Having Anthony Davis, one of the league’s best players, is every coach’s dream. The NBA remains a talent league above all else and every coach will be the first to sign up for one of the 5-10 true difference makers that can propel their team towards a championship. Regardless of any potential pitfalls, that thirst for talent will win out.
What’s undeniable, though, is that not every great (or even really good) coach is the right match for every great player. During their time together in New York, for example, Mike D’Antoni famously clashed with Carmelo Anthony 1Remember, Carmelo, despite his current reputation, was once one of the league’s best and an MVP candidate. to the point where D’Antoni ultimately resigned rather than bang his head against the wall in trying to get Melo to adapt to the 7 seconds or less, “ball finds energy” ethos the coach preached.
Be it personality clashes, lack of alignment in philosophy, or some other reason, there are times where top flight player and top flight head coach simply do not see eye to eye. After all, these are human beings. We don’t get along with everyone. On the flip side, there are the coach/player combinations that come right out of central casting. D’Antoni didn’t mesh with Melo, but he and Steve Nash were a match made in heaven. Pop and Duncan mixed perfectly, too. From today’s NBA, Steve Kerr and Steph Curry probably best exemplify this.
While both are brand new to the Lakers this season, there are some initial signs that Frank Vogel and Anthony Davis could be a simpatico pairing. Be it basketball philosophy, strengths of the coach vs. those of the player, or an examination of how the coach has operated his most successful teams and the ideal role for Davis, there is a lot of symmetry we’d be wise to pay attention to.
Before we dig in, it should be noted that nearly all these player/coach pairings that work well are nearly all based on congruous strengths on one side of the ball — and mostly offensively. For Vogel and Davis, however, it’s defense that sits in the middle of the venn diagram.
Vogel’s best teams were those Pacers squads who regularly ranked near or at the top of the league in defensive efficiency. Beyond the rankings, however, it’s how Vogel built those schemes and what he valued in order to produce those results. While Paul George’s perimeter clamps were uber-important to how Vogel wanted to play, the foundation of Vogel’s schemes were his big men. Roy Hibbert, verticality poster-boy, was at the center of it all, but so was David West who “quarterbacked” things next to Roy. Davis, who will play both PF and C, can fill both the Hibbert and West roles at a high level and I’m guessing Vogel will have a wonderful time deploying Davis as a heat-seeking missile to blow up team’s sets all over the court.
And Davis, it seems, is ready to do just that. Over the summer (and through the early stages of training camp), Davis not only talked about being the Defensive Player of the Year, but of the need for the team to emphasize defense and forming its identity on that side of the ball above all else. This is surely music to Vogel’s ears, especially since Davis has the game to back up his lofty goals and anchor a scheme from the paint all the way out to the perimeter.
The basis of Vogel’s schemes has always been funneling players into the mid-range and restricted area where they can be swallowed whole by his ever lurking big men. There may be no better player in the league to thrive in this type of scheme than Davis.
With amazing length, timing, anticipation, and recovery ability, Davis can effectively be in multiple places at once. At the point of attack vs. the pick and roll, he can execute a drop scheme to keep the ball handler in front of him in order to persuade mid-range jumpers. And, as an off-ball worker, he can also rotate from anywhere on the floor to close down driving lanes and erase shots around/at the basket. He can be anything and everything within Vogel’s scheme and his history as a player says he’ll likely do it naturally.
Vogel and Davis, then, check all the boxes to thrive in their partnership. And while there’s always a chance things go sideways (we’ve seen that before around these parts), the alignment in what Vogel wants and what Davis can do 2and, seemingly, wants to do to deliver the same things should inspire hope for this season and beyond.