Anthony Davis’ improving jumper will be key to Lakers’ small-ball success

JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard have performed admirably in their roles as traditional centers for the Lakers, but in recent seasons, the playoffs have minimized players of their archetype. Despite Davis’ preference to play power forward as often as possible, the Lakers will likely devote their most important postseason minutes with him at the five.

While Davis missed the potential game winner against Brooklyn, he had become a more reliable 3-point shooter, making 40.5 percent from 3 since January 1. That’s a crucial development in maximizing floor spacing alongside James. And A.D.’s prodigious talents allow Frank Vogel to put him in a variety of situations that accentuate the better attributes of those around him.

Defenses often choose to play drop coverages against James in pick-and-rolls as they fear his mid-range, pull-up jumper less than other aspects of his game. Davis’ ability to pick and pop provides a viable counter since the defensive big is too far away to recover. He has scored 31 points on 11-for-17 shooting on pick-and-pops since the beginning of 2020, with most of his attempts coming from beyond the 3-point arc.

Davis’ improving spot-up shooting broadens the Lakers’ options in their off-ball screening game as well. Here, A.D. attempts to set a wide pin-down screen for Danny Green, but Joe Harris positions his body in between them. This is called a “top lock,” which is used to prevent shooters from using off-ball screens, but it’s vulnerable to back cuts. That forces Jordan to hang back in the paint to protect against a layup opportunity for Green. The Lakers know that, so they use that against Brooklyn.

Davis is a significantly better shooter when his feet are set or with his momentum going toward the rim, and James’ presence allows him to take more of those shots instead of creating for himself. How well A.D. performs on these attempts will go a long way toward determining the effectiveness of the small-ball lineups that the Lakers will need to lean on heavily in the playoffs.