The Los Angeles Lakers have stumbled through the first quarter of the 2021-22 campaign. The continued shortcomings have generated increased criticism and scrutiny with growing outside doubt the franchise can compete for an NBA title. Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal took it further to pinpoint the team’s issues by calling out Anthony Davis.
Lakers experiencing ongoing struggles to find consistency
After a busy offseason, the Lakers have expectedly stumbled through a rough transition phase due to their revamped roster.
Those on-court shortcomings have extended due to significant injuries featuring LeBron James missing 12 games. Those factors combined with lackluster play have led the Lakers to hover around the .500 mark, holding a 13-12 record through the first 25 games.
The Lakers’ ongoing issues have resulted in a former franchise great verbally blasting star forward Anthony Davis.
Shaquille O’Neal adamantly challenges Anthony Davis to step up his game: ‘AD has to dominate’
The Lakers’ struggles stem from a litany of issues beyond the lack of true continuity and on-court chemistry.
The increased scrutiny has led to criticism toward the eight-time All-Star’s performance contributing to Los Angeles’ sluggish start. During TNT’s Inside the NBA pregame show ahead of Tuesday night’s game between the Lakers and Boston Celtics, Shaquille O’Neal firmly agreed with Charles Barkley by voicing that Davis needs to dominate.
“Well Charles makes a great point, Mr. AD has to pick it up,” he said. “When you have a one-two punch, that one-two punch needs to be equal. We keep talking about LeBron and we all know LeBron is great, but Mr. AD has not played great. 19-percent from the three-point line is unacceptable for a player of his caliber. And the way he’s been playing is not acceptable. They are old and at times they are not focused. No team fears them. They try to hit the switch when it’s too late. They are coasting because they are veterans.
“Right now they are saying, ‘We are seventh but we are two games out of four, we could probably get the home-court advantage.’ Hopefully, they can turn it on. However, AD has to dominate. Chuck says he has to be one of the best players. I agree with the great Charles Barkley. He’s not playing like that right now, and he has to pick it up right now. Forget what Russell Westbrook and Carmelo are doing, AD has to be the No. 2 punch. When LeBron isn’t there, AD has to be the No. 1 punch.”
Davis is putting forth another productive campaign averaging a double-double with 24.1 points and 10.3 rebounds. However, his offensive struggles have been glaringly evident. His outside shooting remains a notable issue, as he’s hitting 18.8% from 3-point range while holding a career-low 72.2% from the free-throw line. It should be noted he’s dominating as the leader in points in the paint.
James experiencing injuries issues places even more pressure on Davis to be the anchor that pushes the team forward. O’Neal’s remarks only further hammer away at the star big man’s importance to the Lakers’ NBA title push.
Lakers are taking progressive steps forward
The Lakers haven’t looked any bit the part of an NBA title contender, but the team holds plenty of time to turn it around.
Los Angeles has found some recent momentum, winning three out of their previous four games. Although the quality of opponents is not top tier (Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Sacramento Kings), it’s still an encouraging minor stride forward.
Beyond that, the Lakers have seen some improved play from key contributors. Russell Westbrook has rounded the corner over the last eight games as he’s averaging 23.5 points, 8.9 assists, and 6.9 rebounds while shooting 50% from the field and 36% from 3-point range. According to Stat Muse, his +39 is the highest plus-minus by a Lakers starter over that span.
With James back on the floor, Westbrook has been able to find more comfort in his role as the third scoring option. The Lakers are far from playing like a championship contender, but the team is making progress.