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The Los Angeles Lakers will finally get some much-needed help with all signs pointing to star forward Anthony Davis making his return to the floor for Tuesday's matchup against the Brooklyn Nets.
Davis has missed the last 17 games after suffering a sprained left MCL back on Dec. 17 in a matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Lakers – who were already experiencing some turmoil before Davis' injury – struggled to find any sort of rhythm while he was out, owning a sub-.500 record of 23-24 upon his return.
Sitting in eighth place in the Western Conference, Los Angeles is looking like a Play-In Tournament team for the second season in a row, but it is only two games back from a top-six seed, which would give it a solidified spot in the NBA Playoffs.
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Will Davis' return make a big enough impact to lock up a playoff spot in the second half of the season?
We'll answer that in the form of four pressing questions ahead of his return below.
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Four questions surrounding Lakers star Anthony Davis' return from injury
How did the Lakers fare without Davis on the floor?
The Lakers are 13-14 when Davis plays this season and 10-10 when he does not. That is... not much of a difference for the absence of an eight-time All-Star.
Surprisingly enough, when you look at the advanced on/off stats, they tell you the same thing.
The Lakers actually have a worse net rating (-2.5) with Davis on the floor than they do when he is off the floor (-0.8). The team's offensive rating dips to 105.4 with Davis on the court, which would be the fourth-worst in the NBA, only ahead of the Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons and Oklahoma City Thunder, the teams with the three worst records in the league.
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His presence on defense only improves the Lakers in the slightest, owning a 108.0 defensive rating with him on the floor versus a 110.4 defensive rating when he's off the court. The slight 2.4 points per 100 possessions is the difference between a top-10 and bottom-10 defensive rating in the league, though.
Anthony Davis' on/off numbers during 2021-22 season
|OFF RTG ||DEF RTG ||NET RTG |
|Lakers, 2021-22 season (league rank) ||108.5 (24th) ||109.9 (19th) ||-1.4 (22nd) |
|Davis on the court ||105.4 ||108.0 ||-2.5 |
|Davis off the court ||109.7 ||110.4 ||-0.8 |
Of course, conventional wisdom tells you the Lakers are absolutely better off with their third superstar on the floor, and I'm not going to argue against that. But it is interesting to see that the numbers tell a different story.
How will Davis' return impact the starting lineup? © Provided by Sporting News Davis-James-Westbrook-11162021-FTR-Getty
Over Davis' 17-game absence, head coach Frank Vogel got very experimental with the starting lineup to try and snap the Lakers out of their funk.
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He used seven different starting lineups, three of which featured LeBron James at the center position. The Lakers found some success playing James at the five, going 5-2 in games where he was listed as the team's starting center.
Playing James at the five gave the Lakers a chance to space the floor a bit and play with more pace. But where he made his biggest impact was as a screener in pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop scenarios, doing damage as a roll-man in being able to look for his own shot or make a play for someone else in the short roll.
This was something that TSN's Scott Rafferty detailed shortly after Davis' injury and the Lakers continued to use it throughout the duration of his absence.
However, over the last five games, Vogel got away from a starting unit with James at the five. He inserted Dwight Howard back into the starting lineup, and it's probably safe to assume Davis will take Howard's spot upon his return.
Howard has played well lately, which could change things, but earlier this month, Vogel said he expects LeBron to operate as a backup center in the minutes without Davis on the floor when he returns.
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“I think you’re going to see Anthony playing a lot at the 5, and when Anthony is out (of the game), we have the lineups we’ve been playing with LeBron basically playing point center,” the Lakers head coach said back on Jan. 11. “It is the direction I think we’re going to land with this group towards the second half of the season, and we’re seeing obvious benefits from right now that we feel like are going to be even more enhanced when Anthony comes back.”
It will also be interesting to see how Davis' return impacts the recent tear that James has been on, described by himself as "one of the best zones offensively I've been in, in my career."
James averaged 32.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game over Davis' 17-game absence, tallying 13 30-point games and one 40-point game. He has looked like the 23-year-old kid who won the scoring title back in 2008, and as you see in the quote above, he doesn't plan on stopping.
You can key in on the idea that James, Davis and Russell Westbrook will all start – it's the other two players around them that will change on a nightly basis.
Will Davis break out of his shooting slump?
This might be the most important pressing question upon Davis' return.
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Prior to his injury, Davis was having the worst jump-shooting season of his career, allowing opposing teams to pack the paint against the Lakers (especially when he and Westbrook shared the floor together.)
Davis was shooting 52.1 percent from the field – which is one of the better marks of his career – but that comes on a strong 64.3 percent shooting on attempts inside the paint.
On shots outside the paint, Davis converted a much worse 32.4 percent of his attempts, including a dreadful 17.9 percent from 3, the worst percentage of any season in which he attempted more than one 3-pointer per game. © Provided by Sporting News Anthony-Davis-Shot-Chart
That is... a lot of red X's.
According to NBA stats, Davis is shooting 17.6 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts so far this season – a clip that is nearly cut in half from what he was making during the Lakers 2020 NBA championship run (34.4%).
What is even more alarming is that Davis is missing easy looks, too.
On 3-point shots that NBA stats deems as "open," Davis is shooting 25.0 percent. On 3-point shots that NBA stats deems as "wide open," that number shockingly drops down to 11.8 percent.
Playing alongside elite passers like James and Westbrook, you're going to get easy looks served to you on a silver platter on the 3-point line. Davis will have to start cashing in on some of those opportunities to maximize his value on the offensive end and space the floor for this Lakers squad.
How does Davis' return affect the trade deadline?
The Lakers already have their hands tied by their current salary cap situation, but Davis' return shouldn't impact the way this team operates at the deadline too much.
MORE: Lakers, Warriors among most interesting teams at trade deadline
The Westbrook whispers will still float along, as will the rumors of players like Kendrick Nunn and Talen Horton-Tucker being dangled in trade talks along with future draft assets.
Between Davis' first game back and the Feb. 10 deadline, the Lakers will have nine games to see what this team looks like at full strength and make a decision on how to improve for a playoff push. It is already clear that changes – or multiple of them – need to be made, but with limited flexibility, it will be interesting to see what the franchise can pull off to try and make another title run behind LeBron and co.
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