The LA Lakers welcomed back Anthony Davis last week, but three games into his return, the team hasn’t looked like an NBA title contender yet. Despite winning 114-103 versus the Orlando Magic on Monday, the Purple and Gold didn’t play particularly well in the second quarter and it nearly cost them the game.
The win broke a three-game losing streak for the LA Lakers who are fighting off the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers for the fifth spot in the Western Conference. At a time when teams are battling hard to secure the playoff positions, it’s taking the defending champs a bit longer to get their groove back with players coming in and out of the lineup due to injuries.
Anthony Davis’ return was supposed to fix a lot of problems for the LA Lakers and yet his comeback has followed them losing two straight and nearly three if not for Dennis Schroder’s heroics in the fourth quarter against Orlando. In the last three games, Davis is averaging 13.0 points on 34.1 percent field-goal shooting, 5.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 25.5 minutes per game.
What is happening to the LA Lakers? Let’s compare their performance so far from the time Andre Drummond played (not including his one-game appearance before being injured) to the time Anthony Davis came back.
The LA Lakers’ offense with Anthony Davis
When Drummond played between April 8 and 19, the LA Lakers had won three games and lost four. Not bad, especially considering that he was new to the squad and has been taking up so many minutes from the other players.
In those games, the LA Lakers were 19th in offensive rating at 110.6. That’s to be expected since Drummond isn’t exactly a scoring machine, although he creates opportunities for them with his offensive rebounding. Upon Anthony Davis’ return, however, their offense got slightly worse.
In their last three games with Davis aboard, the LA Lakers’ offensive rating dipped to 110.1. Clearly, they have struggled to incorporate the talented big man’s game into their offensive system. As good as point guard Dennis Schroder has been as a facilitator lately, he hasn’t been a full-time floor general with Davis on around.
The Magic game showed promise as the LA Lakers had a more fluid offense in the first quarter before it sputtered afterwards. In the fourth quarter, Davis was mostly a spectator after Schroder took over the offense.
The LA Lakers’ defense with Anthony Davis
Defense is the LA Lakers’ trumpcard with or without their superstars. It's how they were able to win four of seven games on the road recently without Davis and LeBron James, an accomplishment that no one expected.
The addition of Anthony Davis should have improved their defense and made them more devastating on that end of the floor. But the results have been shockingly bad so far.
In seven games with Drummond but without Davis, the LA Lakers had a defensive rating of 109.6 which is ninth overall during that 12-day stretch. It’s not as good a defense as they had before but it’s still a top-10 defense.
When Anthony Davis arrived, playing limited minutes during the first two games, their defensive rating plummeted to 113.6 between April 22 to 26, which is only 21st in the league. Among the 12 Lakers players who appeared in those three games, Davis had the fourth-worst defensive rating in the team at 121.9 ahead only of Talen Horton-Tucker (123.9), Ben McLemore (125.5) and Montrezl Harrell (129.5).
Three games is a small sample size but that stat is atrocious for someone who was last year’s runner-up in the Defensive Player-of-the-Year voting.
Let’s sum up what we’ve learned about the LA Lakers so far with Anthony Davis back. We’ve learned that inserting a superstar into a system that has gotten accustomed to life without him for 30 games isn’t going to be easy. The players acted like they were expecting AD to be the AD of old immediately. They tried too hard to get the eight-time All-Star acclimated to the offense too quickly and that proved to be disastrous in the first two games.
The defense suffered more because of issues with rotation and where certain players were expected to be with Anthony Davis on the floor. The 28-year-old was honest enough to admit after losing two straight games against Dallas that chemistry had been an issue.
"It's like you're starting over with the guys and just trying to find a connection with these guys again," Davis said. "They're trying to find a connection with me. So, it's like we're starting from zero, which is tough so late in the season."
There were moments when the LA Lakers looked awkward, for lack of a better word, with Davis around. It was like they had a stranger on their team, playing with them and trying to be friends with them for the first time.
The solution for the 2020 champs is too simplistic but no less true. The LA Lakers have to play more games with Anthony Davis and study how he and Drummond can complement one another. They were fortunate that it was the Magic that they faced on Monday.
If the LA Lakers had gone up against a playoff contender, they’d probably be staring at a four-game losing streak right now. Their next assignment is against the Washington Wizards who are 10th in the East but have won 10 of their last 12 games. Then there are winnable games against the Sacramento Kings and the Toronto Raptors
These games are going to be their best opportunities to reintegrate Anthony Davis and snap out of their offensive and defensive woes. The games afterward become more difficult with the playoffs just around the corner.