Following the first two games where the Los Angeles Lakers have looked like they want Victor Wembanyama in New Orleans, many fans have pointed at Russell Westbrook as the issue; but it may actually be their injury-prone big man Anthony Davis causing all this strife.
Now it’s easy to watch Westbrook talk about the apparently solid game he had while shooting a fantastic 0-11 from the field. Although, I would argue he has been more than solid in their first two games, tallying 6 steals while running the offense in the fast break tremendously.
Against Golden State, he was fantastic at times, especially when the Warriors’ offense led to turnovers. Westbrook pushed the issue and made the Lakers competitive for chunks of the game by making good plays.
He even did this against the Clippers in game two where he had four assists, but many of the plays led to scoring as the Lakers struggled to hit even their open shots for most of the game.
This all leads to the possible conclusion that Russell Westbrook may actually still be a great player in the right system, one that plays fast on offense and is hardnosed on defense.
It would be interesting to see the Lakers run a lineup of Russell Westbrook, Patrick Beverley, Lonnie Walker, Juan Toscano-Anderson, and LeBron James to create steals and hit the break hard every time down the floor.
What is holding the Lakers back from playing in this style?
Anthony Davis is. He plays better in the half court than he does on the break as it reduces injury and fatigue as he approaches 30 years old.
Davis requires plenty of touches in the post but prefers to pull up from three a lot more often than he should as a career 30% shooter.
Davis’s playstyle requires that any team he plays on have a stretch four or five next to him while he also refuses to play like a seven-footer unless he finds himself against a player like Stephen Curry who has no chance at contesting a shot from the Lakers giant.
This has led every team he has played except for one to start players like Omer Asik or 36-year-old Marc Gasol to make the offense flow properly, leaving massive defensive holes on the roster.
If his team chooses to start a traditional big, it causes the offense to come to a halt as there is not near enough spacing to make anything work.
The only exception to this was in the 2020 NBA Bubble where Davis shot 38.3% from three and the Los Angeles Lakers could start future Hall of Famer Dwight Howard at the center position.
This led to the Lakers winning their 17th championship behind the scoring of Davis and all-around play from LeBron James.
Anthony Davis has only won five playoff series and in every single one, he has shot 30% or higher from three. If Davis is not hitting threes at an NBA average level or higher, his teams just don’t win games.
This is unlike when he was a young star on the New Orleans Pelicans and he was nearly exclusively a back-to-the-basket player, as he just refuses to play his size anymore.
Against the Warriors, Davis seemed scared to post up against James Wiseman or Kevon Looney. The same thing happened in game two against the Clippers and Ivica Zubac.
This has caused the Lakers to have issues as they are now leaning towards more guard play to create more spacing, leaving their rim unprotected for players like Stephen Curry or John Wall to take advantage of.
Davis either needs to start hitting threes so that he can play as a trail option for Westbrook and James on the fastbreak while making the half-court offense open up or he needs to stop taking them so that they can focus on adding shooters around him.
His playstyle and lack of shooting ability have caused Anthony Davis to be a much larger part of the issue for the Los Angeles Lakers, but dodges the burden of accountability because he was the heart and soul of their latest championship run.