As Anthony Davis heals from Achilles injury, Lakers should go small

Lakers are 4-1 this season without Chicago native in lineup
Author:
Publish date:

The Los Angeles Lakers said on Monday that star big man Anthony Davis underwent an MRI and results showed no rupture of the right Achilles tendon.

Davis will miss Tuesday’s game on the road against Minnesota Timberwolves and will be further evaluated by team doctors for his Achilles calf strain upon his return to Los Angeles.

ESPN reported the Lakers will take a conservative approach to Davis’ recovery and he will be out at least until after the All-Star break ends on March 10.

That means the Lakers will be without Davis for the next nine games, at minimum. But Los Angeles has one of the deepest teams in the NBA and is 4-1 in games Davis has not played this season.

So how will Lakers head coach Frank Vogel tweak his lineup during the time Davis is out?

The Lakers face a tough stretch over the next two weeks, with games at home against Eastern Conference power the Brooklyn Nets and an NBA Finals rematch against the Miami Heat.

After those two, the Lakers face a road contest against the Western Conference-leading Utah Jazz and home games at Staples Center against the Portland Trailblazers, Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns -- all playoff-caliber teams.

At 21-7 and in second place in the Western Conference, this two-week stretch will be a nice test of how resilient the Lakers are heading into the All-Star Break.

Here are some things the Lakers should consider with Davis out:

Play small
The Lakers struggled with slow starts over the last two weeks, falling behind by 20 points against the undermanned Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies at home. Vogel could look to change things up by switching to a smaller lineup to start the game, allowing the Lakers to play with more pace and defensive urgency.

Using a three-guard lineup of Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Dennis Schröder with James and Kyle Kuzma up front would allow Los Angeles to pressure on defense and run the other way off steals and rebounds more effectively, getting some easy buckets on the other end.

Although it’s a small sample size, the most effective lineup for the Lakers this season in terms of plus/minus has been with Caruso, Caldwell-Pope, James, Schröder and Davis, with a net rating of 51.0 in 32 minutes played.

Kuzma is not at the same level of Davis, but he does have some rebounding and shot-blocking qualities and would give the Lakers energy in a more athletic lineup to start the game.

Play fast
The Lakers are one more efficient fast break teams in NBA, and they should lean into that even more with Davis out.

Let Schröder and James push the pace on offense and get out on the break, creating open looks for shooters like Caldwell-Pope, Wesley Matthews and Caruso.

The Lakers are last in the NBA in average speed – the average speed in miles per hour of all movements (sprinting, jogging, standing, walking) by a player or team while on the court.

It’s understandable the Lakers play a more deliberate style offensively considering they have two of the best half-court players in the game in James and Davis. However, with Davis out the Lakers need to find ways to get easy buckets by creating turnovers defensively and running the floor.

Shooters shoot
Vogel recognizes his team is not shooting from beyond the arc as well as they did earlier in the season. Over the last 10 games, the Lakers are shooting 30 percent (84-for-280) from the 3-point line.

Vogel said his team is getting good looks, but just suffering from the dog days of the NBA season. However, good shooters like Caldwell-Pope and Matthews have to put up more shots.

Specifically, Caldwell-Pope has to shoot more. He’s taken just 11 three-pointers over the last five games, making two of those.

Defend
L.A. is one of the best defensive teams, holding opponents to 105.8 points per game, No. 2 in the NBA.

But with Davis out, the Lakers miss one of the best shot blockers and overall defenders in the league. One player will not replace Davis’ production defensively.

The Lakers will have to do a better job as a team in defending the paint by Vogel mixing up his coverages defensively and perhaps aggressively trapping more to speed things up for the opposing offense.

Without the luxury of one of the best defenders in the game, the Lakers may have to take more risks defensively.

Lean on Talen Horton-Tucker
Yes, he’s only 20-years-old, but Horton-Tucker is one of L.A.’s most dynamic players and should see more time on the floor. Horton-Tucker can get the rim, run the floor, defend, shoot and sees the floor well.

The Lakers can’t play James 40-plus minutes a contest as he did in L.A’s three overtime wins. Horton-Tucker will take some of the scoring pressure off James when the second unit is in and can also play off James when they are in the game together.

It’s time for the Lakers to let Horton-Tucker spread his wings.