)

  • 2019-2020: 33% on 3.1 attempts per game
  • 2020-2021: 26% on 2.8 attempts per game
  • 2021-2022: 19% on 1.8 attempts per game

AD attempted the least amount of threes per game for his career since 2017. For every season in which he shot at least two threes a game, it was his most inefficient year behind the arc.

At the start of his Lakers tenure, Davis was the best pick-and-roll big man in the league because he could stretch the floor. Now, teams are incentivized to leave him open outside the paint.

Davis’ decline as a defensive anchor is also a cause for concern.

At his best, AD was one of the best rim protectors in the league and had the athleticism to guard perimeter players in a switching scheme.

But this past season, AD tacked on more weight and slowed down due to nagging injuries. He looked slow in pick-and-roll situations, regressing as a shot-blocker and a switch defender. 

The Lakers had the league’s best defense in 2021 but took a big step back this past season.

Lakers Defensive Rankings (2021 versus 2022)

  • 5th in Opponent Effective Field Goal Percentage → 21st in the league
  • 4th in Opponent Turnover Percentage → 14th in the league
  • 4th in Defensive Rebound Percentage → 22nd in the league
  • 9th in Opponent Free Throws per Field Goal Percentage → 14th in the league

While the roster lacked above-average defenders, AD is the focal point of LA’s defensive system. The Lakers can’t win the title with a bottom-three defense in the league.

Lakers Lacking Draft Capital, Avenues for Improvement

In 2019, Los Angeles gave up a massive haul of young players and draft picks to acquire AD.

The Pelicans own LA’s draft pick in 2023 and either 2024 or 2025. The Lakers can only trade first-round picks in 2027 and 2029. So moving forward, the Lakers have little draft capital to use for any trades.

Los Angeles already forked over the eighth pick in this year’s draft to New Orleans. 

The Lakers are also financially capped and offer little in terms of tradeable contracts. Davis, LeBron, and Westbrook will make a combined $129 million this season. Additionally, the Lakers just used their taxpayer midlevel exception on Lonnie Walker IV.

The Lakers’ best trade package revolves around Westbrook’s expiring contract plus one or both of the team’s picks in 2027 and 2029.

Los Angeles has been in trade discussions to potentially land Kyrie Irving from Brooklyn:

Unless the Lakers can pull off a trade for Irving, the team will have no concrete way to upgrade their roster through free agency or trade.

Moving forward, Los Angeles is counting on Davis to return to his basketball prime on both ends of the court while staying healthy. To date, it’s the Lakers’ only chance at championship contention this upcoming season.

Davis’ Play Will Determine LA’s Fate

AD has flashed his ability to be completely unstoppable on both ends of the court.

Unlike previous years, the Lakers can’t bank on another stellar year from LeBron James.

James is entering his 20th NBA season, with tons of regular-season and playoff miles under his belt. Only eight players in NBA history have played at least 20 seasons. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar already had one foot out the door in his 20th season, and every other player was way past their basketball prime.

The rest of Los Angeles’ roster lacks upside. Westbrook is a shell of his former self. There’s no young prospect that has shown signs of immense growth. In the long term, the team is out of future avenues to improve the team.

If the Lakers are serious about making a run at the title, Los Angeles is going to have to put all their hope on the back of Anthony Davis.

About Dominic Chiappone

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