At 11-2, the Los Angeles Lakers don’t have much to complain about. They’re the owners of the best record in the NBA, and also boast the league’s most suffocating defense, smothering opponents while holding them to 99.9 points per 100 possessions.
But while one might think that means they have a lot of things figured out, some recent comments from head coach Frank Vogel have made it obvious he thinks the team has one big problem left to solve: His usage of Anthony Davis.
Davis has played well so far, to be clear. He’s averaging 24.5 points per game to go with 9.2 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 1.2 steals, all while shooting 47.5% from the field. But while Davis ranks second on the team (behind LeBron James) in both shots per game (18.1) and what percentage of possessions he uses while on the floor (29.2%), Vogel was recently asked if there are games where the Lakers would like to get Davis more shots, and he quickly corrected the question and put the onus squarely on himself to get Davis’ usage up.
“Not we. Me,” Vogel said. “There’s going to be games where he doesn’t get 20 shots because they’re going to double team him every time he touches it, and make him a facilitator. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to be creative in getting him the basketball in scoring position, not only facilitating position. That’s something I have to be better at.”
The good news for Vogel is that Davis doesn’t sound to worried about the issue, if one can even call it that.
“We’re winning. I don’t really care about any of that,” Davis said when told of his coach’s vow to get him more shots.
Davis spoke more on this at shootaround:— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) November 19, 2019
"I'm never going to be the one to try to force it. Come and shoot 30 shots just to try and get going. I like to play within our offense... As long as we're winning I'm fine. I don't really care much about stats. I care about winning."
And to be fair to Vogel, in some ways Davis shouldn’t be worried about the amount of scoring opportunities he’s getting. The Lakers have actually done a decent job of setting up scoring chances for Davis, as 58.9% of his field goals have been assisted this season, although there hasn’t been a whole lot of variety in who is doing the table-setting.
On the year, 64 of Davis’ shots have been of the assisted kind. 33 of those assists have come from LeBron James, and no other teammate has assisted Davis more than seven times the whole year. That’s an issue that speaks to the Lakers’ lack of traditional shot creators, but Vogel doesn’t seem to view it as an excuse for himself.
“I’ve got to continue to work on making things easier for Anthony. He’s having to create on his own too much, and we need to get him the basketball more in movement,” Vogel said.
As Vogel’s self-critique’s go, this appears to be the slightly more valid one. Davis has taken 110 jump shots this year, by far the most of any shot type from him — he hasn’t even reached 50 shots in any other category despite only shooting 30% on jumpers.
Part of that speaks to the issues of playing a traditional, non-spacing big man besides Davis, using up valuable paint real estate and thus necessitating he do some of the floor-spacing himself, but it’s also not taking full advantage of Davis’ abilities as a rim-runner and dunker. He still may rank near the top of the league in total dunks, but the Lakers could be doing more to get him open for other types of shots as well.
The majority of Davis’ shots — 43.3% of them, to be exact — have come with a defender playing what NBA.com defines as “tight” coverage, between 2-4 feet away. Davis is shooting 55.3% on such looks, so it’s going okay, but he would presumably be better served by catching the ball on the move in the ways Vogel describes.
How could the Lakers create more such looks? It’s unclear what they’ll do, but one option could be to run a bit more pick and roll with Davis and James, a weapon the team has mostly kept in their back pocket this season. The Lakers have only used Davis as the roll man on a pick and roll on 11.2% of their possessions this season, a drop from 14.1% last year. The return of Rajon Rondo — who has officially had his minutes restriction lifted — gives the Lakers another traditional floor general who has had some past success running such actions with Davis, so that number may rise over the next couple of weeks.
But whether that’s the answer, or if Vogel comes up with some other solution, don’t expect Davis to start demanding more touches, or to begin grousing about his role. The team is having success, and whether his coach wants to make things easier on him or not, Davis is confident that he can get going however he’s being used.
“I’m going to find ways to make sure I get a shot,” Davis said. “I’m not worried about shots. I’m worried about wins.”
I’m never going to be the one to try to force it. Come and shoot 30 shots just to try and get going. I like to play within our offense... As long as we’re winning I’m fine. I don’t really care much about stats. I care about winning.”
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats per NBA.com. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.