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The Lakers Rapid Descent

Updated: Oct 4, 2022

Jesse D. Garrabrant / Getty

(1) (Citations at the End)

The Lakers are not a good basketball team. At this point in the season, that is an assessment that can be validated by facts. They have an offensive net rating of 108.7, which ranks 24th in the league. They shoot the 3 pointer at 34.9 percent, 19th in the league, and have an assist to turnover ratio of 1.6, which ranks 23rd in the league. In other words, they have a below average offense that lacks ball security, and shooting to generate points. To be more succinct, their offense is not good. The one bright spot is their 48.5 points per game in the paint, ranking 9th in the league.(2)

In addition to their lackluster offense, the Lakers also lag in many of the standard defensive metrics. They have a defensive net rating of 110.8, which ranks 17th in the league. They allow an effective field goal percentage of 53.2% which ranks 19th in the league. They defend the 3 point line at 35.1%, which ranks 16th in the league. It follows that at 28-37, 5.5 games behind the Clippers for the 8th seed, it is not a secret that the Lakers are a below average basketball team, and are far from being a championship contender. (2)

Taking into consideration the championship expectations that the Lakers had going into this season adds to the sorrows that I along with many other fans feel for this team. The ramifications that extend beyond this season, further exacerbate the misfortune of this year. The Lakers are devoid of cap space, trade assets, and draft capital. In other words, they are inept at rebuilding this roster through free agency, the draft, or the acquisition of key players.

This means that despite inheriting Lebron James, the greatest player of his generation and arguably the greatest of all time, the Lakers could possibly only yield 1 championship. For a franchise that was in dismay prior to James' arrival, 1 championship is a monumental mark of success. However, when one considers the astute play of James this year(29.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg, and 6.3 apg), (3), one cannot deny the missed opportunity to win an additional championship or two while he remains a Top 5 player in the league.

(James scoring 56 points against Golden State Warriors)


(Per House of Highlights)

Unless radical changes happen this offseason, the mishaps that the Lakers Front Office have made in the last 18 months could lead to James’ championship window with the team prematurely ending. (4)

So how did the Lakers get here? How did they go from 2020 NBA champions to 18 months later being a dreadful basketball team. They had a model that worked: Lebron with strong shooters, high IQ athletes, and defenders who played within the system and themselves (e.g. Alex Caruso). The 2020 Lakers had a stout starting lineup surrounding James that fit into this model of success. It was composed of Anthony Davis, a star in himself, and Javale Mcgee as rim protectors who collectively averaged 3.7 blocks per game. In the backcourt, Kenatvious Caldwell-Pope (KCP) and Danny Green provided 3 point markmanship, shooting a combined 37.6 percent, while also providing robust perimeter defense. The rest of the roster was built with shrewd, low turnover, high IQ basketball players.

18 months later, James and Anthony Davis are the only remaining rotational players from that championship roster.

As a quick aside to acknowledge the 2021 season, I would like to believe that the Lakers fate that year was inevitable. They were coming off the shortest offseason in NBA history, and in turn, had an unprecedented level of strain placed on their bodies. This can be seen in Anthony Davis missing half the season for an array of injuries.

Despite that, and despite even moving Lebron off the ball a bit to accommodate Dennis Schoreder, the Lakers roster that year was built to compete for contention and their play supported that. (5) (Unfortunately the Lakers traded Javale Mcgee and allowed Dwight Howard to walk in order to sign an aging Marc Gasol who later morphed into Andre Drummond. A miscalculated Front Office move for the 2021 season. It also has been inconvenient that Anthony Davis has only been available for 53% of games since the Lakers won the championship. The expectation is that he would have taken the mantle by this time in James and Davis' tenure in Los Angeles.)


Per Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

They had the second best record in the West through February 2021, prior to Anthony Davis getting injured. Even after the injury, they remained atop the conference. However, everything came to a halt on March 20,2021, when Solomon Hill dove into Lebron’s leg, and in turn, ended the Lakers season. (6)


(Per House of Highlights)

Conventional thinking would dictate that the Lakers would have used the offseason to recover and make some auxiliary changes to have a similar roster ready to compete in 2022. In retrospect, they came off the shortest offseason in history and were a top team prior to a barrage of injuries. Unfortunately, the Lakers actions did not align with that thinking. First, they mishandled Alex Caruso's free agency. He is a player that fit Los Angeles' proven championship architect much more seamlessly than Talen Horton Tucker.

With that being said, the most glaring indictment on the Lakers season has been their acquisition of Russell Westbrook. With 80% of their season complete, I can say with confidence that the unraveling of the Lakers aspirations to contend for multiple titles came with the Laker's Front Office decision to trade for Russell Westbrook. The question remains today, why make such a move? Was the deal done out of fear of Brookyln banding together a Big 3 of their own, Phoenix trading for a superstar point guard themselves, or simply erroneous judgment on how to construct a sustainable championship roster.

The torment of this trade is exacerbated when one considers its opportunity cost. As opposed to giving up 3 rotation players and a 1st round pick (Kyle Kuzma, KCP, Montrezl Harrell, Isaiah Jackson - 22th pick), the Lakers could have surrendered just Kuzma and Harrell. This in turn would have allowed them to keep KCP, and acquire Buddy Hield, a more seamless fit to the architect that won the Lakers a title in 2020.

Call it fear, call it the Lakers Front Office submitting to the pleas of Lebron James and Anthony Davis, but the trade to acquire Buddy Hield was nixed in favor for Russell Westbrook.

As a two man combo, Lebron and Westbrook have had a net rating of -1.9; being a basketball connoisseur is not a requisite to see that that fit does not work. The architect of Westbrook’s game is not meant to mesh with James' game. In addition, this season has made it apparent that Westbrook has not reconciled the aspects of his game that extend beyond athleticism to facilitate a smooth pairing.

Sure, everyone cannot be a Lebron James and seamlessly reinvent themselves and age like fine wine as their career progresses. But what about Blake Griffin? The type of All Star he was in Detroit significantly varied from the All Star he was in Los Angeles.

It is not unfounded to expect a player of Westbrook’s caliber to adjust as his body does. Recent press conferences and his inability to take accountability for his poor play point to a dogmatic player who does not believe that that is the case. However, the eye test along with the numbers tell a different story.(7)

(A recent contentious conversation that Westbrook had with a media member following a loss to the Clippers on March 3rd)


(Per Back Rim BBall)

The decline in Westbrook’s athleticism has been apparent. There have been many missed dunks, untimely turnovers, and shot attempts blocked by opponents. The explosion and speed in his lateral and vertical movements are much slower today in juxtaposition to 1 year ago. - (8)


(Per House of Highlights)

He has not developed a feel for the game that astute playmakers like Luka Doncic, James Harden, or Lebron have. He is not reading and picking apart the defense to set his team up. He is racing to the rim and moving at an out of control pace. In the midst of that flurry he often finds a teammate who happens to be open.

The Lakers could have acquired Buddy Hield last summer, a player averaging 19.5 ppg since being traded to Indiana on 36.8 percent shooting. He is a better volume shooter than any pairing Lebron has had in Los Angeles (e.g. Danny Green, KCP, Reggie Bullock, Wayne Ellington). Instead of acquiring Hield, the Lakers traded for Westbrook. The Front Office now has to live with the aftermath of that decision while Buddy Hield drops 36 points on the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks. (9), (10)


(Per ZH Highlights)

Fate seems to dictate that the Lakers will either bow out in the play-in, or make the playoffs to earn the right to be swept or gentlemen swept by Phoenix. A dissipate fall and great disappointment to the expectations that this team had coming into the season and from where they were 18 months prior.

Citations:

  • (1) Reiter Oct 12, Bill. “Why Lebron James and the Lakers' 2020 NBA Championship Is the Storied Franchise's Most Special One Yet.” CBSSports.com, 12 Oct. 2020, https://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/why-lebron-james-and-the-lakers-2020-nba-championship-is-the-storied-franchises-most-special-one-yet/.

  • (2) “NBA Stats.” NBA Stats | TeamRankings.com, 10 Mar. 2022, https://www.teamrankings.com/nba/stats/.

  • (3) Highlights, House of. “LeBron James UNREAL 56 POINTS Full Highlights vs Warriors.” YouTube, YouTube, 5 Mar. 2022, https://www.youtube.com/?gl=DE.

  • (4) Reference, Basketball. “Lebron James Stats.” Basketball Reference, 10 Mar. 2022, https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/j/jamesle01.html.

  • (5) Rivas, Christian. “Anthony Davis and Lebron James Are Telling Dennis Schroder to Keep Playing the Same Way, Even When Lebron Gets Back.” Silver Screen and Roll, Silver Screen and Roll, 27 Apr. 2021, https://www.silverscreenandroll.com/2021/4/27/22405908/lakers-lebron-james-wants-dennis-schroder-stay-confident-when-he-returns.

  • (6) Highlights, House of. “LeBron James Gets Injured & Left The Game - Hawks vs Lakers | March 20, 2021.” YouTube, YouTube, 20 Mar. 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7B-STuMV7Q.

  • (7) Archives, NBA. “Russell Westbrook HEATED Exchange With Reporter.” YouTube, YouTube, 4 Mar. 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yenBbU00IAY.

  • (8) Highlights, House of. “Russell Westbrook Misses a Easy Wide Open Layup vs Grizzlies - Shaqtin’ A Fool Moment.” YouTube, YouTube, 29 Dec, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaWbjHCJlwg

  • (9) Highlights, Z. “Buddy Hield 36 pts 8 threes 4 asts vs Bucks 21/22 season.” YouTube, YouTube, 16 Feb 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BeMJPUGdcY&ab_channel=Z.Highlights

(10) Reference, Basketball. “Buddy Hield Stats.” Basketball Reference, 10 Mar. 2022, https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/h/hieldbu01.html





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