The window of opportunity has been smashed open in the Western Conference. You’ve seen the headlines and the stories: The Warriors are depleted. Houston is in shambles. And Anthony Davis is finally headed to the Lakers.
Many project that the Lakers will make it to the Finals, even with only three players on the current roster. That’s how much the league has respect for LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Lakers certainly have one of the most talented frontcourts the NBA has ever seen. Joining the ranks of Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, and Tim Duncan and David Robinson. But let’s take a closer look at what they actually could be, regardless of who else they add to the mix.
There hasn’t been a team completely centered around a front-court in the last 2 decades. We’ve seen some decent front-courts with the Clippers, Magic, and Grizzlies – but none with this type of talent. Anthony Davis is in a class of his own at the power forward position. A true 7-footer who can literally do it all. Think of him as Giannas Antentokounmpo but with a polished, smooth offensive game. We all know what LeBron can do on the floor, despite the fact that he is no longer in his prime. He is a certified-walking triple-double. We don’t need to get into the numbers (we will anyway) to predict the dominance and physical presence these two will bring, or the speed they will display in transition.
Last year, James and Davis averaged 27.4 ppg and 25.9 ppg respectively. The King’s PER was 25.6, while the Brow hovered around 30. Both of their teams heavily relied on them to make shots in order to win games.
The main offensive scheme I see Frank Vogel utilizing is the pick and roll action. Both players rank in the top ten in PER, so they will need to quickly develop a relationship on offense. The pick and roll action will allow for that. It is one of the hardest sets to defend in the NBA without effective personnel. Personnel that most teams won’t have.
Pick And Roll Partner
The most effective ball screen sets last season were seen in Milwaukee, Toronto, and Golden State. The pick and roll with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green will be the sample that I will use for comparison. When Curry comes off a ball screen, there is an immediate switch or hard hedge on him. This allows for Green to easily roll to the rim with tons of space. A quick toss or bounce pass to Green puts the defense in rotation. Green now has the option of, attacking the rim, kicking it out to Klay Thompson, or lobbing it to the underneath man.
I use this comparison because, like Curry, James is an excellent passer in the pick and roll scenario. He is also an immediate threat whenever the ball is in his hands. Green and Davis are both smart and physical presences rolling to the rim. The mismatches that are created by this scheme are what allow the Warriors to be so effective on offense. There will be an even greater mismatch advantage with AD and LeBron.
According to NBA stats, the Golden State Warriors pick and roll FQ percentage was 46.9% and their score frequency was 45.2%. Both were the highest in the entire playoffs. Los Angeles had one of the most inefficient pick and roll offenses this past year, finishing with a 38.4% score efficiency rating. Anthony Davis will definitively provide an improvement with his offensive arsenal. He can effectively pass on the move, post up iso on the block, stretch out to the three, or simply roll straight to the rim and dunk on whoever is beneath it. His ball handling is even good enough that LeBron will have the opportunity to screen for Davis to create some scoring opportunities for himself.
The transition game will again account for the bulk of points scored by the Lakers. Last season they averaged nearly 20 ppg in transition, which was second in all the league. They should be more formidable on the interior thanks to the addition of Anthony Davis. Davis was the third best shot blocker last season in only 56 contests. If they are able to fill out the roster with versatile 3-and-D players, look for the Lakers to be one of the more dominant defensive teams in the NBA. The more stops they can get, the more opportunities they give themselves to put points on the board.
The Lakers will need a cohesive unit in order to compete for an NBA Championship. They have 32 million available to sign a max player or sign 3-4 guys to fill out their roster. They have just secured a meeting with Kawhi Leonard at the start of free agency. He has requested that Magic Johnson and Jeanie Buss be the ones present, but the former cannot make an appearance. Johnson is not allowed to be present in player negotiations or at free-agent meetings.
They still have a way to go, but the Lakers are definitely on the right track.