Season Thoughts and Reactions Mini-Series Part 3

Biggest Disappointment (Team): Los Angeles Lakers

via NetsDaily

Alright, here we go. I put off talking about this Lakers team (17–19) for about as long as I could, but they are the elephant in the room that needs to be discussed. The presumed NBA Finals matchup going into the season was Brooklyn Nets vs Los Angeles Lakers. While the Nets have held up their end of the bargain as the number 1 seed in the East, despite not having Kyrie Irving, the Lakers cannot seem to get on the right track. There are very many controversial opinions on what exactly the current issue is with this team. I do not have the time, nor the energy to delve into each of these situations in-depth (plus you can find a metric-TON of coverage on it if that’s what you wanted to read/hear about), but I will at least outline a few considerations that I believe to be the most prominent.

The first, and most obvious of them all is the offseason acquisition of Russell Westbrook. Let’s first examine what the Lakers had to give up to make the deal. Kyle Kuzma, KCP, and Montrezl Harrell all played key roles for this team in past seasons. Kuzma and KCP in particular were key contributors to the Lakers’ NBA bubble title run. In a league that’s driven by star power, it is quite easy to forget the importance of role players to a team’s overall success. The other component is who the Lakers were able to bring back to the team in return, Russell Westbrook. He has very much become a controversial player in that he has split public opinion on whether his style of play can lead to sustained winning. It seems absurd to argue that a player going all-out racking up a bunch of stats, leading to the all-time NBA triple-double record, while maintaining a positive win percentage in that stretch is actually not a player with whom you can win a championship, and yet this discussion is happening once again. The fairest evaluation in my eyes is that while Russell Westbrook provides a significant boost to regular-season performance, his style is easily exploited in the post-season. This season, however, his statistical output (~20/8/8) is not even leading to regular-season success. This is very likely due to his conflicting style of play with Lebron James. They are both ball-dominant players who quite honestly do not commit on the defensive end all that often. The key to a successful Lebron James’ led team has always been filling out the roster with complementary pieces.

Rather than the Russell Westbrook trade this off-season, the move that would have been far more successful is the rumored Buddy Hield trade rumors. With this deal that was seemingly on the table, not only would the Lakers have acquired Buddy Hield and his complementary style of play with his sharp-shooting ability, but they would also have been able to retain KCP on their roster for either defensive purposes or as a piece in a subsequent trade. There is no way to determine what the driving factor that caused this change in approach was, but regardless it has been a disaster.

The next concern on the docket for me is Anthony Davis. At this point in his career, it has been well established that he cannot be expected to go an entire season unscathed. Even with that built-in assumption, Anthony Davis does not seem to be meeting expectations so far this season. Strangely enough, this is despite his basic statistics appearing as good as ever, with per game average of 23.3 points/9.9 rebounds on 52.1% / 17.9% / 72.7% shooting splits. The 17.9% from 3-point range is abysmal, and the lowest mark of his career since he started shooting >1 3-point attempt per game. In reality, you cannot see the concerns by simply looking at the box score, but when you watch the game you can notice that with the construction of this team his spacing is not ideal, and poor outside shooting has become detrimental at times. He’s proven his worth to this team over the last couple of seasons and so long as he is healthy by the playoffs he will be ready to make an impact.

Nic Claxton’s ruthless dunk, Christmas 2021

The final discussion point is centered around LeBron James himself. Of course, out of the key members of this team, he is playing the best. In year 19, there has been a subtle change that I had not truly envisioned seeing. On the offensive end of the floor, he is less explosive and does not appear to be getting to the basket at the same rate. He’s averaging a career-low 5.3 FT attempts per game, though he is making a career-high 78.1% of these attempts. He’s been able to overcome this with an increase in shooting efficiency, which he will need to maintain for this team to stay afloat. Whether this will be sustainable is yet to be seen. History tells us though that high-volume shooting is not the recipe for LeBron’s success. The other major difference is his defensive end of the floor. Though he can be a great defender when he truly applies himself, this is often not a focus for him, and less so in recent years. While this is not a new development, there seems to be a lack of fear on the part of other players in the league. People are no longer hesitating to attack when he is the primary defender, and seemingly have less fear in terms of attempting to dunk on him as well. The final, and biggest, change I have seen this season is that he is seemingly human after all. He has had a couple of nagging injuries thus far and was forced to miss much of the early season. He’s back and healthy now, playing at a high level, but this is certainly something that has to be monitored. All of this to say, he’s not the current problem here. LeBron is 19 years into his career and is still playing at a dominant level. The changes we are seeing are coming at a much later stage in his career than we have seen in the past, a testament to the work he has put into keeping himself in shape.

At the end of the day, the Lakers will either need to learn to properly integrate Russell Westbrook into their team or make a far more difficult trade to move on from this experiment. The ultimate goal for this team is to win a championship this season and I do not expect any feelings to be spared in making the necessary changes to get them there. I can almost guarantee that whatever this roster is at this time will be completely different after the trade deadline. Regardless of what LeBron says, they are not Trevor Ariza or Kendrick Nunn away from putting it all together and winning the title.



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Neel Patel

Neel Patel

Just a resident physician trying to get away from the books and think about sports for a while.