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Yes and No: 2 things to like (and 2 to not) about the Lakers this week

From Anthony Davis’ decline in usage to Austin Reaves’ penchant for earning trips to the foul line, there’s a lot to discuss about the last week of Lakers basketball.

Orlando Magic v Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers have come down some from the highs of their post-trade deadline acquisitions and hit a bit of a rough patch of late, going 6-4 over their last 10 games while losing a couple of disappointing matchups with the Rockets and the Mavericks in the last week.

But even with some of those recent struggles, the Lakers are 10-6 since Feb. 11, and have flashed a renewed sense of belief in themselves — a belief that has been (mostly) mirrored by fans. With that, and in an homage to Zach Lowe (if you’re going to steal, do it from the best!), let’s take a look at a few things I’ve liked and disliked in my inaugural edition of Darius Soriano’s Lakers yeses and no’s...

Anthony Davis’ Touches Going Down

AD has come under some criticism in the last week, first for missing the Rockets game on the second night of a back-to-back after not being cleared by the team, then for his series of bad plays in the final possessions of the loss to the Mavericks, and then for a subpar offensive performance in the team’s win over the Magic on Sunday night.

How fair those criticisms are or aren’t isn’t really my concern. The take factory will continue to run without my input and I’m sure (I hope?) there are reasonable arguments to be made whatever your perspective.

What isn’t up for much debate, however, is that AD is getting fewer offensive touches in the last handful of games and I, for one, would like to see that changed.

First, the raw numbers. Here are AD’s touches per game — tracked by the NBA — over the full season, then the period of games after the trade deadline when D’Angelo Russell was out, and finally in the games since Russell returned:

  • Full season: 67.7 total touches, 5.2 elbow, 4.9 post-ups, 10.7 paint touches
  • Post Trade, without Russell: 75.6 total touches, 6.4 elbow, 4.8 post-ups, 10.2 paint touches
  • Since Russell’s return: 62.6 total touches, 5.2 elbow, 1.8 post-ups, 7.6 paint touches

To be clear, I’m not blaming Russell for these numbers. D-Lo has had a few rough games as a shooter during this stretch, but his passing and playmaking have still been good (to very good) overall and I don’t have many complaints about his individual offense.

Rather, his return marks a line of demarcation in which AD has become less a focal point of the offense and more a cog within it where he’s doing a lot more screening and a lot less posting up or operating as a hub of the offense where the ball is flowing through him rather than him being the one who is trying to free others up.

There’s context to these numbers for sure. The Raptors and Mavericks employed very aggressive defensive tactics to limit AD’s involvement, swarming him on the catch and showing him multiple defenders and layers of defense in the times that they did not send help outright. This sort of approach limited his touches and created an environment where he simply wasn’t going to get the same activity with the ball.

That said, succumbing to that approach and then, in other matchups, compounding it by going away from actions that can get him touches to take advantage of the extra attention he’ll get when he does have the ball is doing both him and the team a disservice offensively. AD has shown that he can handle the additional usage and be an elite-level scorer and shotmaker when featured as a No. 1 option.

I’d like the Lakers to get back to doing more of those things because they should still work, and in some cases, work better considering the perimeter and shooting talent he has with this new roster, especially with Russell back.

Vanderbilt the Big vs. Vanderbilt the Wing

Would it surprise you if I told you that since Feb. 11 (the first game after the trade deadline), the player with the worst individual plus-minus on the Lakers is Jarred Vanderbilt? Well, it surprised me! Vando is a -34 since his first game as a member of the Lakers, one of only four players — Lonnie Walker IV (-33), Mo Bamba (-7), and Davon Reed (-2) — who are in the negative for this stretch of games.

Part of the issues I’ve noticed with Vanderbilt’s game is that when LeBron was available and in the lineup, Vando was slotted more as a wing defensively and operated less as an on-ball player in both transition and early offense.

Vando’s size, foot speed, and athleticism were all perfect complements to LeBron and AD, where their ability to play with force defensively around the basket while taking up most (if not all) of the ball handling and shot creation duties in the half court (while possessing great gravity), allowed Vanderbilt to play to his strengths on both sides of the ball to great success.

This played out in the numbers, too. In the three games that LeBron played after the trade deadline (before he hurt his foot vs. the Mavericks), Vanderbilt was a +40 — good for second on the team in those games. That means in the other 13 games since becoming a Laker, where he’s almost been a full-time power forward, Vanderbilt is a -74!

For as good as an athlete Vanderbilt is, and for all his motor and activity, he can still be overpowered by bigger players. And with AD’s offensive role taking a new shape of late (see above) and Russell’s missed time, Vanderbilt’s asks on offense have been both too big as someone who is operating in a lot of hand-off actions, and too small where he’s relegated to the corner as a spot up option where he gets helped off of a lot (but without that extra elite passer in the mix to get him the ball when he cuts).

In other words, for all the reasons LeBron will help this team when he gets back, a low-key very important one is that it can return Vanderbilt to the role that suits him best on this version of the Lakers.

Wenyen and AD

Anthony Davis has played 50 minutes or more with 16 different Lakers teammates this season. From his 788 minutes with Troy Brown to his 50 with Matt Ryan (remember him?!), this number represents both the amount of roster turnover this season has featured, and the sheer number of combinations that have been tried; either in the search of solutions, or by necessity due to injury or general availability.

But of all those teammates who have shared the floor with AD, none have formed a more potent duo — at least measured by the Lakers’ net rating when they share the floor — than when he is flanked by Wenyen Gabriel. And it’s not close. The top-5 teammates ranked by net rating:

  • With Wenyen: +31.5 net rating, 84 minutes
  • With Austin: +8.4 net rating, 736 minutes
  • With D-Lo: +7.3 net rating, 233 minutes
  • With Dennis: +6.3 net rating, 678 minutes
  • With Rui: +5.7 net rating, 300 minutes

The full list is rich with ideas to mine for further explanation of what types of players work best with AD and which ones don’t (hint: there are some clear trends), but the Wenyen number is so clearly ridiculous that it should get its own shoutout.

In the loss to the Mavs, it was the decision to play Wenyen with AD in the fourth quarter that helped bring the Lakers back and give them the lead that those unfortunate final possessions undid. But seeing how that worked, Coach Ham went to a rotation shift in the team’s next game vs. the Magic, finding a few minutes each half to overlap Davis and Gabriel, rather than subbing Wenyen for AD as has been the trend since Mo Bamba went down with his high ankle sprain.

The athleticism, size and relentless motor that Wenyen plays with is a great complement to AD, and when they pair up they have the ability to overwhelm teams inside defensively and on both backboards. So, while the trend of playing these two together for at least a short shift each game is in its infant stages, I hope it sticks and that we see more of this moving forward and through these last 10 regular season games.

Austin “And-1” Reaves

This isn’t a real nickname for Austin, but maybe it should be. He’s been incredible of late, highlighted by his career-high 35-point scoring outburst that led the Lakers to their win over the Magic.

In that game, he had multiple “And-1’s”, a skill he’s shown to be very good at over his young career. Which brings us to this great video the Lakers put together. I don’t have much to add here. Just watch the video and appreciate Austin’s uncanny ability to draw fouls while still putting the ball in the cup.

You can follow Darius on Twitter at @forumbluegold.

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