One of the few silver linings of an otherwise extremely disappointing Lakers season has been the way that the team’s small-ball offense has hummed when playing LeBron James and/or Anthony Davis in the frontcourt alongside three (or four) guards to space the floor for the Lakers’ star forwards. That tactic will be a lot trickier in the near future, as the Lakers are once again staring down an extended stretch without Davis after he went down hard with a foot injury against the Utah Jazz on Feb. 16.
Davis’ MRI results revealed a midfoot sprain that will keep him out for at least another three weeks before he is reevaluated, meaning that the Lakers will likely have to play most of the remainder of the season without their star big man. After already going a month without Davis earlier in the season, and not getting much from fellow centers Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan, the Lakers know how tough of a task that will be.
“We have the unique challenge of we lost Anthony Davis in our last game pre-All-Star break, so our conversations are really more about who we want to be, and our style of play and what our identity is going to be over this stretch,” Frank Vogel said of the Lakers’ goals for the rest of the season after their practice on Thursday. “That was a big focus of our meeting and our practice today.”
The Lakers may be willing to once again try a solution that didn’t seem to really work earlier in the season, and rely more on Howard and Jordan. Both big men were once All-Stars, and were top-tier rim protectors at their respective peaks, but those peaks were the better part of a decade ago. Both are towards the end of their careers now, and very clearly do not have anything close to the athleticism they did back in their primes. Still, Vogel has few other options to turn to.
“Well, we’re going to need them,” Vogel said on Thursday, referring to Howard and Jordan. “A lot more now, obviously, than when AD was using up a lot of the center minutes. We’re going to need both of those guys.”
Many fans may prefer the Lakers’ other strategy of putting James at center and spacing the floor around him as much as possible, which James himself has seemingly embraced on the offensive end. But defensively, that puts the Lakers’ 37-year-old superstar up against the opponent’s biggest player when using those lineups, which may be why Vogel suggested that will be more of a “hybrid” option than a style they’ll go all-in on without Davis this time. The defense was also horrible during that time period, which may force the team towards more traditional looks a tad more.
The offense may not have as large of an improvement as the defense has a decline, but there's def some marginal improvement there pic.twitter.com/gL9bh6BKhq— Donny McHenry (@donny_mchenry) February 25, 2022
Plus, just like their center depth, the Lakers’ wing depth behind LeBron contains guys like Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza and Kent Bazemore, whose days of optimizing their size and athleticism to become great defenders are all mostly behind them at this point. And given all the reported friction between James’ camp and the Lakers recently, being too demanding of LeBron right now may pour gasoline on a fire that the team absolutely can’t afford to light.
In short, the Lakers really don’t have any good options with Davis out, and Vogel is again going to be forced to choose the least terrible one that will probably still make him and the team look bad at times anyway. If that sounds depressing, well, welcome to the 2021-22 Lakers.