Over the 24-48 hours after the Lakers’ triple-overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings on Friday night, Anthony Davis’ name began to trend on Twitter, fueled by distressing stats about his regression as a jump shooter flying around social media.
“Out of 56 players who have attempted at least 150 jumpers this season, he ranks last in efficiency, averaging just 0.71 points per shot,” former Spurs executive and ESPN data analyst Kirk Goldsberry tweeted. And Lakers fans’ favorite #MoreThanAStatAccount, StatMuse, had some even more depressing numbers:
Anthony Davis this season:— StatMuse (@statmuse) November 27, 2021
16.7% on threes — worst in NBA history by any player with 2+ attempts per game and 20+ games played.
38.3% on midrange — worst in the NBA by any player with 100+ attempts.
33.1% on jumpshots — worst in the NBA by any player with 150+ attempts. pic.twitter.com/KZ2YEYzEjD
Former Sixth Man extraordinaire and Suns broadcast analyst Eddie Johnson went as far as to call those stats a “disturbing” trend that are evidence of the ways “analytic thinking is destroying (Davis’) game.”
Davis, it’s fair to say, is slightly less concerned. After going 2-2 from deep in the team’s 110-106 win against the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night to move his season percentage on 3-pointers to 20.5%, he explained to the assembled local media why he’ll never stop firing away from distance.
“I’m going to continue to shoot the ball from three. Whether it goes in or not, I think that opens up the floor for my teammates — LeBron, Russ, Talo — to get downhill. And it opens it up for me to get to the paint when guys run out and are closing out to the three,” Davis said. “I’m just trying to be effective at all three levels of the floor, and it was going for me tonight.”
If Davis keeps shooting like he is, opponents aren’t going to guard him out there, rendering any spacing benefits moot, but his head coach said that there was no way Davis would continue to shoot so poorly on the jumpers he has been getting.
“He’s just in a bit of a shooting slump. I’m comfortable with the shots that he’s getting,” Vogel said pregame, in words that sound mildly prescient now.
And to Vogel’s point, Davis has been classified by NBA.com as wide-open — aka six feet or more between him and the nearest defender — on 24 of the 44 3-pointers he’s taken this year. Ironically, he has made just three of them, and his percentages get better (over an aggressively small sample size) the closer his defender is to him, as he’s shooting 5-18 on “open” threes and 1-2 against “tight” coverage.
It’s early, but those numbers make it an open question if Davis is almost getting in his own head about how open defenses are leaving him. But shooting struggles aside, Vogel also made sure to point out that Davis’ 3-point attempts should not — and have not — precluded the star from getting to the basket.
“Obviously, we want him attacking the basket as much as possible. His points in the paint are really good, top-three (in the league), one of the best in his career,” Vogel said. “But his jump shot is going to come around, so we’re comfortable with that.”
Given that Davis has shot around 30% or better from distance since the 2015-16 season, yes, his percentage will likely start to tick up from 20ish% over a larger sample size. But given that even his career 30.7% average from deep isn’t what one would call “good,” it’s fair to wonder if he should at least settle for jumpers even just a tad less, even if his intentions and reasoning for spacing the floor are noble ones. Turning himself into Aron Baynes with worse shooting percentages on offense is going to hurt the Lakers more than it helps them, no matter how much extra floor spacing would aid their ballhandlers’ drives to the cup.
In short, the team needs to find a way to split the difference and get the most out of Davis’ versatility while also not emphasizing the least polished aspects of his game to try and help his teammates. Because as important as it is for them to play well, they need the best version of Davis as much as anyone. He shouldn’t stop shooting threes entirely, but they need to figure out ways to make it more of a last resort than they have been.