The ball was already levitating over Jarrett Allen’s signature hair and outstretched arms when Anthony Davis decided to leave his feet.
It was the 8:04 mark of the 3rd quarter in the Lakers’ Sunday matinee with the Cleveland Cavaliers when Russell Westbrook violently attacked the basket, drawing Allen’s attention his way. Meanwhile, Davis tip-toed into the packed paint as if it were filled with hot coals.
Eventually Westbrook got the ball over Allen’s contest and into the receiving hands of his big man for the slam. Davis — as if seemingly not knowing if Westbrook would opt to shoot versus pass, or whether the latter would even find its mark — didn't exert much effort before the lob reached the other side of the rim.
It wasn’t the sexiest alley-oop you’re going to see this season, and may even be illustrative of the passivity and lack of cohesion Davis has faced late in games with both himself and his teammates.
The dunk would end up being Davis’ last shot attempt of the entire second half where the team would go on to score just 36 points and ultimately be outscored by 20 by the surging Cavs. Unfortunately for the Lakers, like the loss, Davis’ inability to get going in the latter halves of games is proving to not be a blip — but a trend.
Davis wound end up attempting just two shot attempts and scoring no points in the second half of the team’s loss to Cleveland. This coming on the heels of just four total shot attempts from Davis in the third and fourth quarters against Utah.
On the season, the starkness in Davis’ first and second halves have continued to be perplexing. Especially given how much success the center is having early on in games. According to the league’s tracking data, Davis is currently leading the Lakers in points (14), shot attempts (10.8) and usage rate (29.3%) in first halves this season.
However, like Cinderella’s carriage turning into a pumpkin at the strike of midnight, Davis’ production has dwarfed coming out of halftime. In second halves this season, Davis is averaging just eight points, 6.3 shot-attempts and has a usage rate of 18.8%
In terms of why the drop-off has been so severe for Davis, and how the team could go about addressing it, the internal answers thus far have varied.
“I don’t know whose primary job is to do that to be honest. I’ll leave that up to the coaches to figure out the best way for them to utilize him,” Westbrook told reporters following the loss. “But like when I’m in, I do the best job I can in making the right reads and making the game easier for him... Obviously with the talent AD has I guess collectively we have to figure out ways to utilize him more.”
Amongst that aforementioned collective effort, Darvin Ham believes the coaching staff has already put a plan in place that highlights Davis but has unfortunately been poorly executed by the players at times.
“We have a playbook, a menu, and a bunch of sets where AD can be featured. You just have be organized, slow down, get what you want,” Ham said Sunday. “We didn’t do such a good job of that in the second half but we’ll continue to be better at it.”
To Ham’s initial point, the team has made a clear emphasis to make Davis the focal point of the offense early in games.
On Sunday, Davis was either directly involved in the team’s ball screens or served as the one in Ham’s four-out one-in offense in the first half. This perhaps was best seen in Davis’ isolation possession against Robin Lopez (as seen below) where the team emptied both the paint and strong-side corner to allow their big to attack in space.
To Ham’s second point, the team didn't do as good of a job creating these types of opportunities for Davis later in the game. The offense in the process, struggled mightily for it.
As seen in the following clips, there were far too many possessions in the second half where Davis was no longer deployed within active on-ball screens or was the benefactor of roll opportunities, but instead, found himself off-ball setting flare and brush screens for the Lakers’ shooters.
Then there were plays like this, where the team opted to try and get someone else going — Lonnie Walker in this example — with Davis tasked with freeing him up through dribble hand-offs way out in the perimeter.
“He’s got my blessing to scream out, call his own number,” Ham also added to reporters regarding Davis’ lack of touches. “We tried to get him going, tried to get Bron going on some post actions and some step-ups and pick-and-roll stuff. It’s not like we’re not trying.”
While not outright calling for Davis to be more aggressive, Ham is relaying a kernel of truth regarding Davis’ knack for disappearing in the background at times.
Whether it’s due to his lingering back issues, or the heavy load he’s had to carry on the defensive end, there continue to be elongated stretches where Davis seems content to let others cook his meal for him.
According to Cleaning the Glass, Davis’ 22.5% usage rate would be the lowest of his career only after his rookie campaign. Additionally, his makes are also being assisted upon (68%) at the highest mark of his Lakers’ tenure and is the most since 2017.
It’s also worth pointing out both the where and how Davis’ attempts are coming to fruition.
According to Synergy, his offense thus far feels more improvised than scripted as his highest frequency play types in the half-court this season are via post-ups and sheer offensive rebounds (putbacks). Last season, in comparison, Davis’ generated a majority of his offense as the pick and roll man with a 20.5% rate versus just 11.8% through nine games this year.
There is a bit of the chicken or the egg with all of this data and Ham’s comments on his big. Yes, Davis does need to take a more proactive approach when it comes to finding and creating his own scoring chances. But also, Ham and the rest of the team need to make an equal effort in creating opportunities for their center — especially in second halves.
On this possession for example, Davis attempts to flash middle of Cleveland’s zone even going as far as putting his hands visibly up for the pass. LeBron James however, opts for the contested jumper instead adding to the Lakers’ wasteland of missed shots in the third quarter.
Another notable reoccurring issue that has also negatively impacted Davis’ touches is his slotting in the team’s aforementioned 4-out spacing alignment.
While Davis has benefited from being the one within Ham’s blueprint as exemplified earlier in his first-half scoring looks, when he’s instead amongst the players designed to occupy the perimeter this essentially has turned him into a mere catch-and-shoot option.
This could be best seen here during this Westbrook isolation where the team empties the strong-side corner for the point guard, leaving Davis once again to be a non-factor.
“I think we’re all just trying to just figure out what we’re trying to do offensively. That’s been something we’re all trying maneuver through and see what best fits every individual to better the team,” James said when asked about his tag-team partner.
With an entirely new roster and coaching staff, the team understandably is still working out the kinks when it comes to building cohesion on that end. But even with this acknowledgment and when also taking into account the team’s historically poor shooting numbers to start the year, the Lakers still will ultimately only go as far as their stars drag them.
“Obviously it starts with AD and getting him more touches and things of that nature,” James added. “Our focal point is and always should be to make sure he touches the ball throughout the course of possessions, quarters, halves.”
If the squad has any hopes of turning things around and be worthy of inclusion in the contention conversation, it will be in everyone’s best interest to get Davis more involved in the offense both sooner — and later.