By the third quarter of the Lakers’ eventual loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night, Anthony Davis had seen enough. Frustrated by missing two free throws, upset by the team’s defensive miscues and miscommunications and annoyed that the Lakers still weren’t at the very least giving consistent effort on that end nine games into the season, he unleashed his anger on an unexpected target: A nearby drink cart, which hit the ground loudly enough for observers in Staples Center to hear it.
“There’s a lot of frustration,” Davis admitted after the 118-109 defeat. “I just walked over and knocked a damn cart over. It was a combination of a lot of things.”
But Davis was annoyed right from the get-go against San Antonio, too, and for approximately five minutes after the game, vented his unfiltered thoughts about what he sees as poor effort, communication and execution of the team’s schemes across the board.
“This is the first time we’ve seen (a stretch five this year), but we messed up our coverages. We didn’t do what we were supposed to do, so we can’t even tell if our defensive schemes worked for a stretch five,” Davis seethed, growing more candid as the questions continued. “We didn’t play a lick of defense. Our defense was shit tonight. We didn’t play one lick of defense and guys did whatever they want. (The Spurs) came into this game very comfortable.
“We never played defense from the opening tip to the final buzzer, and that’s why we lost.”
Whatever way you slice it, Davis isn’t wrong. The Lakers had their worst defensive rating of the season on Thursday night (118), a rate as bad as the league-worst Minnesota Timberwolves’ defense, which has allowed exactly 118 points per 100 possessions so far. The Lakers also allowed the second-highest effective field goal percentage — which factors in the added value of threes and free throws — they have in any game this season (55.4%).
Despite all that, the Lakers do still have the sixth-best defense in the league so far this season, but they’ve produced it against a fairly soft schedule and amidst frequent bouts of obviously low-effort play. And Davis’ frustration has been brewing for a while. One week ago, he described his own play on that end as “shit” after a game in which he seemed to be just fine on that end, something most Lakers observers chalked up to Davis trying to light a fire under the team by criticizing himself first and foremost.
Now that it’s been seven days and things haven’t changed, it was no surprise what Davis’ answer was when he was asked directly if the Lakers have been a consistent enough defensive team, nine games into the season.
“No. Some nights we do bring it defensively, and some nights we don’t. We have spurts in the game where we’re really good defensively, but for an entire 48 minutes, we haven’t been. We know there’s going to be mistakes. Teams are going to make shots. You’re not going to be perfect the entire 48, but we’re not executing what we’re supposed to do,” Davis said. “Our communication has been terrible for the first nine games that we’ve played. We’ve got to be way better defensively if we want to have a chance to defend our title. There is no excuse.
“It’s not about schemes or anything like that, it’s just about energy and effort,” Davis continued. “We’re late on our coverages. Our communication hasn’t really been good, and I think we’re good in the first initial 10 seconds into the clock, even 15 seconds into the clock, it’s that second action, third action that teams run that kind of get us.
“Some things you can’t control. A bad miss or you’re closing out on the weak side and guys make a tough shot, or a bad bounce or anything like that. But a lot of times it’s just us messing up our schemes and not talking, which is leading to open shots and guys at the rim.”
Now, to be fair, Davis isn’t blameless in all of this. Heading into Thursday night’s game, the Lakers’ defensive rating was never better than when Davis sits (95.4), and never worse than when he plays (108.7), the highest swing on the team, according to NBA.com. You can chalk that up to the starters still not being a great fit defensively right now, you can blame it on Davis and Montrezl Harrell not being on the same page on that end yet, you can cite small sample size wonkiness, but however you slice it and whatever context you add, right now, the Lakers are significantly worse on the end Davis specializes in while he’s on the floor. Anyone who watches basketball knows that Davis doesn’t, in general, make the Lakers a worse defensive team, but he’s certainly not fixing their issues right now, either.
The good news is that none of this should be irrevocably broken. Davis even was willing to admit that some of it is attributable to roster turnover, and the difficulties presented by the expedited return to play. But he also didn’t want to use that as an excuse.
“We’re still trying to get guys acclimated to our system, but I think nine games is plenty. Tonight was a new challenge, like coach said, with a stretch five we haven’t seen, and all the guys that were here before kind of know (how we defend that), but it was new to Dennis, to Wes,” Davis said. “With little practice time and things like that, with games being right behind each other, it’s tough to go over and get those live reps that you need, but the season is still early, but we’ve definitely got to be better on the defensive end, and I think we can do that.”
And for all we know, the turnaround may have started with Davis sounding the alarm tonight. But while verbal leadership through the media is one thing, he also has to take the lead on the court in fixing things, too. Seeing how Davis worked last year, there should be little doubt he’ll continue to try and do so, but he’ll probably continue to be frustrated until he does.