The Lakers won the off season. No question. But injuries are a part of sports. In the military we say no plan survives contact with the enemy. Just a few weeks ago the Lakers had the best record in the NBA but injury to Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroeder’s absence for Covid safety, coupled with the rest of the roster not being able to pick up the slack, step up and churn out some wins; sent the defending champs on a 4 game losing streak.. So what?
Well, what we learned is that their roster is not so deep and that other than Lebron, AD and Schroeder, nobody else can get their own shot. The rest of the Lakers are complementary players at best. Is it fair to expect a team to win games without two of its top 3 best players? Yes it is, when your team plans to repeat. This was the chance for other guys to step up but there is a silver lining in this dark cloud.
There will be no egos in this mix moving forward, because for four games the other guys proved to themselves and the world that they are good players who cannot carry a team. So there should be no issues when AD and Schroder return, when they get most of the shots. This should be good for team morale. But they have bigger problems than that.
One such problem is the health of Anthony Davis. Without a healthy Anthony Davis, the Lakers cannot beat the Brooklyn Nets as currently constructed. The Lakers simply cannot score enough. It’s a math argument for me. Three all starts beats two. Three all stars who are healthy beats two with one not at 100%. Dennis Schroeder is a nice player but is not an all-star. The Nets have three all starts, each of whom can score 40 or 50 on any given night. They are all also efficient scorers who don’t need many shots to score their points. James Harden is averaging a triple double. Kevin Durrant is the most efficient scorer in league history, literally can give you 30 points on 12-15 shots. Kyrie Irving is a killer who can go off for 40 or 50 if he feels like it. This is a problem because they’re now playing defense.
The Lakers need flexibility and have built their roster in this manner over the past few years. However, even with Anthony Davis healthy, they need someone who can defend the three headed monster that is the Brooklyn Nets. They also need rim protection because AD coming off injury will not be the rim protector he was pre injury. Frank Vogel must now go into his defensive arsenal and pull a rabbit out of a hat.
Marc Gasol is a smart player but cannot guard any of those three Nets. So he’s a non-factor. Schroeder can D up Kyrie but Kyrie will get his points no matter who is guarding him. I would mix a combination of KCP, Schroeder and Alex Caruso to defend Kyrie to try to reduce his efficiency, because you’re not going to stop him. I would use the same tactic versus Harden and KD, having different players take turns guarding him, presenting different looks and to keep them off balance and from getting comfortable. So where is this leading?
To a trade or a need to pick up some talent. Andre Drummond, Hassan Whiteside and Boogie Cousins are all available. To me you have to get the best talent of the three, not just the guy who you think is the best fit. The reason is because in the playoffs, you have to be able to get your own shot and provide a bit of offense. Andre Drummond seems to be the one of the three who can do this the best, so I’d go get him and lose a roster spot for one of the bench warmers.
If you cannot get Drummond, its Whiteside and Cousins in that order. Cousins might be the best fit of the two and he’s played great for Houston and his price point is great. But I would give careful consideration to Whiteside as a rim protector who at his best can give you 14 points, 10 rebounds and 2 or 3 blocks. It’s a trade off. Do you want Cousins’ offensive ability or Whiteside’s defense? If you have AD, I take Whiteside for his defense because you have a chance to provide what Dwight Howard did for the Lakers last year and Marc Gasol doesn’t do that, so you take Whiteside. If the price point is a problem or a deal cannot get done, you have to bring back Demarcus Cousins. You hope that he can D up on other bigs a little but also score some points, space the floor by hitting some threes and give you another efficient scoring option.
No matter what happens, the Lakers are in a dog fight in the Western Conference this year and there is no guarantee that they will get to the Finals. Denver, Dallas, Utah and the Clippers are coming for their title and will be better than last year. Lakers need to be better and their margin for error this year is slimmer than last. We will soon find out what is what.