Los Angeles Lakers: What they need, don’t need to do to win NBA title

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

As all fans know, the NBA season is currently in hiatus. Nobody knows whether it will be resumed at some point or canceled altogether. Let’s assume for now that at some point it will be deemed safe to return to business. This is what the Los Angeles Lakers will need and not need to win the title.

Prior to the suspension of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers had completed over 75 percent of their regular-season schedule and held a comfortable six-game lead in the loss column over the second-place LA Clippers. Barring an unlikely collapse, they will finish with the best record and the top seed position in the Western Conference. But what do they need to do to succeed in the playoffs?

There have been all kinds of talk about how well the Lakers will or won’t do in the postseason. Fans have speculated about what they need. Let’s deal with the reality and put some of that conjecture to rest.

From the beginning of the season, the biggest roster need for the Lakers had was adding frontcourt depth. Rob Pelinka solved that problem by acquiring the versatile Markieff Morris, who should provide help in many ways that will be described later.

Despite what others claim, here are a few additions the team really doesn’t need.

1. Another 3-point shooter

The Lakers as a team are shooting a respectable 35.5 percent behind the arc while holding opponents to 34.2 percent. Five key players are shooting 35 percent or better: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (the team leader at 40 percent), Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Alex Caruso and LeBron James.

Two others, Jared Dudley and Quinn Cook, are also above the mark but only play occasionally. And the two players the team recently signed, Morris and Dion Waiters, are career 35 percent, 3-point shooters. Since neither Stephen Curry nor Klay Thompson is available, there simply isn’t a real need for another long-range shooter.

2. Another play-making guard

Let’s face it, folks. Whenever LeBron is in the lineup, plays almost always begin with him, and rightfully so. Sure, James sometimes sets up in the post, but when that happens it doesn’t take a Magic Johnson to feed him the ball.

During the 13 minutes LeBron rests, both Rajon Rondo and Caruso are perfectly capable of running the offense. Rondo blows hot and cold game-to-game, but coach Frank Vogel does an outstanding job giving more court time to those who are playing best in any given game.

3. A dependable third scoring threat

James and Anthony Davis are the best one-two scoring punch in the league, combining for 52 points per game. Fans had hoped that Kyle Kuzma would become the third scorer but unfortunately, he hasn’t stepped up on a consistent basis. So many have claimed the Lakers must add someone else to assume that role.

But one of the great things about this deep Lakers team is that someone always does fill those shoes – it’s just a different guy every time. One game it’s Kuzma, another night it’s Green, or it’s been Bradley, or KCP or Dwight Howard. Even Caruso and Rondo have an occasional good scoring night. And soon we might see Morris and/or Waiters join the list of potential third scorers.

Beyond AD and LBJ, seven different Lakers currently average between 7.0 and 12.5 points per game (and that doesn’t count Morris or Waiters). It’s a team strength that points are scored by so many players.

The Lakers average over 114 points per game. All of the six teams that rank ahead of them give up more than the 107 points the Lakers surrender. So the need for another scorer has been overblown.

However, the two new additions will impact the team in a different way. First, the Lakers made room for Morris on the roster by waiving DeMarcus Cousins, who had not played a single game for them due to injury. (He might very well re-sign the Lakers next season if he has sufficiently recovered, but that’s another story).

It does mean that Vogel now has a new player to add to the mix, creating a tough-to-manage 11-man rotation. The team also has two other reserves (Cook and Dudley) ready to fill in as needed.

Then, of course, the Lakers replaced Troy Daniels, who was not in the regular rotation, on the roster with Waiters. He was signed because he can be a shot creator, a quality they lack outside of LBJ and AD.

But once he is ready to play, Vogel will have to figure out how to use 12 players, a nearly impossible task. How will he fit Waiters into the rotation? Whose place will he take on the court?

Many fans think the odd man out should be Rondo. But Vogel, whose opinion counts much more than anybody else, values Rondo’s skills. And he’s also said that he wants to give more playing time to Caruso, who has been a tremendous spark plug and was a solid contributor to the closing lineup against Milwaukee.

Most teams cut back on the rotation in the playoffs. It will be interesting to see just what Vogel does and how he doles out minutes. Perhaps in the remaining regular-season games, he might give fewer minutes to James and Davis to conserve them for the playoffs. But once the postseason begins, which player(s) will remain on the bench?

Up until now the chemistry on the team has been outstanding. Waiters, however, has a far less-than-sterling reputation. He has burned bridges on all three other teams he’s played for, Cleveland, OKC and Miami, which suspended him more than once.

Yes, James and Davis should be able to hold him in check, but will he be worth the risk? Time will tell, but the opinion here is that he was not needed and may prove to be more of a negative factor than anticipated.

So what do the Lakers need to do to capture their 17th NBA title? Basically three things:

1. Integrate Morris into the lineup

Markieff can and should help the Lakers in at least three ways.

To begin with, Morris provides added insurance against injury to either JaVale McGee or Howard. Although each is having an excellent season and is fulfilling an important role, neither can be fully counted on to stay healthy for the entire year.

Equally as important, Morris is capable of guarding opposing bigs both in the post and on the perimeter, much like Davis does. This will help the Lakers match up against all offenses, even ones like Houston that depends almost entirely on small ball.

Finally, Morris is also an offensive threat with an NBA average of nearly 12 points per game. Before signing with the Lakers he even connected on a career-best 39 percent from behind the arc for Detroit this year. He may not score much all the time, but there will be some games where his offense shines.

It takes any player a little time to adjust to new teammates, even a nine-year unselfish veteran like Morris. It looks he’s feeling more comfortable game by game. Most importantly, he should be ready in time for the Lakers playoff run.

2. Tighten up the Defense

The Lakers have perhaps the best interior defense in the league because of the league-leading shot-blocking trio of Davis, McGee and Howard. They also have several excellent perimeter defenders led by Bradley, Green, KCP and Caruso. And their team defense is usually well above average.

Yet during some games, or at least parts of games, their defensive effort seems lackadaisical, as they showed in the first three quarters in their recent loss to the Nets. In particular, most teams want to run as often as possible against LA so they can negate the shot blockers. And too frequently the Lakers enable that approach by failing to get back quickly enough on defense.

Perhaps those lapses are just the consequences of a long season. According to conventional wisdom, the game tends to slow down anyway in the postseason. But the Lakers will need to maintain their defensive focus if they are to claim the NBA championship.

3. Improve their Late Game Offense

Following a timeout, the Lakers often successfully run a very well-designed play that results in an easy basket. Unfortunately the same approach is not used at the end of games.

Far too frequently, late in the game the ball sits in LeBron’s hands 25 feet from the basket while the other four Lakers stand around and watch. As great a player as James is, he is not a first-rate shot-maker off the dribble as both Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were.

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Where LeBron excels is driving to the hoop. But late in the game, he seldom employed that strategy (until recently), most likely for three reasons: 1 )the opposing defense is set up to stop the drive 2) officials tend to swallow their whistles on end-of-game plays and 3) James knows that, if the refs do call a foul sending him to the line, he has been a below-average free throw shooter in the final minutes of games.

As a result, LeBron too often holds onto the ball too long and ultimately launches a long, low percentage fadeaway jump shot. He is good enough to convert some of those shots, as he did in a late February win against the Celtics, but the Lakers should not put him in that position.

In recent clutch victories over the Bucks and Clippers, James showed much more of a willingness to drive to the basket. Perhaps it was the importance of the games that motivated him. Maybe it was a newfound confidence in his ability to convert foul shots.

LeBron has noticeably slowed down his approach at the free-throw line. Over the last four games he has markedly improved over what was a less than 70 percent conversion rate, connecting on 29 of 35 attempts, an 83 percent clip, although he only made one of five against Brooklyn.

The Lakers started setting picks for James in the game’s final moments against the Clippers. Hopefully, they continue to use screens along with player cuts and ball movement to set up a better look with an easier shot for players like AD, Green, KCP and LeBron himself. They should be a very difficult team to defend when the game is on the line.

Possibly Vogel has been palming that ace, for now, waiting for big games to set up late-game plays that he will also use in the postseason. That way, opposing teams haven’t been able to scout much in advance. Time will tell, but right now their end of game offense is probably the Lakers biggest weakness.


The recent victories over the other two best teams in the league, the Bucks and Clippers, were nice for the team’s confidence, but titles are not won in March. The Lakers made the move they needed most by signing Markieff Morris.

The NBA title is within their reach if they successfully incorporate Morris into their schemes offensively and defensively, focus more on the defensive end, and improve their end-of-game offense.

Next. Lakers' Ideal Western Conference Playoff Seeding. dark

All statistics courtesy of www.basketball-reference.com