Lakers Lead

Analyzing LeBron’s Former Third Fiddles and Making Sense of Trade Rumors

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In today’s NBA arms race, an overlooked factor on the road to success is efficiency. While teams can stockpile assets and create the best team on paper, talent doesn’t always equate to wins or chemistry. Instead, a player’s role within the organization and being able to maximize it is easily more valuable than throwing the most talented but ill-fitting player on said team.

That’s where the Lakers find themselves in a bit of a problem — trying to evaluate who that third star after LeBron James and Anthony Davis has led them short of being a title favorite. 

 

A new trade rumor centered around the only piece of the old core remaining, Kyle Kuzma, is concocted on Reddit forums and Twitter every day. While some fans throw in superstars in far-fetched scenarios, others take a more realistic look. I’m going to go ahead and focus on the history of third-fiddles who have played alongside LeBron James. Then, I’ll look to create realistic parameters on the kind of player and production you look for out of this third star.

Stars Turned Third Fiddle

There have been two leading players who have taken on that role under James’ championship teams– Chris Bosh and Kevin Love. Each was hit with steep declines in usage, role, and had to change their own game up just a bit to fit James’ point-forward role.

Miami Heat, 2010-2014

Starting with Bosh, during the 2009-2010 season, he averaged 24 points a game for the Raptors, took nearly 17 shots a game, grabbed around 11 boards, and saw a usage rating 28.7%. Over his next four seasons spent with James, Bosh’s field goal attempts per game decreased to only 13, he merely grabbed seven rebounds each game and held a 23.2% usage rating. For context’s sake, that usage rating dropped from being the same as Devin Booker’s this season down to that of Kendrick Nunn.

Dwyane Wade, the second star in a James-led juggernaut, saw over 16 shots per game during the tenure with a 30.2% usage rate – that’s on-par with guys like Donovan Mitchell and Paul George this season. 

Cleveland Cavaliers, 2014-2017

After getting his rings in Miami, James came back home and did what he promised to in Cleveland amassing in the city’s first-ever championship. In the process, Love saw his field goal attempts dip from 18.5 the season before to 13.2, nearly the same number as Bosh and the identical usage rating as Bosh at 23.2% – down from the 28.7% he held in Minnesota the year prior.

Second fiddle Kyrie Irving saw 17.7 shots per game and sported a 28.6% usage rating – clearly with only one ball on the court, there’s a concrete mold for how teams can optimize the talents of LeBron James and his two supporting stars.

Los Angeles Lakers, 2018-2020

So, setting parameters, let’s estimate that LeBron will take around 18-to-20 shots per game. The second star, Davis, in this case, is seeing 18.7 shots per game this season and holds a usage of 29.9%. Historically, the third guy in a James-system will average around 13 shots per game – currently, Kyle Kuzma, the Lakers’ assumed third star, has averaged 11 shots to produce 13 points with a 23.7% usage – a usage higher than both Love and Bosh’s average alongside James. It’s safe to say that statistically, the efficiency match just isn’t working out. 

For those who want to look at the year that Brandon Ingram is having, consider the uptick in his role since joining the Pelicans. While he only played 52 games last season with the Lakers, he took 14 shots per game and hit about half of them with a 23.2% usage – he fit the mold of the third-star last season without having a number two for James to lean on. This season, those numbers in a free-operating system have inflated to a 29.3% usage, 19 shots per game, and 26 points a night in mostly the same minutes. Would he have fit on this team? While his style is reasonably ball-dominant, with LeBron turning into a point guard this season, it’s interesting to wonder whether that 40% three-point shooting Ingram holds would be maximized even with fewer shots and usage around players like Bron and AD. That said, he was quite obviously the centerpiece of the trade for Davis, and it seemingly worked out for each side.

So, some other names to analyze who could be a positive or negative fit? 

If Not Kuzma, Then Who?

We’ve seen several players thrown into the mix for a team like the Lakers; it happens every year. That said, I’ll analyze some of the more prominent names and their potential fits. It’s important to remember that you don’t need an all-star to assume that role for a team vying for a ring – look across the tunnel at Staples Center to see what guys like Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are doing for the Clippers. While they may be coming off the bench, they’re each putting up the numbers of a third impact player and genuinely changing the season’s outlook for the better.

The Guards

The first player you’ll usually find on these lists is Derrick Rose. In what’s been a comeback story, he’s averaging 15 shots in 26 minutes for the Pistons and shooting nearly 50% with a 31% usage rating. He’s been pretty impressive this season, but the big issue of playing on a James-led team, especially as he passes the ball more and more, is that his three-point percentage is still deficient at only 31.8%. 

Another intriguing name is Dennis Schroder, who’s coming off the bench in Oklahoma City – a team that struck gold with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is also a ball-dominant lead guard. Still, Schroder is averaging 15 shot attempts per game in 30 minutes, with a 27.4% usage rate. He’s a reasonably efficient scorer shooting near 47% from the field and a career-high 36% from deep. A team led by this trio instantly can undoubtedly offer a higher ceiling than a James-Davis-Kuzma trio. I specifically like a scenario where the Lakers add Schroder and get to hold onto a player like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who’s rebounded quite nicely after a slow start to the season.

While I would never really predict a trade like this, especially with the immediate salary cap issues making it nearly impossible, Bradley Beal has been frustrated. According to The Athletic, Beal has actually been “angry” and the Wizards need to find a way to right the ship. Adding an actual superstar like him would surely place the Lakers right in the mix for a ring but the financial possibility of this is low.

Similarly, with the Pelicans making Jrue Holiday available for trade, this could tip the scales with a third star and add some much-needed guard defense. That said, trying to match salaries in a worthwhile trade for both sides with the Pelicans already owning many of the Lakers’ assets and picks could be tough.

The Forwards

The name that has garnered plenty of rumors has been a deal centered around Robert Covington. RoCo gives something the other two players don’t: perimeter defense. Covington is still one of the grittiest and smartest defenders. His offensive efficiency isn’t excellent, but he’s a very dependable catch-and-shoot guy who only assumes an 18% usage rate – safe to say he could optimize a fourth-quarter lineup on both ends of the floor.

Other forwards include Marcus Morris, who is quietly enjoying his best season in the league but may not have the same payoff as a guy like Covington, who carries an All-NBA Defensive pedigree. His shooting percentages also are a bit lower with significantly higher usage, too.

Bogdan Bogdanovic seems like a natural fit as a shooter putting up 14.5 points but also carries a low shooting percentage, albeit a high three-point percentage. Currently coming off the bench in Sacramento, he could be a solid starter for this LAL team and take on that role of third scorer most nights. One last player who the Lakers may be willing to take a chance on is Davis Bertans.

Bertans has been something of a revelation this season averaging 15 a game, including 43% from three and still averaging under 30 minutes a game. The predicament the Lakers would get into here is how high is his potential and whether he’s worth it to take on now as he’s going to be a restricted free agent next season and will likely demand a big payday to retain.

That said, I believe almost all of these players provide healthy alternatives for the Lakers. While Kuzma hasn’t been great, his cap hit is so low allows the Lakers to experiment with different players for this roster and could make him a tradeable asset next month with the deadline coming up.

Follow us on Twitter @LakersLead for the latest Lakers news and insight.

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About Rahul Lal

Rahul Lal is a sports and music journalist and social media specialist who has worked for CBS Sports, USA Today Sports Media Group, EA Sports, Uproxx, and has words published at many more companies. You can follow him for his egotistical thoughts on Twitter @rlal95.

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