The Lakers are 1-3 in Davis and Drummond’s first four games together, and a source of their struggles has been the minutes the two have shared on the floor. Lineups featuring Davis and Drummond have played 83 of the 192 possible minutes over those four games, and have been outscored by 12.6 points per 100 possessions, the worst net rating of any pairing to play more than 70 minutes together in that timeframe, according to NBA.com.
For context, Drummond and Davis have only played 106 and 107 minutes total, respectively, so nearly all of their time has been spent sharing the floor, trying to figure out how they can work together. But while the results have been middling so far, head coach Frank Vogel still has faith that the two can work together.
“Of course. Absolutely. We have two of the best bigs in the game. AD playing with another 5 man like he did all year last year was one of our best lineups,” Vogel said. “I do think it will work. I don’t know what the overall was tonight, but it’s definitely a combination we believe in.”
And despite the rough numbers and some moments where the entire paint appears to be clogged for Davis as a result of Drummond’s presence, there are reasons for optimism. For one thing, as Vogel pointed out, Davis has made it work with traditional bigs before. He and JaVale McGee outscored opponents by 5.1 points per 100 possessions last season, and him and Howard managed nearly the exact same mark.
Davis and Drummond don’t have a ton of time left to figure things out with just 10 games left in the season, but that’s where the other reason to have faith in the Lakers comes in: If their pairing doesn’t work, Vogel and the team can just do what they did last year, and forego a traditional center to go small around Davis.
Because for all the talk of how big and physically imposing the Lakers were last year, their centers were mostly seven-foot cheerleaders for their postseason run. Of the team-high 769 minutes Davis played in the playoffs, just 116 came alongside McGee, and only 194 alongside Howard, per NBA.com. That means that for 459 of his 769 minutes — nearly 60% of his total playing time in the postseason — Davis was the only center on the floor, a clean flip from playing just 40% of his minutes at the position in the regular season to save himself for the playoffs. This season, Davis has played a career-low of just 12% of his minutes at center as the Lakers look to try and ease him through the expedited season as much as possible while maximizing his time to adjust to their various other options at the position.
None of this is to say that Davis’ pairing with Drummond isn’t important. The Lakers finding ways for that duo to make it work over the last seventh of their season would be valuable. But until LeBron James comes back and we give Davis and Drummond a few more than just four games to get on the same page defensively, it’s impossible to draw too many conclusions about whether or not Drummond can have value for this team in the playoffs. More than likely, he’s a useful piece against teams that aren’t great at rebounding — hello, Brooklyn Nets! — and more of a ceremonial starter in matchups that aren’t as ideal for him.
Drummond’s ability to create extra possessions for Davis and James on a team that has struggled to score in the halfcourt could end up being invaluable as he and Davis get used to playing together on defense, but if it’s not working, we just saw last year how this team will respond: By playing the best center in the world at his natural position. If Davis isn’t healthy enough to deal with the wear and tear from that, or if James is hobbled, or if the Lakers’ shooters brick away too often to create the necessary space for Davis, then none of this matters anyway.
But for all the over-analysis that we’ve all been guilty of when it comes to Drummond’s fit over the past month, if the Lakers can’t defend their title this year, it’s not going to be because Davis couldn’t make it work with a buyout guy. Either they’ll figure it out, or they’ll follow the recipe they already rode to one title as they try to win another one.