Monday, 15 Jul 2024

2022-23 Season Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

Once the Los Angeles Lakers concluded the 2021-22 NBA season with a 33-49 record and missed the Play-In Tournament, they wasted no time making changes. Head coach Frank Vogel was let go, despite winning an NBA championship just two seasons prior. In his place, the Lakers hired Darvin Ham, a former reliable NBA role player with a strong reputation as an assistant coach. The team also focused on building a more effective roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

During the summer, the Lakers deliberated at length about potential deals involving Russell Westbrook, who had exercised his $47 million player option. Despite some mixed results in terms of chemistry between LeBron, Davis, and Westbrook last season, the Lakers expressed optimism that Westbrook could improve with the support of healthy teammates. However, they faced difficulties in finding a suitable trade partner for Westbrook due to concerns about his performance last season. The Lakers were unwilling to offer more than one first-round pick in potential deals.

Due to salary cap constraints, the Lakers made minor improvements to their roster. Instead of retaining their veteran free agents, who struggled with durability and athleticism last season, they opted to pursue younger players. Lonnie Walker IV, Troy Brown Jr., Damian Jones, Thomas Bryant, and Juan Toscano-Anderson were brought in. However, the Lakers understood that these additions alone would not fully satisfy their needs. They also traded two young players, Talen Horton-Tucker and Stanley Johnson, to Utah for Patrick Beverley, a player known for his ability to irritate opponents, make shots, and elevate his teammates with his infectious intensity. In addition, Dennis Schröder, who previously played for the Lakers during their first-round playoff exit against the Phoenix Suns, reunited with the team on a veteran’s minimum contract.

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BIGGEST QUESTION

The biggest question surrounding the Lakers is whether James, Davis, and Westbrook can effectively coexist on the court. Last season, they played only 21 games together, and the team went 11-10 during that stretch. However, Westbrook’s performances alongside either James or Davis individually were less successful. The Lakers went 25-30 with LeBron and Westbrook, and 17-22 with Davis and Westbrook. Moreover, the team lost all five games where Westbrook was the primary option. The Lakers are hopeful that these issues will be resolved if James and Davis can stay healthy throughout the season, but doubts remain given James’ mileage, Davis’ injury history, and Westbrook’s struggles with adapting his role.

SEASON PREDICTION

Expect James and Davis to spend more time on the court compared to last season. With the addition of Darvin Ham as coach, the Lakers’ performance is expected to improve compared to Vogel’s tenure. The team will also benefit from the infusion of youth. However, despite these improvements, the Lakers still lack the necessary firepower to contend for an NBA title. Westbrook’s fit remains questionable, even if he adjusts to Ham’s coaching and gains more on-court chemistry with James and Davis. While the Lakers are unlikely to end their season in April, their ultimate success will be measured by whether they can play deep into June. Projection: Playoffs.

1 KEY STAT TO KNOW

Anthony Davis had a significant discrepancy in shooting percentages, with 66.3% in the paint, compared to an effective field goal percentage of 34.5% on shots from outside the paint. Among 258 players with at least 100 field goal attempts, Davis had the largest differential (31.8%) between shooting inside and outside the paint.

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PROJECTED STARTING FIVE

  • Russell Westbrook: Westbrook’s attitude and adaptability will be crucial to determining whether he can have a bounce-back season.
  • Kendrick Nunn: After missing the 2021-22 season due to a bone bruise in his right knee, Nunn has the potential to rise in the Lakers’ depth chart if he can replicate his shooting prowess from his first two seasons in Miami.
  • LeBron James: Despite advancing in age, James continues to defy Father Time and set milestones. However, his ability to reduce time spent in the training room and recover from injuries will be key.
  • Anthony Davis: The Lakers hope that Davis can stay healthy and play with increased aggression.
  • Damian Jones: Jones brings value to the team as a lob threat and rim protector, but his challenge lies in avoiding foul trouble.

KEY RESERVES

  • Patrick Beverley: Known for his attitude, shooting, and perimeter defense, Beverley will strengthen the Lakers’ identity. The question remains whether the team will be comfortable increasing his role at the expense of Westbrook.
  • Dennis Schröder: Motivated to rectify his previous stint with the Lakers, Schröder aims for consistent playing time in a crowded backcourt.
  • Austin Reaves: Granting more minutes to Reaves could benefit the Lakers, as his improved strength and 3-point shooting can enhance the team’s spacing.
  • Lonnie Walker IV: The Lakers believe Walker’s athleticism can contribute on both ends of the court, but he needs to demonstrate better shot selection and defense.
  • Thomas Bryant: The Lakers have been encouraged by Bryant’s improved mobility, nearly 20 months after tearing his left ACL while playing for Washington.
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FAQs

Q: Can the Lakers’ “Big Three” coexist effectively on the court?
A: Last season’s limited games together raise questions about the chemistry between James, Davis, and Westbrook. However, the Lakers believe that with improved health, this issue will be resolved, although doubts remain.

Q: What are the Lakers’ prospects for the season?
A: Despite the team’s improvements and the addition of younger players, the Lakers still lack the necessary pieces to contend for an NBA title. However, they are expected to reach the playoffs.

Summary

The Los Angeles Lakers have made significant changes following a disappointing season. With a new coach and a revamped roster, the team hopes to address the challenges faced last year. The Lakers’ success will depend on how well LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook can mesh on the court. Despite improvements, the team’s ultimate goal of contending for an NBA championship seems out of reach. However, fans can expect the Lakers to reach the playoffs.