On Tuesday night, the NBA season started with a splash. First, the Toronto Raptors raised their championship banner and downed the New Orleans Pelicans. Then, in the nightcap, the Los Angles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers squared off. Anthony Davis made his debut in purple and gold, but he and LeBron James couldn’t hold off Kawhi Leonard’s Clippers.
Despite a strong statistical performance from the Lakers’ big man, some questions emerged on Tuesday night. Now that they’ve landed Anthony Davis, how can they best utilize him?
Davis’ road to Los Angeles
After bursting onto the scene in high school, Anthony Davis enrolled at the University of Kentucky to play under John Calipari. He posted one strong college season and, as most Calipari recruits do, declared for the NBA draft.
The New Orleans Hornets selected Davis with the first overall pick, and he immediately made an impact; despite struggling with injury issues, the center finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, losing out to Damian Lillard. After that season, the Hornets rebranded as the Pelicans and Davis’ development ramped into overdrive.
Over the next several years, Davis developed into a force on both ends of the floor, dominating the paint despite ongoing shoulder pain. His prolific scoring lifted the Pelicans as a franchise, carrying the club into the second round of the 2018 playoffs, but that wasn’t enough success. In January 2019, Davis told New Orleans that he wouldn’t sign a contract extension; the team traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers in June.
Making his Hollywood debut
On Tuesday night, Davis made his Lakers debut in a losing effort against the Los Angeles Clippers. While the box score looked good, it wasn’t a sparkling performance for the team in gold.
Davis led the team with 25 points, but only shot 8-21 from the floor; he also pulled down a team-leading 10 rebounds. Despite those numbers, the Lakers generally looked stagnant on offense. For large stretches of the game, it was clear that the team had recently come together and wasn’t sure how to mesh everything together on the floor. LeBron James, in a rare show of humanity, seemed to be especially out of sorts and posted one of his worst shooting performances in recent memory.
For the most part, the main issue seemed to be chemistry. “For [myself and James], we’re both aggressive,” Davis said after the game. “Sometimes we kind of miss each other. I missed him a couple times and he missed me, so just trying to figure it out.”
How the Lakers can best utilize Anthony Davis
While versatility is the name of the game in today’s NBA, Anthony Davis is at his best near the restricted area. On Monday night, he found success in the paint, but looked stranded and forced up when he strayed further outside.
The issue was compounded by the Lakers’ lineup, which primarily positioned Davis as a forward, with Dwight Howard or Javale McGee occupying the paint. That forced Davis outside and threw off the team’s spacing; the Clippers were content to let him camp out at the top of the key and focus their defensive attention elsewhere.
During the entire game, James only assisted on one of Davis’ baskets; unsurprisingly, it was a lobbed entry pass into the low block. That play highlighted a way forward for the Lakers: surround a duo of James and Davis with shooters who can spread the floor. That will leave the latter player the freedom of the paint and let LeBron move around the floor as he sees fit.