In their win over the Miami Heat on Friday, the Los Angeles Lakers ran a play down the stretch for Anthony Davis that helped them ice the game.
It wasn't anything complicated. It began with Danny Green bringing the ball up court and making a pass to LeBron James, who was standing at the top of the 3-point line.
Green then made a cut towards the corner closest to James, where Davis was camping out.
Green set a screen on Davis, giving him the choice of either popping to the 3-point line or making a cut towards the basket depending on how Heat centre Bam Adebayo defended it.
With Adebayo going underneath Green's screen, Davis wisely popped to the 3-point line and drained a jump shot that put the Lakers ahead by five points with less than two minutes remaining.
Does it look familiar? It should.
In his second go-around with the Cleveland Cavaliers, James set Kevin Love up for countless baskets using the exact same play.
Here is one of many examples of the Cavaliers running it - against Adebayo and the Heat, no less.
It's no surprise that James has brought the play to Los Angeles considering how well it works. While Davis and Love are two very different players, they're similar threats on offence, being big men who are capable outside shooters and cutters, among other things. Because they can do both effectively, it forces the defence to make a tough decision - either risk giving up an open jump shot by going underneath the screen or risk giving up a layup by going over the top.
Being the superior 3-point shooter, defenders often went over the screens that Love was involved in to prevent him from getting a clean look at a 3-pointer. Being the superior athlete, they're more likely to go underneath the screens that Davis is involved in - as we saw in the Heat game - to prevent him from getting all the way to the basket.
It's the lesser of two evils, but Davis is having more success from 3-point range this season than ever before. Through 26 games, he's making 1.2 3-pointers per game at a 34.1 percent clip, both of which are the highest marks of his career. If Davis can continue to make 3s at those rates, defenders will have to think twice about going underneath every screen he's involved in.
It will also make the Lakers infinitely more scary when Davis plays centre, as I detailed a couple of weeks ago.
As important as James and Davis are to the set's success, though, the screen-setter deserves just as much attention. In Cleveland, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver were almost always the screen-setters. In Friday's matchup with the Heat, it was Green who set the screen on Davis.
The thing that unites them? They're each well-respected 3-point shooters, which matters for two reasons:
- Defenders don't want to help off of shooters. It's a big reason why Stephen Curry is one of the best screen-setters in the league - his defender often provides little-to-no help because they don't want to risk him getting even the slightest bit of space. That makes it easier for whoever is receiving the screen to get open.
- They're the ones who benefit if the defense does provide help. Case in point: Los Angeles ran the exact same play the next possession down against Miami, only this time Green's defender did provide help when Davis made a cut towards the basket.
Green wasn't able to knock it down, but it freed him up for a 3-pointer that he's going to make more times than not.
The two players on the other side of the court - Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope - would have even been targets had neither Davis nor Green gotten open. Rondo has never been known for his 3-point shooting, but he's canning 53.6 percent of his wide open 3-point attempts this season. Caldwell-Pope, meanwhile, has been the team's third-most accurate 3-point shooter behind only Rondo and Jared Dudley.
Had either of their defenders provided more help, James would've likely found them for shots they've proven they can make.
Considering all of the options available, it's hard to believe this is the last time we'll see the James and the Lakers break out this play.
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