Welcome to "One Possession!" Throughout the 2019-20 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.
Today, Los Angeles Lakers big man Anthony Davis takes the spotlight.
Context: Davis hasn't been an efficient 3-point shooter in his NBA career (31.6 percent), but he had it rolling against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday. He went 4-for-7 from the 3-point line in the win, tying his career-high for 3s made in a game. Davis finished with a game-high 33 points to go along with 11 rebounds, seven assists and one steal.
The possession: Davis' fourth and final 3-pointer came in crunch time and extended the lead to five points for the Lakers.
Breakdown: LeBron James brings the ball up the floor and calls for a screen from Kyle Kuzma, not to run a pick-and-roll with the Lakers forward, but as a means to switch Terrance Ferguson off of him and Danilo Gallinari onto him.
While Gallinari is far better suited size-wise to matchup with James, he's never been a particularly good defender. So when James gets the switch he wants, he dribbles the ball back out to halfcourt and motions to Kuzma to clear out to give him the space he needs to attack Gallinari in isolation.
Entering Saturday's game, James ranked behind only James Harden in isolation scoring this season with 6.1 points per game. He's been doing it efficiently, ranking in the 73rd percentile with 1.01 points per isolation possession. James obviously isn't the shooter Harden is, but few players strike as much fear as he does going downhill.
Now is a good time to note who else is on the floor for the Lakers. At shooting guard and small forward are Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, respectively. Green is one of the league's best 3-point shooters while Caldwell-Pope is a capable 3-point shooter.
Kuzma is also a capable 3-point shooter, but he parks himself in front of Green, just outside the dunker spot.
Davis, meanwhile, is the only big man on the floor for the Lakers, which puts Thunder centre Steven Adams in a tough position. He's the only rim protector on the floor for Oklahoma City, but Adams has to choose between helping Gallinari keep James out of the paint or sticking to Davis, who had already made three 3-pointers.
Adams chooses to stick to Davis to prevent him from getting another clean look at a 3-pointer. As a result, James gets all the way to the basket for a left-handed layup.
Gallinari defends James well and forces a miss, but neither him nor Adams can beat James to the rebound. That paves the way for James to kick the ball out to Davis for a second-chance opportunity.
Not only does Davis knock down his fourth 3-pointer, he gets fouled by Adams on the closeout.
Why it matters: A lot has been made about Davis playing centre. It's clearly his best position, but it's not a surprise that he prefers to play power forward because it saves him from having to guard the likes of Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns on a nightly basis.
He and the Lakers are likely better off in the long-run having JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard handle those assignments, at least in the regular season, if only to keep Davis as fresh as possible for the playoffs.
"We want a decade of dominance out of him here, right?" Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said. "So we've got to do what's best for his body, and having him bang against the biggest centers in the West every night is not what's best for his body or for our team and the franchise."
And yet, it's possessions like this that show how many problems Davis creates as a centre, especially if he can become a legitimate threat from 3-point line. If he can, it allows the Lakers to play five-out with James functioning as the point guard, giving arguably the scariest driver in the league a terrifying amount of space to work with.
Even though James missed a layup in this particular example, it's not a shot he's going to miss often.
Davis doesn't even have to be directly involved in the play for his gravity to go into effect. That's not to say having him spot-up in the corner is the best use of his skills. It's not. Davis is consistently among the league leaders in post-up scoring and he might be the scariest roll man in the league. There's a reason James said before the season that the Lakers would run a lot of their offence through Davis.
But Davis is also one of the better shooters at his position, which puts traditional centers like Steven Adams between a rock and a hard place. And with James being the one pulling the strings, you can almost guarantee that the Lakers are going to end up with the best shot possible every time down the court, whether it's for him, Davis or one of the other three players on the court with them.
"He's already a matchup problem for anybody in the league," Rajon Rondo said of Davis after the game. "When he's stretching the floor with the 5s with his 3-point shot, the sky's the limit for our offense. We're going to continue to get better at putting points on the board."
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