The Los Angeles Lakers will finally get some much-needed help with all signs pointing to star forward Anthony Davis returning to the court for Tuesday’s matchup against the Brooklyn Nets.
Davis has missed the past 17 games after spraining his left ACL on Dec. 17 in a matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Lakers, already experiencing some turmoil before Davis’ injury, struggled to find any kind of rhythm while he was out, going under .500 at 23-24 upon his return.
Sitting in eighth place in the Western Conference, Los Angeles looks like a Play-In Tournament team for the second straight season, but is just two games away from a top-six seed, which would give it a solid spot in the NBA Playoffs.
Will Davis’ return have a big enough impact to secure a playoff spot in the second half of the season?
We’ll answer that in the form of four pressing questions ahead of his return below.
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How did the Lakers fare without Davis on the court?
The Lakers are 13-14 when Davis plays this season and 10-10 when he doesn’t. That’s right … it doesn’t make much of a difference in the absence of an eight-time All-Star.
Surprisingly, when you look at the advanced on/off stats, they tell you the same thing.
The Lakers actually have a worse net rating (-2.5) with Davis on the court than when he’s not on the court (-0.8). The team’s offensive rating drops to 105.4 with Davis on the court, which would be fourth-worst in the NBA, ahead of only the Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons and Oklahoma City Thunder, the teams with the three worst records in the league.
His presence on defense only improves the Lakers one bit, with a 108.0 defensive rating with him on the floor versus a 110.4 defensive rating when he’s off the floor. However, the slight 2.4 points per 100 possessions is the difference between a top-10 and bottom-10 defensive rating in the league.
Of course, conventional wisdom tells you that the Lakers are absolutely better off with their third superstar on the court, and I’m not going to argue against that. But it is interesting to see that the numbers tell a different story.
How will Davis’ return affect the starting lineup?
During Davis’ 17-game absence, head coach Frank Vogel experimented extensively with the starting lineup to try to snap the Lakers out of their slump.
Used seven different starting lineups, three of which featured LeBron James in the center position. The Lakers found some success playing James at five, going 5-2 in games in which he was listed as the team’s starting center.
Playing James at the five gave the Lakers a chance to space out the floor a bit and play with more pace. But where he had the biggest impact on him was as a blocker in pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop scenarios, doing damage as a roll-man by being able to look for his own shot or make a play for someone else on the short roll. .
This was something TSN’s Scott Rafferty detailed shortly after Davis’ injury and the Lakers continued to use it during his absence.
However, in the last five games, Vogel ran away from a starting drive with James in the five. He put Dwight Howard back in the starting lineup, and it’s probably safe to assume Davis will take Howard’s place upon his return.
Howard has been playing well lately, which could turn things around, but earlier this month, Vogel said he expects LeBron to operate as a backup center in the minutes without Davis on the floor when he returns.
“I think you’re going to see Anthony playing a lot at 5, and when Anthony is out (of the game), we have the lineups that we’ve been playing with LeBron basically playing center.” said the head coach of the Lakers on January 11. “It’s the direction that I think we’re going to land with this group towards the second half of the season, and we’re seeing obvious benefits from now that we feel like they’re going to be even more improved when Anthony comes back.”
It will also be interesting to see how Davis’ return impacts the recent streak James has been on, described by himself as “one of the best offensive zones I’ve ever been in, in my career.”
James averaged 32.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game during Davis’ 17-game absence, amassing 13 30-point games and one 40-point game. He’s seen himself as the 23-year-old who won the scoring title in 2008, and as you see in the quote above, he’s not planning on stopping.
You can focus on the idea that James, Davis and Russell Westbrook will all be starters; it is the other two players around him that will change every night.
Will Davis get out of his shooting slump?
This could be the the most important pressing question about Davis’ return.
Prior to his injury, Davis was having the worst jump shooting season of his career, allowing opposing teams to pack the paint against the Lakers (especially when he and Westbrook shared the floor).
Davis was shooting 52.1 percent from the field, which is one of the best marks of his career, but that’s due to a strong 64.3 percent shooting from attempts inside the paint.
On shots outside the paint, Davis converted a much worse 32.4 percent of his attempts, including an awful 17.9 percent from 3, the worst percentage of any season in which he attempted more than one 3-pointer per game.
That’s… lots of red X’s.
According to NBA statisticsDavis is shooting 17.6 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts so far this season, a percentage that’s nearly halved from what he was making during the NBA championship run. Lakers 2020 (34.4%).
What’s even more alarming is that Davis is also missing easy looks.
On 3-point shots that NBA stats consider “wide,” Davis is shooting 25.0 percent. On 3-point shots that NBA stats consider “wide,” that number drops to an astonishing 11.8 percent.
Playing alongside elite passers like James and Westbrook, you’ll get easy looks that are served up on a silver platter at the 3-point line. Davis will have to start taking advantage of some of those opportunities to maximize his value on the offensive end and open up space for this Lakers team.
How does Davis’ return affect the trade deadline?
The Lakers already have their hands tied by their current salary-cap situation, but Davis’s return shouldn’t affect how this team operates at the deadline. too much.
Whispers of Westbrook will continue to float around, as will rumors of players like Kendrick Nunn and Talen Horton-Tucker are in trade talks along with future draft assets.
Between Davis’ first game back and the Feb. 10 deadline, the Lakers will have nine games to see what this team looks like at full strength and make a decision on how to improve to advance to the playoffs. It’s already clear that changes, or several of them, need to be made, but with limited flexibility, it will be interesting to see what the franchise can pull off to try and make another title behind LeBron and company.