Anthony Davis is a complete basketball player. He can protect the rim and rebound the ball on one end, and beat his defenders with his ball-handling and post moves on the other end. But the one part of Davis’ game that’s still a work in progress is his 3-point jump shot, and the Los Angeles Lakers have pushed him to improve in that area this season with some success.
Before the start of a four-game road trip in November, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel challenged Davis to attempt five 3-pointers per game. Over the next four games, Davis attempted 5.8 3-pointers per game and converted them at a 39.1% clip. While that experiment didn’t result in Davis attempting five 3-pointers per game for the rest of the season, it seems to have helped him get more comfortable taking that shot, as he’s attempting a career-high 3.4 triples per game this season and making them at a 33.7% rate, which is also a career-high.
After Tuesday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers, where Davis made four 3-pointers (tied for his career-high) in five attempts, he talked about his improvement as a shooter, and the boost in confidence that’s come with it (via Spectrum SportsNet):
“I put a lot of work into it, and it’s just about taking game reps. I work on it before every game, every day before practice and over the last month and a half, I’ve been very confident with it, no hesitation to shoot it. Coach said it opens up the floor for me, the floor for the team, the space where teams aren’t helping as much.
“When I’m able to knock down a couple, I’m able to show the pump fake, and drive and get a layup or pass for my team. It’s just about being confident for the rest of the season and through the playoffs with the shot.”
In the past, Davis said that he’s been a victim of overthinking from behind the 3-point line, and while he’s slowly getting more comfortable taking the 3, he doesn’t want it to take away from other parts of his game:
“Me, I’m the type of player to try and play within in a game and take the right shots. Even when I think I might be open or the team might think I’m open at times, I try to make the next play: The right pass or drive, or sometimes I might pump fake myself out of a shot. Like I said, it’s just about having the confidence of letting ‘em fly, and if I’m open in space or in rhythm, I’ll shoot it and just try to have the opponent respect me more from out there.
“But also, I don’t like to get too comfortable out there, where I’m just standing behind the line and looking for a shot, so there’s got to be a balance and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that.”
Davis’ superstar teammate, LeBron James, struggled with the 3-ball early in his career, too.
In James’ first NBA Finals appearance in 2007, the San Antonio Spurs dared him to shoot from behind the arc, and at that point of his career, he wasn’t skilled enough to make them pay for it. He ended the series having made four 3-pointers in 20 attempts, and the Spurs won in four games.
Now, in his 17th season, James is attempting a career-high 6.3 3-pointers per game, and he’s making them at a respectable 35.1% clip. But James has also taken a note out of his peers’ books and expanded his game to well beyond the 3-point line, and Tuesday’s game was a prime example of that.
On Tuesday against the Sixers, James pulled up from the logo without hesitation and drained it. There was 19 seconds left on the shot clock and 10:47 left on the game clock.
James has pulled up from behind 40 feet before, but not even his teammates saw his wild 3-point attempt coming, according to Davis:
“Nobody knew what he was doing. We kind of know when he’s going to do it. It’s usually after he hit a couple in a row. That one, when I was running down, I was expecting him to throw it to me and he just pulled up. It kind of shocked all of us, and then he made it, and we were all like, ‘Alright, where’d he shoot this one from?’ We just tried to have fun with it.”
James didn’t take the shot for the fun of it, though — it’s a shot he told reporters that he has confidence in because of how much he practices it:
“My teammates see me work on it — a lot. And I know I put the work in on it. I don’t take no shots that I don’t work on. I’ve never done it in my career, so I feel like I work on it, I trust my mechanics and I’m able to let it fly with confidence no matter what’s going on with the shot clock.”
Much like Davis, James is such a versatile player that the 3-point jump shot is more of a luxury than a necessity for him, especially when his 3-point attempts are coming from near half court. However, at 35, James said he doesn’t want to get left behind in the always-evolving NBA:
“Obviously the game is played so much at the 3-point line and beyond, so I just think for me, personally, I just want to continue to have a growth mindset. However the game is changing, being able to change my game and also be true to who I am at the same time. I’m just not trying to have any weaknesses.”
Over the next few weeks, the Lakers will see a few of the most prolific 3-point shooting teams in the NBA like the Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets. The Lakers did a good job of surrounding their two superstar players with shooters in the offseason, but it’s important for James and Davis to force defenders to respect them from behind the arc, too — Davis especially because of how many lanes to the basket it would create for him and his teammates.
Does that mean Davis needs to shoot five 3-pointers a game again? No, but he needs to convince his opposition and himself that he’s capable of doing it. As for James, it doesn’t look he needs an extra shot of confidence.