NBA 2019/20: Can Anthony Davis' focus on 3-point shooting change the LA Lakers?
Anthony Davis wants to be a three-point shooter.
During a Twitter Q&A on Sunday, Davis said: “This summer I improved the most on my three-ball. I wanted to be able to stretch the floor. As a big, the game is definitely going that way now.” And he wants to get his percentages in the high 30s.
That's a big change from the player who averaged 14.3 points in the paint last season, more than everyone other than MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (17.5). And how will that change the way he plays for the LA Lakers.
Helping the Lakers’ issues
Let's get one fact out of the way: Anthony Davis is not a center, because he doesn't like playing the center. At his first press conference conference, according to the Los Angeles Times, he stated: “I’m not even going to sugarcoat it. I like playing the four. I don’t really like playing the five.”
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said that they wanted a “decade of dominance” from Davis, and his long-term health could be impacted by having him bang against the biggest centers in the West. (Though fans and analysts tend to underestimate Davis’ durability as he has not suffered a major injury over the past three seasons). Either way, we will be seeing Davis at the 4 most of the year, and only occasionally at the 5.
This means two things for Davis and the Lakers. Being able to shoot the three is almost a requirement for power forwards now. Certainly, Davis would be a star even if he could not shoot the three at all. But given his ball-handling skills and ability to finish, a three-point shot makes him that much more of a dangerous player. Defenders must crowd Davis, giving him more room to get by them and finish at the rim like he is a guard.
Second, the Lakers have a positional logjam. LeBron James is best at the 4 as well. So are Kyle Kuzma and Jared Dudley, if he gets onto the Lakers rotation. This logjam means some players will have to play out of position, with an NBA report saying that LeBron will start at point guard for this season. And it also means that those playing at the 4, like Davis, need to develop new skills.
The new NBA is multipositional, where a player’s skillset matters more than whether they are a 3, 4, or 5. This is especially so for the Lakers given their very limited guard rotation. No one on this roster besides LeBron can be the ball handler on a pick and roll (and perhaps Rajon Rondo). If Davis can fade back onto the three-point line after a pick, he becomes that much more of a threat afterwards. Defenses will focus on him, giving more leeway to the one running the pick.
A Long Way to Go
However, all of this is moot if Davis cannot become a better three-point shooter. Davis can shoot to an extent, as the Oklahoma City Thunder found out in 2015. Davis is 26 years old, and shooting is one of those skills which NBA players develop later in their career. Davis shot 34% and 33% from long range in the 2018 and 2019, respectively. So surely a jump to 36, 37 or even 38 is possible.
But it should also be noted that Davis only attempted 2.2 and 2.6 threes per game during those past two seasons. Attempting those extra three-pointers becomes more difficult than the one or two times when Davis managed to get wide open from long range.
More realistically, if he can simply maintain his current percentages while increasing the number of attempts, that will also mean he has become a better shooter. And while some may wish for Davis to become a true center, a three-point shot will benefit him and the Lakers just as much, if not more.