Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond have played 325 minutes together since Drummond signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in March. In the 289 minutes they played together in the regular season, they posted a net rating of -3.4, which was the third-worst net rating of any two players on the team that played at least 250 minutes together. Drummond and Kyle Kuzma (-3.7) had the worst.
Unfortunately for Davis and Drummond, they weren’t able to turn over a new leaf in their first postseason appearance together. In 19 minutes against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday, Davis and Drummond posted a net rating of -9.8 and a defensive rating of 112.2, the latter of which was the second-worst on the team. In layman’s terms, they haven’t enjoyed much success together.
The growing pains that Davis and Drummond are working through aren’t atypical for a pairing that has played just 15 games together. What is abnormal is the circumstances under which they’re trying to develop their chemistry, but Drummond believes they’re doing the best they possibly can, even if it doesn’t show up in the box score.
“I think with the big lineup, we didn’t have enough time to work on it, so it’s something that we’re kind of just throwing out there with little time and little experience,” Drummond said after practice on Monday. “I think we’re doing a good job of figuring it out on the fly despite us being in the playoffs right now.
“Obviously lineup changes are going to happen. We’re going to do whatever it takes to win, so it’s just feeling it out and doing what’s best for the team.”
The “lineup changes are going to happen” comment from Drummond may seem like foreshadowing on his part, but Frank Vogel didn’t sound like someone who was eager to shake things up in Game 2 after practice on Monday. In fact, he pushed back on the idea that going small is the only solution to the Lakers’ problems.
“I’m hesitant to really dive into everything that drives my decision-making on that because I don’t want to tip my hand with what lineups we’re going to play tomorrow night,” Vogel said. “There are times where our size makes more sense on both sides of the ball, and there are times where being more agile and mobile defensively and having more space offensively makes sense.
“But statistically, AD at the five last night definitely wasn’t as good as it was against Golden State, and I’d argue with what metrics you’re looking at in saying it was our best lineup in Game 1.”
Vogel is right: the lineups with AD at the 5 weren’t as successful in Game 1 as they were in the play-in game. In fact, four of the five-worst lineups that the Lakers played on Sunday featured Davis at the 5. The worst of those lineups, which included Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Wesley Matthews and Kyle Kuzma, posted a net rating of -100.0 in two minutes.
The Lakers were outscored 26-17 in 12:44 with AD at the 5 yesterday. It was 73-73 when anyone else was at the 5. https://t.co/0ePtulE0MX— Laker Film Room (@LakerFilmRoom) May 24, 2021
The question for the Lakers doesn’t have to be big vs. small, though: It’s which big maximizes Davis at a given time.
The fact of the matter is that if Davis is playing like he usually does, then it really doesn’t matter if it’s Drummond, Marc Gasol or Montrezl Harrell playing alongside him. However, if he’s struggling — like he admitted he was on Sunday — it’s Vogel’s job to figure something out in the front court, whether that’s a different combination with Davis at the 5 or a different center, like Marc Gasol, next to Davis.
Gasol and Davis haven’t played much together since Drummond’s arrival, but before then, they were an extremely effective pairing. In the 471 minutes they played alongside each other in the regular season, they posted a net rating of +11.1 Overall, the old starting lineup of Dennis Schröder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, LeBron James, Davis and Gasol had a net rating of +13.2 in the regular season.
Drummond may very well be better-suited for this series than Gasol is, and by Game 2, this conversation may be moot altogether because Davis and/or Drummond have a bounce-back game. However, if the Lakers continue to struggle and Gasol isn’t given an opportunity to prove his value, then the noise around the Davis and Drummond pairing will only grow louder, and not for good reasons.