Lakers Lead

Lakers Hoping to Continue Quest for 17th Title

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When the Lakers flipped almost all their assets for Anthony Davis, the new goal became clear: Championship or bust.

Rob Pelinka felt the pressure of surrounding Davis and LeBron James with the right players. The season prior, LeBron missed the playoffs for the first time since his rookie year in his debut season with the Lakers. Anthony Davis can leave the team this offseason, which would make the trade to acquire him franchise-altering for all the wrong reasons.

The pressure was real, and Pelinka has found the results he so desperately needed.

Through a season of developing chemistry, facing expectations, and being hit with tragedy, this is how the Lakers got to this point.

The Passing of Kobe Bryant

Before the NBA stood still as a result of COVID-19, the basketball community collectively stood still as a result of the passing of Laker legend Kobe Bryant. For obvious reasons, no team was devastated like the team Kobe embodied for 20 seasons.

The organization is littered with people who were close to Kobe. GM Rob Pelinka represented Kobe for most of his career as his agent. They became like brothers to each other. Owner Jeanie Buss has referred to Kobe as family over the years.

Judy Seto, now the team’s Director of Sports Performance, spent years dedicated to working directly with Kobe. She helped him keep his body in prime condition in the later stages of his career. Inevitably, this 24/7 responsibility resulted in them growing a strong relationship.

Veterans on the team spent years competing against Bryant. Rajon Rondo received praise from Kobe as a competitor. LeBron James became a part of the Lakers family when he signed with the team, according to Bryant. This after years of the two of them battling as the best players in the game.

Countless other players have their own stories, and those who didn’t compete against him admired him growing up. Quinn Cook idolized Bryant throughout his life. Kyle Kuzma spoke with and worked out with Kobe often, trying to be a sponge to Bryant’s knowledge.

Widely referred to as the greatest Laker of all time, Kobe Bryant impacted everyone in the organization even after his playing days. The organization, from ownership to players, mourned alongside fans all over the world. The team could have folded, they could have taken a few weeks off mentally and slipped in the standings.

They did not. Instead, they came together as a team and continued executing on the floor, even as their hearts remained heavy from the tragedy.

It is still surreal that Kobe Bryant passed away, and will be for a long time. This Lakers team is honoring him in the best way possible, though, by competing with every ounce they have.

Point LeBron

In his 17th season, LeBron embraced the role of being a full-time point guard. While he’s always been the primary playmaker for his teams, he’s always had teammates to help facilitate. This year, the only guy who fits that bill is Rajon Rondo, who is averaging 20.5 MPG off the bench.

The result? A career-high 10.6 assists per game, which leads the league. Other aspects of his game haven’t dipped due to this responsibility, either. He’s still dropping 25.7 points per game while adding 7.9 rebounds.

Questions were understandable entering the season, with so few shot creators available to the staff. Danny Green, Avery Bradley, and KCP all struggle creating there own scoring opportunities. Centers JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard are best used as rim-runners. Kyle Kuzma can get his own buckets, but is best when he’s not the primary scoring threat on the floor.

James is contributing nearly 41% of the team’s assists per game. Rondo averages 5.0 per game, and Davis 3.1. After those two, no Laker is over two per game.

If LeBron wasn’t capable of making this adjustment to his game in year 17, this Lakers team would be very poor offensively. Is he being asked to do more than what would be ideal? Yes, but the fact of the matter is that he’s thriving in this role. He’s leading the NBA in assists per game for the first time in his career, which is just another example of the all-time great player he is.

Anthony Davis Thriving in Year 1 with L.A.

The blockbuster deal that resulted in Anthony Davis joining the Lakers appears to be a rare situation in the NBA: A win-win trade, as both teams can comfortably view the trade as a win for their franchise.

It took Davis no time to gel with his new teammates, specifically LeBron James. He’s never played with a player of his caliber, and never been part of a team with these kind of championship expectations. Davis has embraced the expectations, though, and has continued to dominate on the court.

He ranks 10th in the NBA in scoring at 26.7 per game. His size and skillset makes him an offensive nightmare, and a hard foul doesn’t even offer much upside. He’s knocking down a career-high 84.5% of his free throws. He also combines with LBJ to form one of the most lethal PnR combinations in NBA history. Defenses are forced into decisions that aren’t ideal regardless of how they defend them.

Add in that he can he the focal point of the offense with the ball in his hands, and you have an elite offensive weapon.

That isn’t even the best of what he brings to the court. Davis’s defensive capabilities have helped L.A. build their defensive culture. His length, overall size, and ability to move make him a defensive asset that coaches dream of.

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He can guard any teams’ center, and is capable of switching onto guards like few other big men.  You can run any type of defense around AD, and he is the focal point of what L.A. does on that side of the floor. Dwight and JaVale are great rim protectors, yet the Lakers see no fall off in rim protection when they go ‘small’ around AD at the 5.

2.4 blocks per game and 1.5 steals per game don’t do justice to the defensive force he is. A front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year, Anthony Davis has been vital in the culture L.A. has built.

Role Players Doing Their Part

LeBron James and Anthony Davis are the superstar big names of the team. While they offer quite the dynamic duo, the team can only go so far on the back of them alone. In order to maximize what the team is capable of, everyone else needs to fit around them. It’s gone as good as possible so far.

Danny Green and Avery Bradley are crucial in setting the tone defensively on a nightly basis. They’re both excellent perimeter defenders who frustrate opposing guards right from the opening tip. Not many starting guard pairings offer the type of defense they provide nightly.

Offensively, they both play well off the ball, offering great support roles alongside James and Davis. 70.4% of Green’s FGA’s are 3PT shots, where he knocks down 37.8%. Meanwhile, Bradley is hitting 36.4% of his 3’s, providing the Lakers with perimeter shooting to keep the floor spaced around James and Davis.

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JaVale, the 5th starter, brings what he’s brought to his team each of the past few seasons. High energy, hard rim-running, and excellent rim protection. While he doesn’t eat up a ton of minutes, he brings effort in his playing time that impacts the game. In his 16.8 MPG, he averages an incredible 1.5 blocks. He’s one of the strongest players L.A. has in terms of the spark he brings to the team.

Dwight Howard has been possibly the most exciting Laker free agent addition. After the brutal injury DeMarcus Cousins suffered in the offseason, L.A. was suddenly in need of another big. Dwight joined knowing this was his last chance to prove he could buy in to a lesser role and contribute to a winning culture.

He has done exactly that. Playing just over 19 minutes per contest, Dwight has been a difference maker for the Lakers. It now seems laughable to think he may not have been signed this season. He still is exhibiting his fun side, and Laker fans have forgiven him for their past time together.

Fan-favorite Alex Caruso has had his moments, especially when looking at him playing alongside LeBron. KCP has also proven to be an impact player, bouncing back great from his first years in the Purple and Gold.

Occasional Frustration

Finally, Rondo and Kyle Kuzma have been most frustrating in terms of Lakers this season. In order to evaluate them each fairly, though, we must consider what has been asked of them. Rondo is the only playmaker outside of James, and Kuzma has been learning to play alongside stars.

The expectations on both were likely too high, but the team has adjusted as they have learned that. Dion Waiters will eventually make his debut, allowing Rondo to do less ball handling with the second unit. Markieff Morris, meanwhile, was just getting his feet wet with this team. Kuz is able to shift to small forward with Morris in the rotation, allowing him to play his natural position.

All in all, these are issues that L.A. was just beginning to fix. With how well they have molded this group together, it’s safe to give them the benefit of the doubt regarding these two.

While Rondo may frustrate those watching, he’s inevitably crucial to this team’s playoff success. The same goes for Kuzma, who is needed off the bench. Kuzma was also beginning to show the light at the end of the tunnel with his play. In the weeks leading up to the hiatus, his defense took a major step forward.

L.A. can now only wait to know how this season will play out. If play resumes and there are playoffs, L.A. is in prime position to capture championship number 17.

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

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About Garrett Brooks

I am a Sport Management student, with experience in Basketball Training, Analytics, and events. I spend a lot of time in the Basketball world, and I hope to share some of my insights with others.

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