In the summer, the Lakers put together a sort of superteam. On the one hand, the talent of the stars was obvious, on the other hand, there were big questions about the compatibility of this talent.
Half a season has already passed, and the Lakers do not even reach the level of a superteam, it is even difficult to call them “as if a superteam”, because the results are depressing, as is the quality of the game. For example, they have often fought with the Kings lately, and these matches for the most part looked like games of even teams. The Lakers don’t look like title contenders, they don’t look like a second wave team, they have one of the worst offenses in the NBA and mediocre defense.
What is happening, why is everything bad and can it be fixed?
To begin with, let’s figure out what more or less works for “lake” people.
What happens: main character
LeBron has become the main joy of the Lakers this season. It doesn’t sound like a surprise, but James is having a somewhat unusual season, mastering a new role and position.
At the start of the season, LeBron threw a lot from a distance. Sometimes it looked like a side effect of age-related changes: they say, LeBron can no longer pass as often as before, and avoids contact. Except, first of all, these Lakers need just throwing James. There are already enough people killing space on offense, and if James can shoot, let him shoot. And, secondly, he knows how to throw. Once upon a time, it was believed that the right defense against LeBron was to make him take attempts from a medium distance. And this has been true for quite some time. But now his roundabout averages, which look like difficult shots, have become a reliable weapon, and his three-pointers – even from seemingly illogical situations – fly very well. This regular season is probably the best shooting season for James – the maximum share of threes in his career with the 4th best implementation and 40+% from all intervals on the middle (1-3 meters – 49%, 3-5 meters – 46%, 5-7 meters – 40%). By the standards of LeBron, these are good indicators, the implementation from 1-5 meters this season is generally at the level of one of the three best seasons in his career.
In general, if earlier there were parallels with the 2011 finals, when James was covered with “paint”, and he broke down, did not understand what to do, and turned into a bad shooter, now arguments about how much LeBron has added to the throw since that final and variability.
And then it turned out that LeBron is also an ideal center for today’s NBA. In personal defense, James has never really sagged: athleticism allows him to patronize a wide variety of opponents. It’s just that in recent years he has worked in a sparing mode and rarely defended against top options, and there his individual defense was not so important. Plus, sometimes he lazily exchanged on the screen, and for LeBron himself this is not a problem, but his partner after such an exchange often found himself in an unenviable situation. In team defense, LeBron has been frankly lazy in recent years.
This year, James is a great help in defense and competently working out in safety net. This was visible even before the transfer to the top five. Now LeBron in defense is the center, which can go higher, and retreat to the ring, and exchange. At the same time, due to its Lebron nature, it is deprived of some of the shortcomings that are standard for smallball centers. So James calmly accepts contact under the basket and can push with the centers quite normally (if Embiid posts him all the possession, James may not be able to do it, but there are few who can do it at all).
In attack, James-center can do anything too. He is a competent rollman, he can pass from the post, punish exchanges under the ring, open up in the “paint”, and do everything that is usually expected from a normal “big”. At the same time, there are no problems with entering the arc and opening a three-second time for partners or beating the opponent from the perimeter (LeBron is the center, now he is often guarded by the opponent’s fifths, who do not keep up with James in the aisle).
The bonus is that using James as a center means a more throwing lineup overall. No need to release Deandre, Dwight or A.D. And that goes better with Westbrook, who, of course, needs to be the only non-throwing player on the floor. Plus, if LeBron is a center, then the same Russ can play the ball more often, which is also logical, because without the ball, Westbrook essentially ceases to exist. Now LeBron really dominates the ball less. Partly he just shared ownership with Russ, but partly it is a consequence of the increased minutes for James in the role of “big”.
In fairness, it should be noted that LeBron does not always play close to the center. Even after A.D.’s injury. For example, in the current fives with Stanley Johnson or Ariza, it is they who from the start work as the fifth in their own half, and only then LeBron starts to center. Plus, from time to time, Khovarad flies into the rotation. However, LeBron – by his standards – plays center a lot.
James is having a great season, doing his best, working as a full-time tacker and adapting to the needs of the team as much as possible. To be honest, what we’re seeing right now is probably my favorite version of James.
What else gets
Not only that, the results are bad, there are problems on both halves, and only a couple of successful hits in role players can be singled out.
Carmelo Anthony started the season powerfully, hitting everything he could. Since then, the implementation has come down from heaven to earth, but it is still a confident sniper. In the Lakers, Malo is not allowed to stagnate on the average and leave this nonsense after a series of jabsteps. Anthony made a career out of it, but at this stage he is most useful as a sniper. This year, Anthony is shooting more than ever from behind the arc (as a percentage of total field goals) and has a career-best efficiency with an eFG% of almost 54 points.
Monk fired, which at first looked like just another shooter, but then began to aggravate more and more from the dribbling. This is a talented offensive player with a shot, dribbling and even a little passing, received for pennies. Useless fact: Malik has improved his efficiency in every NBA season. He is useless, because his current accuracy still looks inadequate and is unlikely to be thrown until the end of the season.
Austin Reeves is very happy, until it looks like he has any weak spots. The guy is never wrong and is helpful on both sides.
Stanley Johnson stepped into the role of such a hard-working defenseman with a problem shot. Every team should have one. As long as Stanley plays 15 minutes per match, he can be pointwise useful.
Probably, Tucker could be added here, who began to play more. But its functionality and role have hardly changed since last season, and the increase in minutes led to a drop in effectiveness in attack and, it seems, a drawdown in defense. Moreover, the implementation ahead is no longer just approaching unacceptable values, it hits worse than Westbrook.
What doesn’t work: main character
The Lakers’ biggest summer acquisition is having a miserable season. The dude does these things in every match.
I don’t really understand how this is possible. I think few people can collect such a selection in a career, Russ did it in half a season. But this is the NBA, here, as their old slogan said, and not so amazing happens from time to time.
Russ’s lack of a shot is not new, but the factor is so powerful that it’s impossible not to talk about it. It becomes more difficult to pass, a shot, of course, is not an option (although Westbrook himself doesn’t think so), playing without the ball when you don’t know how to throw is also difficult. As a result, it is not entirely clear how Russ should escalate.
We’ve seen Westbrook exposed in the Rockets, and the Lakers and LeBron Center try to imitate that environment, but it doesn’t work. Russ is still bad, Westbrook can’t come up with anything ahead, and this whole small squad is more likely to be called not only to reveal Russ as a scorer and creative, they just want to level his negative impact on the attack. Because we have Russell, who the defense didn’t give a damn about, and if we release a couple more players with a problematic shot, LeBron will not be able to come up with anything there.
Perhaps in time this will mend. Russ won’t learn to throw, but in fives with LeBron and Monk or LeBron and Malo, or LeBron, Monk and Malo, Westbrook attacks the ring much more often (in such combinations, about 70% of Russ’s points are from “paint”, and for the season as a whole – only 51%). This naturally lifts up the implementation from the game. With a throwing trio of eFG%, Russ is over 52, seasonally 47.5. There are more places, Westbrook is less likely to fall into the middle and more often does what he can. Perhaps, with the integration of Bradley and / or Ariza, it will even be possible not to rake so much in defense. Although so far Trevor is of little use in defense. And neither Bradley nor Ariza are Monk or Malo caliber shooters, although both have hit well this season so far.
It should also be noted that Westbrook is still quite good in the post. When he begins to crush the opponent with his back, the safety net immediately tightens, and lines appear for opening partners to the ring.
But so far this has not been put on stream: there are no consistently successful segments from Russ (and sooner or later Davis will return, and the entire rotation will have to be redrawn again). There are only flashes, and it is not clear whether these are glimpses of life or, on the contrary, near-death convulsions.
For the most part, Russ is useless. And this creates another corner of the problem: the Lakers are not the deepest team, they recruited not the first and often not even the second grade role players, and everything had to work due to stellar talent. However, in fact, there is no stellar talent with 2-3 powerful creatives. Their positional attack is either LeBron or something not very fun (well, Monk is now catching a wave). Russ was supposed to unload LeBron, to drag the team when James is resting, and in fact he only makes life difficult for everyone. In practice, the Lakers try to build up the offense by passing the ball to Tucker, using Bradley as an option and believing in Monk, which doesn’t seem like a viable plan.
And according to Russ at the moment, the result is deplorable. This team would be better if Russ was simply not in the line-up, and his minutes were played by someone who throws at least a little and defends at least a little, and does not flush tons of possessions down the toilet, throwing bricks and dropping the ball (conditionally – Reeves or Nunn). Westbrook, on the other hand, undermines everything, but it seems impossible not to let him out on the floor.
What still fails
First of all, little is gained in defense. There is no personnel (especially after Davis’ injury), no consistency, no dedication.
LeBron is their only above-average defenseman. Moreover, it is not even clear who is second on the list: newcomer Reeves, not the same Bradley for a long time or Johnson picked up at the station. Plus, they play small fives, which is usually not very useful for defense.
The people do not understand where to move: the same James goes to secure, but no one covers him. Constant confusion and inconsistency even in seemingly simple situations. And yes, all this at half speed with your hands down.
If it comes to that, the 19th defense in the NBA is not too bad in such hands.
Statistically, the Lakers in their own half are bad on the boards and foul a lot. They give frequent and accurate attacks from under the basket – in the top ten in both indicators, in terms of accuracy of opponents – generally 4th. And the Lakers are in the top 5 teams against which two-pointers are most often thrown from the dribble (that is, without a pass from a partner). Considering that they don’t throw with the average against the Lakers, it turns out that people just walk into the “paint” on foot and do what they want. When LeBron is belaying, it still doesn’t look that bad, but when James plays closer to the arc or even rests, and someone else is the belayer, then there is a full 3D model of the drive yard.
At the same time, the Lakers look imposing, as if they are trying to convince themselves that there are no problems and everything that is happening now is not particularly important. And such behavior primarily undermines the factors that affect the quality of protection.
Other disappointments include Bazemore and DeAndre, who are essentially out of the rotation.
Nunn never started playing basketball, and Collison, Isaiah, and Rondo have already been kicked out, so the Lakers don’t have a real backup point guard, making it look like Tucker is the point guard.
But these are trifles.
The roster clearly lacks 3&D players. Monk and Malo are good attack buffs. For both the Lakers and the opposition (although Malik hasn’t been that bad on defense lately). Tucker in his current form is a no-3, no-D player, Stanley hits nothing, Ariza hasn’t found himself on defense yet, Baze hasn’t found himself in the rotation. Of the people useful on both sides, only Bradley, Reeves, and, well, LeBron remain. Because of this, the Lakers cannot release a balanced line-up and are forced to choose which half they will row on.
How to fix it: main character
In any case, one must hope that Davis will return and be himself. Without this, there is definitely no chance for a fix.
In principle, AD should improve the situation on several critical fronts at once.
So, he will definitely give a decent finisher and a player on whom the opponent’s defense will concentrate. Yes, Davis will not help the space ahead, but even now Johnson and Tucker are playing there, who themselves do not really throw, but are clearly inferior to A.D. in terms of performance. Again, Davis is theoretically more useful offensively on the shields, which has been a problem so far.
In its own half, the presence of Davis should help in those issues that are still problematic: he will be able to insure, give dimensions on the backboard, and there, perhaps, you won’t have to foul so often, who knows. Now the main insurer here is James, and no one really covers him. When Davis is in the role of the main rim protector, who in turn is backed up by LeBron, it should be somehow tighter.
Plus Davis is just 30 minutes of a good player. Again, the depth of the Lakers consists of not the best role players, and the ability to not give them too long minutes should be a noticeable plus.
Davis’ return looks promising. In the end, despite all the problems, the Russ-LeBron-AD trio puts out +3.5 points per 100 possessions in joint minutes. It’s like a no-ranked team in the top 10. At the same time, for the season as a whole, the “lake” average difference is negative. In short, Davis should help.
True, one AD is unlikely to be enough.
How else can it be fixed
Okay, I have a list.
- Wait and believe.
And it’s not just that Davis will come back and fix everything. At this stage, the playoffs (getting into the top 8) for the Lakers is almost guaranteed. After the injuries of Lillard and George, there is nowhere to expect much competition. Therefore, it is hardly worth thinking that the “lakes” will now tear the veins. We have often seen teams improve their defense in the playoffs. This almost always happened with LeBron’s teams, it happened with last year’s Brooklyn, for example. The veteran roster of the Lakers fits into this concept.
Plus, the Lakers are a team with a lot of variables. They shook up the entire roster, and there was no time to play new combinations: someone is always injured, there is always a search for new fives, someone is constantly taken out of the rotation, then returned.
And about health: this is not a unique problem of the “lake people”, now everyone has a full infirmary for the people. But against the backdrop of large-scale transformations in the summer, this is more painful. Perhaps, over time, the gentlemen will get used to each other.
- Exchange Tucker.
When Davis returns, releasing Tucker will become more difficult. It’s not like they work in the same role: THT is much more of a ball player, and A.D. is a much better basketball player. But both of them cannot consistently hit, and in a team with Russ it is difficult to find a place for two such players (of course, you can exchange Russ himself, but it is impossible to exchange Russ himself, because who needs him?). Now, Tucker’s minutes with Davis’ return are likely to run out. At the same time, a friend has the 4th largest contract in the team. And this is important, because for it you can get something decent and not quite cheap.
For example, a center with a shot, which will allow you to play with a larger squad and keep space in front. After all, the idea of a “lake” smallball is not so much to be small, fast and exchanging, but to increase the number of people with a throw. And even a full-sized center with a three can’t hurt to run – after all, he needs to run to the opponent’s arc, and not to the ring (see the Bucks with Lopez).
Or you can try to trade a person for a wing that can both defend and throw. In the meantime, the Lakers are too often forced to choose between advanced offense and advanced defensive problems and weak offense, but not such problematic defense.
- Accept yourself.
The current Lakers are not a super team, they are LeBron and a bunch of role players. This is a band desperately in need of space (which they are currently trying to create with a small line-up). This is a group that, despite the low five and LeBron’s talent, is still so-so offensive in position, so they need to run a lot to give at least an average overall level of attack (which they do).
And even when Davis returns, they will still be running a lot. And although Davis is a normal second star, he is not an independent player, and everything will still go through LeBron, and all good things will be created precisely at his expense.
Lakers do not need to jump from one to another, sorting through schemes and changing rotations. You don’t need to play with a small squad, and then release Howard at the start against Jokic. Howard and Jokic won’t do anything anyway (nobody will do anything there at all), you just throw your game in the trash and get nothing in return. Half of the season has passed, it’s time to understand who you are and what you want to play.
- Still get Russ to play center sometimes. Putting barriers under LeBron, post-drinking, go to the “paint”. This is something Westbrook can still do. Yes, Russ has been hitting badly under the rim this season, but his performance is still better than anything else. It can improve the position of the Lakers. First, because LeBron will be on the ball, who is better on the ball. And, secondly, because Russ will be in a position where his lack of a throw will not be so critical.
For this to work, Russ has to really believe in the idea and put in 100% of it. He has to run around and set one screen after another and then dive into the three second. He has to come to terms with the fact that the ballhandler is someone else. Well, he seems to like post-apit anyway.
So far, only LeBron is adjusting, and James himself is wildly good in this new role, but he’s just good in any role. But getting the most out of Russ is a task with an asterisk.
- Trade Davis for Kyrie Irving
The problem is, even with a positive outcome across all of these variables (including Davis’ form), it’s hard to imagine the Lakers are a real title contender.
Utah will be able to stifle their attack. Gobert will not have a problem in this series, he can always keep either Russ or Davis and insure protection. Gobert is the worst thing that could happen to Westbrook.
The Warriors movement will simply break this uncoordinated defense with a bunch of vulnerabilities. Even if the Lakers start playing with decent dedication, this is unlikely to add consistency to them.
“Phoenix” is a team of another level. They slowed down the Lakers’ attack last year, and now that the Lakers have Russ in the Lakers, it’s even easier to fill the body paint with bodies.
Apparently, they will not get out of the West.
That being said, it will be very interesting to see this new version of LeBron in the playoffs. Because I, probably for the first time in my life, believed that James really can do everything on the floor. And such a player always gives a chance.