Inside Anthony Davis’ second-half disappearing act for the Lakers

Editor’s note: This is the Monday, Nov. 7 edition of the Purple & Bold Lakers newsletter from reporter Kyle Goon. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

It’s a reset of the Weekly Reset, a quick and digestible rundown of where the Lakers stand in the league and some key things to watch in the week ahead. It’s a little easier to do a checkup of a team with a few wins under its belt – although the Lakers seem in danger of only having a few wins for a while to come:


Wednesday, W, Lakers 120, New Orleans Pelicans 117 (OT)
Friday, L, Utah Jazz 130, Lakers 116
Sunday, L, Cleveland Cavaliers 114, Lakers 100

The Lakers (2-7) are 14th in the Western Conference standings, 5 games behind the first-place Phoenix Suns (7-2). They’re 2.5 games behind the Clippers, SanAntonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves (all at 5-5) for a play-in slot.

HIGH POINT: One hopes that eventually the Lakers find bigger, better moments to savor, but the best play of the season, bar none, came Wednesday night when Matt Ryan – the 15th man on the roster – hit a game-tying three on an inbounds play that had only 1.6 seconds of clock left. The Lakers would go on to take the Pelicans in overtime, in a game that illustrated a lot of positives about the team, but none moreso perhaps than Ham’s trust in a role player to get the job done.

LOW POINT: The loss to the Jazz might have been more of a frustrating result, but falling to the Cavs, the Lakers showed old habits that are quickly becoming emblematic. LeBron James struggled again on his jump shot; Russell Westbrook had a hot start but finished with 7 turnovers and missed 7 of his final 8 attempts; Anthony Davis disappeared in the second half altogether. The supporting cast still looks underwhelming and again shot poorly. Darvin Ham showed some signs of wearing thin on patience for a group that, even amid lower expectations, hasn’t risen to meet a lot of its early challenges.

TRENDING TOPIC: Let’s linger on Anthony Davis for a minute after he scored just four combined points against the Jazz and Cavs in the second half. Why is he not showing up offensively later in the game?

There is a distinct split for Davis, who is averaging 22.5 points per game this year as the team’s second-leading scorer: In the first half, he averages a team-best 14 points, but in the second, that drops to 8 ppg, which is actually third, just behind Lonnie Walker IV (8.9 ppg). Similarly, his usage goes from a team-best 29.3% in the first half to 18.8% in the second (again behind James, Westbrook and Walker). The number of shots he takes falls sharply in the second half (6.3 FGA) from the first (10.8).

There are a few common-sense reasons why that happens: One, James makes himself the crunchtime guy and dominates the ball for a 31.7% usage. Another is the Lakers are constantly chasing teams in the second half, and their 3-point shooters (OK, please don’t laugh) take a bigger bite of the possessions. Davis has in many ways been stronger this season than last, but his jump shot is still pretty iffy and his 23% from deep isn’t scaring any defenses.

That being said, shouldn’t the Lakers be getting him the ball more? As one of the highest-percentage finishers on the team, shouldn’t they go to Davis when they need a bucket? Davis didn’t address this on Sunday – he actually didn’t address the media at all – but he said Friday that he can demand the ball more after taking just four shots after halftime. That number dropped to just two shots on Sunday, and Ham got a little defensive when asked about the disparity, implying strongly that it’s not a coaching problem.

“He’s definitely a focal point but these guys are not rookies. You understand what I’m saying?” Ham said. “We have a playbook. We have a menu and a bunch of sets where AD can be featured. You have to just be organized – slow down and be organized and get what you want. And we didn’t do such a good job of that in the second half, but we’ll continue to get better at it. And he’s got my blessing to scream out, call his own number. We tried to get him going, tried to get Bron going on some post actions and some step-ups and pick-and-roll stuff. It’s not like we’re not trying. And sometimes the game dictates things to go in another way.”

That was very different from Westbrook’s reading of the situation when asked what the team had to do to get Davis more involved late.

“I don’t know whose primary job it is, to be honest,” he said. “I’ll leave it up to the coaches to figure out the best way for them to utilize (AD). When I’m in, I do the best job I can in making reads, try to make the game easier for him when I’m in.”

The Lakers might need to get their answers to align on that issue – it would be a start.

READ OF THE WEEK: After the thrilling win over the Pelicans, I looked at three key adjustments the Lakers made as signs of their ability to adapt. It includes a breakdown of Matt Ryan’s big shot, but that’s hardly the only tweak Ham and the team provided down the stretch.

HEATING UP: While these spaces are typically reserved for talking about role players, it’s impossible to ignore Russell Westbrook’s incredible transformation since coming off the bench. As a starter, he was shooting 28.9% and just 1 for 12 on threes to start the season; as a reserve he’s shooting 50% and 10 for 22 on threes. There’s a much higher activity level, especially around the rim with three blocks (none in the first three games) and seven offensive rebounds. He simply looks different, playing at a higher pace, attacking the rim. He’s cut his midrange attempts from 33% of his shots last season to just 18% this season. He can still be better around the rim (54% on the season) and the turnovers and decision-making issues reared their ugly heads on Sunday. But from what seemed untenable, Westbrook and Ham have made a situation that’s somewhat viable for at least the early part of the season.

COOLING DOWN: It’s really hard to explain what happened to Kendrick Nunn. He was poised to be a feel-good story this season after missing all of last year with a bone bruise. When you asked anyone in training camp who looked strong, Nunn was always mentioned, and he backed it up with a few strong preseason games. As soon as the season started, hefell off a cliff: Despite taking the sixth-most shots on the team (6.1 FGA), he’s the ninth leading scorer (4.3 ppg) and shooting 28.6% from the field. Nunn seemingly spends much of his shifts trying to get his own shot going, and he just doesn’t do much else: He has 8 assists and 11 turnovers in eight games, just two steals and doesn’t get to the free throw line (0 for 1). The Lakers had hoped that this free agent signing in 2021 would finally make a splash – it’s been more of a flop.

INJURY REPORT: Davis (lower back soreness) has been on the injury report forever, but as far as anyone has said, he’s supposed to play in both games of the Cleveland-Utah back-to-back. James (left foot/stomach virus) will sit out tonight’s game against the Jazz. Patrick Beverley is also out. He caught the virus going around the team and did not travel to Utah. Wenyen Gabriel was also sick, but played decently against the Cavs on Sunday. The long-term injuries remain Dennis Schröder and Thomas Bryant who had thumb surgery right before the season started, and both are due for reevaluation this week. Schröder in particular has been seen after practice doing workouts with his injured thumb.

QUOTABLE: Getting grilled after Sunday’s game, Ham was asked if he’s disappointed, angry or disillusioned after nine games. Said Ham: “I’m not disillusioned. … No anger. None of that. I’m here to help this team. I’m here to help Jeanie and Rob turn stuff around. I’m here to help Bron. I’m here to help AD. Russ. I’m here to help. And I’m not about to let them see me down or uninspired or whatever. This is part of sports. You got to experience the bad before you get to the good. And that’s where I’m at.”

AHEAD OF THE CURVE: After what Basketball Reference ranks as the league’s seventh toughest schedule so far, the Lakers have a few winnable games this week. Utah has been really formidable, but it’s worth wondering if they can clip them in a rematch like they did Denver. The Clippers are without Kawhi Leonard at the moment, and the Kings (3-5) are, well, the Kings. Perhaps the most winnable game on the schedule is the Sunday capstone against Brooklyn, one of the few NBA teams that is in deeper crisis than the Lakers. Technically Kyrie Irving could return for that game after serving a five-game suspension, but most in the league seem to think the remedial steps to return to play after his brush with antisemitism will take longer than that (and they probably should).

COMING UP (All times PT)

Monday, at Utah, 7:15 p.m.
Wednesday, at Clippers, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sacramento, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Brooklyn, 6:30 p.m. (NBA TV)

– Kyle Goon

Editor’s note: Thanks for reading the Purple & Bold Lakers newsletter from reporter Kyle Goon. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

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