The Lakers used one simple trick to help Anthony Davis score 50 points against the Timberwolves
The Lakers just figured out how to make Anthony Davis even more dangerous
Davis prefers to play power forward. This much has been known about him for virtually his entire career, and it was a preference that the Lakers were happy to accommodate in building their roster. While Davis plays short stints at center when the Lakers need a boost, he shares most of his minutes with either JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard.
This creates an obvious logistical problem. Most of Davis' offensive value comes in what he does around the basket. Very few opposing big men can contain him one-on-one, but for most of the early season, few have had to. Defenses are so comfortable leaving Howard and McGee alone that both Davis and James have found practically no open space in attacking the basket.
Lately, though, the Lakers have found ways to bypass that cramped floor entirely, and Sunday's win was the culmination of one in particular. It boils down to how they are using Davis in transition.
Davis has been unstoppable in transition for most of his career, but he has been so through relatively traditional means. He is among the best athletes in all of basketball, and any big man who runs the floor as well as he does is going to get plenty of open looks. Davis still feasts on such opportunities, but the Lakers have also used transition as a chance to set up looks that would typically come in a half-court setting.
The concept is simple: the fewer defenders there are, the fewer defenders can get in Davis' way. So rather than build their offense around slow-developing half-court post-ups in which an opposing center is ready to pounce the moment Davis makes his move, the Lakers opted to deploy Davis as a wide receiver in transition. In the first quarter in particular, the Lakers absolutely abused the Timberwolves by having Davis leak out whenever he wasn't in position to get a rebound.
As soon as the ball found its way back into the hands of LeBron James, either through a rebound or a pass, he would chuck the ball down the court to Davis, the only Laker on that end of the floor, for either an easy bucket or a manageable one-on-one. Rather than running as a team, the Lakers turned Davis into a one-man fast-break.
Getting Davis his touches in transition like this rather than in a typical half-court setting severely limits what a defense can actually do to stop him. Even if multiple defenders are with him on that end of the floor, they can't double him. The chaos of transition, particularly with LeBron involved, would practically guarantee an easy basket. Without help, all the defense can do is hope that their man can force a miss.
The Lakers don't limit the strategy to opposing field goals, though. Its more innovative cousin comes on free-throws. Playing Davis alongside a center means that the Lakers can feel comfortable with James joining either JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard in the primary rebounding positions so Davis can cherrypick at the other basket.
Obviously, Davis didn't score all 50 of his points this way. He was a menace in pick-and-roll as always, he managed to get to the line for 10 free throws of his own, and he's obviously more than capable of scoring on traditional half-court post-ups.
But in general, posting up is an inefficient form of offense. The numbers bear that out even for Davis. He uses six possessions per game on them, second only to Joel Embiid in all of basketball, yet scores fewer points per possession on them (0.96) than the Pacers produce on Jeremy Lamb pick-and-rolls (1.09) or the Timberwolves on Andrew Wiggins isolations (1.05).
What the Lakers have done here is find a way to turn a relatively inefficient kind of offense into a far more efficient one. It would be irresponsible of the Lakers not to feed shots to their big man, and now that they've had almost two months of trial and error, they're figuring out the best ways to do so.
This method obviously comes with limitations. It limits Davis' impact as a rebounder, as he is devoting more opposing shot attempts to getting down the floor. Full-court passes are also difficult, even for LeBron.
But the Lakers have two uniquely gifted players in Davis and James., a great coaching staff is one that consistently finds new ways to maximize its players. On Sunday, Frank Vogel and his assistants did just that. They leveraged James' brilliant outlet passing with Davis' unbridled skill and athleticism on the block to blow Minnesota out of the water. The result was Davis' best game as a Laker, and an exciting new way to deploy him moving forward.
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