Anthony Davis has had a somewhat rocky start to this very young 2019-20 season, scoring 20 or less in four of his first six games while also missing another game due to a minor calf issue. One of those games happened just recently, as he only scored 17 points on 15 attempts in the Lakers 108-94 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday afternoon. He’s currently averaging 21.7 points per game which would be a large decrease from his previous season’s average of 26.1 points per game. Still, the Lakers are winning so, should we even care?
Whether or not we should care there’s one thing for sure, Davis appears to be taking a much different approach on offense than he did at the beginning of last year.
Davis has always made his money at the rim, ending up with a lot of money this summer after making 7.0 of his 11.0 field goals attempted per game last season when within 9 feet of the basket. He’s exhibited a pattern of staying away from the basket so far in the 2020-21 season, only attempting 6.9 attempts per game within 9 feet so far. He’s found more success in the mid-range in his first six games this season than compared to the same range of games last season, with 40.2% of his attempts per game coming on shots 10-19 feet away from the basket compared to 29.5% in the 2019-20 regular season. Although it’s a somewhat small increase, he’s made 47% of those 6.8 attempts per game compared to 26.6% in his first six games of last season. Below you can see a highlight reel of his mid-range field-goals in the past week against the likes of the Trail Blazers, Spurs, and Grizzlies.
What does that mean in the current NBA world we live in — a world affected by COVID-19 where Anthony Davis only has six games to speak to on January 5th?
For one, it might be an indication of Frank Vogel, the Lakers organization, and Davis himself wanting to save his legs and conditioning for the later parts of the season. The storyline of “the shortest season turnaround in sports history” is alive and well these days, as the Lakers started the 2019-20 season only 71 days removed from winning their 17th championship in franchise history. The additions of Dennis Schröder and Montrezl Harrell were done with the mindset to alleviate the load on LeBron James and Davis, lending credit to the idea that maybe the superstar big man is “load managing” while still playing.
This idea is the same as the idea of Vogel and Davis wanting to limit his time at the five position throughout the season, leaving the physicality and grit that that position demands for the playoffs where the Lakers can exploit teams with dynamic lineups starring Davis at the five.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Anthony Davis continues this trend throughout this first half of the season that ends in March. I especially won’t be surprised if he continues to take more mid-range attempts as opposed to close-range if the Lakers continue winning, as this team obviously knows they can win a championship with this roster. The only thing that can derail this team is injuries to their two superstars, as they would lose a lot of continuity (on both the offensive end and defensive end) with one or both of LeBron and Davis missing time.
And if he’s going to average 47% on those mid-range attempts, then let the young big man shoot them as much as he can! You can see in the charts below that Davis’ recent poor performance against the Trail Blazers included much more shots at the rim compared to the mid-range filled shot charts against the Spurs.
That six-game average might not be an insane value for Davis to have throughout this season, as he definitely seems to be steadily improving in that spot of the floor. In the 2020 Playoffs (that were much more recent than your brain thinks) he averaged 47.0% as well from that same mid-range distance compared to 36.9% over the course of the 2019-20 regular season.
Expect some more Harrell and Schröder (29.2 combined points per game this season) as well as three-point attempts drawn up for the likes of Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Wesley Matthews. Capitalizing on all of that will allow Davis to just go to work in the mid-range, carving up opponents while expending the least amount of energy.