From the time he joined the Los Angeles Lakers, there has been talk about whether Anthony Davis should be playing more power forward or center. While he obviously has the size to play center, he has been open about his preference to play forward.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the Lakers have been at their best when Davis is at the five and coming into this season, it sounded as if he was prepared to play more center. Recently, Frank Vogel has turned to that in his starting lineup, but it may have hindered them against the bigger, physical Milwaukee Bucks.
The Lakers were outrebounded and outscored in the paint with Giannis Antetokounmpo scoring a season-high 47 points in the Lakers’ seven-point loss in Milwaukee. Afterward Davis discussed where him playing center both helped and hurt L.A.
“It’s good for our spacing, good for Russ to get downhill,” Davis said. “Good for when I’m rolling, we got our shooters around, we missed a lot of timely shots, especially at the start of the fourth. It was a back-and-forth defensive game and Malik missed a couple, Baze missed two, Wayne missed two, shots weren’t going in. We were up one, up two and could put us up four or five, and then they come down and make some tough shots, Khris hit two threes and then it kinda just got them going and it gets us down six now. So I think it’s good when I’m at the five because it gives us spacing, it gives Russ a lot of spacing to get downhill.
“But then on the other side, we switch our pick-and-rolls and I’m guarding on the perimeter and then offensive rebounding has kind of been the problem because we got smaller guys. So it will look better when we have our bigger guards back, Bron, Trevor, and now we know we have size down on a glass, but guys are down in the fight and competing and that’s all we can ask for.”
The Bucks did an excellent job of targeting those switches to get the matchups they wanted. This often left the likes of Talen Horton-Tucker, Russell Westbrook and other small guards on Antetokounmpo and he feasted all night on them. But Davis did credit the two-time MVP for his perimeter work that forced the Lakers to defend him differently.
“I think he was 3-for-4 from three tonight. We want him shooting that three-ball. He’s gotten better at the midrange and the turnarounds, but we want him to shoot the three and everyone against the Lakers makes their threes. So we know he’s been working on it, but that’s a shot that we’re living with. And then, like I said, it was most of the times when we switched, just like last couple of plays, they throw it over the top and he’s there, or we in a pick-and-roll and I step up on a guard and now they got him in a pocket, and now he’s against a smaller guy. And sometimes he got downhill and attacked me a couple of times and then got to the basket.
“But we kind of switched it up in the third quarter, just trying to be a little more physical and it slowed him down and he made a couple more jumpers. And then he got, when we went zone, they put him in the middle and he posts up to the basket, and now you’re scrambling because they overload one side. So they did a good job of trying to figure out that zone. But he’s a hell of a player. A lot of his shots were in the paint, most of them, but he was hitting some big time shots, kind of keeping us honest.”
While Antetokounmpo is still far from a sharpshooter, he has worked hard to improve his jump shot to a respectable level and it forces teams to guard him farther out on the perimeter. He hit 3-of-4 from deep against the Lakers and that made a major difference.
But Davis’ point about the Lakers’ lack of size on the wing is important. Without LeBron James as well as Trevor Ariza, the Lakers have been forced to play Horton-Tucker, Wayne Ellington and Malik Monk, all of whom are 6’4 or below, at forward, which can cause major problems against bigger wings and those switches Davis mentioned.
As with so many things for these Lakers, much can be potentially fixed if the team can get healthy but until that happens, they will have to figure out a solution.
Davis stepping up leadership role on Lakers with James out
Another area where James is missed is as a vocal leader on the court. He is one of the best leaders the NBA has ever seen and Davis is doing his best to step up in that role as well.
“Yeah, just leadership,” he said. “Melo is in my ear a lot just about leading the team and controlling the things, especially with LB out. And we don’t have all our guys yet, so guys are playing a lot of minutes right now.
“But it’s my job to make sure that I take command of the team and even when LB is playing. We had a little player meeting early in the season, well before the season, but that was one of the things that guys told me, just make sure I stay in control of the team and just putting guys where they need to be and doing it with leadership, just bring that leadership skill set out and just helping the guys out.”
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