If you were to ask a Los Angeles Lakers fan to conjure up a singular play that sums up the 2019-20 season thus far, it would most likely look something like this:
That was nice. But there are also a few things to notice in this clip beside the renaissance painting-esque dejection on Chicago’s bench after Davis throws down the hammer — chiefly the shot clock.
Davis catches the post entry at around the seven second mark and holds the ball for another two. A then late-clock play-call sees LeBron James set a screen for Quinn Cook, which completely flummoxes the Bulls’ defense as they are faced with a conundrum of either 1) immediately switching the screen but risking Cook getting free in the process, 2) doubling Davis in the post, or 3) chasing James, who by now has darted to the corner.
As that choice played out in the Bulls’ heads, it only took three seconds for the Lakers to emphatically ice the game with an alley-oop slam. Forcing defenses into such tough decisions has been a common occurrence this season, and the end result is something that it feels like the team can get whenever they want: A dunk.
This isn’t just an anecdotal observation, either. The numbers show that this team is putting opponents on the wrong end of posters at a staggering rate.
On the season, the Lakers have three players within the top 20 in dunks, according to Basketball-reference. The next closest teams (Atlanta and Brooklyn) have two.
Unsurprisingly, all three of the Lakers’ dunk leaders currently occupy the club's gargantuan front court.
Davis has already converted 37 dunks (14 via alley-oop throw downs) in just 12 games, which is tied for second most in the league, behind only Giannis Antetokounmpo. JaVale McGee, the team’s starting center, is sixth with 30 dunks. And resident number one fan-favorite Dwight Howard is tied for 18th with 19 dunks (half of his overall made shots on the season).
A huge reason for the team’s ability to live above the rim in the early stages of the season has been due to James’ incredible playmaking. Essentially serving up the basketball on a silver platter for his towering trio, James has used up every ounce of his personal gravity to lure in defenders as he leads the league in assists at the rim, and assist points overall according to PBP stats.
“We got Anthony Davis who seems to dunk whenever he wants. LeBron James seems to dunks whenever he wants. For the most part, we’re moving the ball well enough that we’re getting good action at the basket.”
Vogel’s explanation for the manner in which the team is generating looks at the basket and their corresponding dunks is a valid one, but he also may deserve slightly more credit than he’s giving himself. The Lakers benefit from traditional lob chances in part due to the fantastic vertical advantages they employ, sure, but also because of the creative actions that have helped open up opportunities for their bigs. Take this play out of the elbow for example, which is quickly becoming a staple for the offense:
Lakers continue to run this Elbow action for AD with LeBron and a guard screening for AD. Very similar to action Cavs ran for Love. AD curls, tough for a guard to switch on him cutting to the paint, Lakers get an easy dunk. pic.twitter.com/SryXXjEHU2— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) November 16, 2019
There are obviously no shortage of reasons of why dunking the basketball is good for an offense. Beside the fun factor and the demoralizing effect it could have on the opposition, its most basic benefit is the sheer level of efficiency it generates.
According to Kirk Goldsberry’s fantastic book “Sprawlball,” since the 2013-14 season up until the 2017-18 campaign, shots coming directly at the rim have yielded the highest points per shot compared to any other spot on the floor. While that’s not completely surprising, it does give credence to why the Lakers’ ability to secure so many dunks has been valuable. Especially considering the rest of the club’s offense is still a work in process.
On the season, the Lakers are sporting the seventh-best offensive rating in the league, according to Cleaning the Glass. While impressive, that’s also a little misleading in terms of the ample room for improvement that’s still available to be had.
The Lakers have taken full advantage of their aforementioned size advantage in the paint as they have the third-highest frequency in the league (40.1%) of their attempts coming within four feet, and second-best conversion rate (69.2%) in the NBA. But when it comes to the other areas of the floor, however, things aren’t as pretty.
Through 13 games, the Lakers are 27th in the league in midrange efficiency, and 21st in 3-point percentage, both marks a far cry from their interior success. Fortunately for Los Angeles, their ability to generate easy buckets has helped alleviate the rough edges of their offense as it continues to find its footing.
In every game for the Lakers thus far there has been at least one dunk, one singular and thunderous throw-down that has helped change the complexity of the game. And the beauty in these moments up until now is that it could come at the hands of someone different each time.
Those highlight plays of course have come at a higher rate courtesy of their monster front court, but it has also come from James himself, sir dunk-a-lot Alex Caruso (the team is still undefeated in games in which he dunks) and most recently from one of the team’s most unlikely candidates — Danny Green.
Approached in the locker room about that play, Kyle Kuzma jokingly muttered out loud to reporters: “Danny? I didn’t know he could dunk, honestly.”
And like his surprising put-back jam against Atlanta, Green retorted with impeccable timing.
“Shit, me neither.”
Dunks are fun, and for the first time in years, so are the Lakers.
All stats and video per NBA.com unless otherwise noted. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts.