The Los Angeles Lakers had some great offseason additions. However, with those additions come several questions.
Rob Pelinka should be the front runner for the Executive of the Year award. He somehow managed to make a championship team even better. Not content with winning a ring, Pelinka went to work and did a masterful job of retooling a contending but flawed roster. Let me be clear, the Los Angeles Lakers are champions in spite of their offense.
One of the major concerns heading into their championship defense was how much the Lakers struggled to generate offense without LeBron James on the floor. With LeBron off the floor, the Lakers plummeted from the best offense in the league to the middle of the pack.
Rajon Rondo helped address those issues in the playoff with his stellar play (I’m still sorry for that article Rajon), but he left for the Atlanta Hawks in free agency. Even with his playoff contributions, Rondo is 34 years old and he has well-documented issues during the regular season.
Enter Dennis Schroder. The point guard came in a trade for Danny Green and a first-round pick. Schroder had his best regular season to date and was a huge contributor to the Oklahoma City Thunder’s surprise postseason appearance. Here’s why Schroder’s addition is so important for the Lakers:
Schroder’s role is very clear: scoring off the bench. The German point guard averaged 18.9 ppg last season with a True Shooting percentage of 57.5%. For context, he would’ve been the unquestioned third-best scorer on the team last season as no player aside from AD and Lebron averaged more than 13ppg.
In a season in which we might see LeBron and AD take some games off, it is important to have a player of Schroder’s caliber that can take over if needed. My question for this addition would be:
How much do you play him alongside LeBron and if he would be part of the Lakers closing lineup?
Keep in mind that Schroder is not a particularly great shooter (he’s only shot better than 35% from beyond the arc twice in his career) and he likes to have the ball in his hands (he had a usage rate of 27.2% last season) so we will see how much Frank Vogel will have Schroder and LeBron sharing the court.
Moving on to another backcourt addition. In order to fill in Danny Green’s role, the Lakers went out and signed Wesley Matthews. Whether Laker fans want to admit it or not, Green is still an effective player in a specific role.
He just had a rough season, particularly during the playoffs, and his $15M price tag doesn’t help. Wesley Matthews can bring the same qualities Green brought to the table, perimeter defense and three-point shooting, at a much more tolerable $3.6M price tag. Both players shot around 36% from three last season and their playing styles are very much alike.
Can Matthews provide or even exceed Green’s production from last season?
Again, Green was not a bad player last season. Fans just derided him for his massive salary and cold shooting stretches. But he was still an integral part of a championship-winning machine.
Now to the two surprises. Let’s begin with the Montezl Harrell signing. Harrell is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year and again seems to have been brought to bolster the bench’s scoring output. Most fans were left befuddled by his play in the playoffs, particularly against the Denver Nuggets, due to his inability to hang with Nikola Jokic.
Harrell is certainly not a lockdown defender and he’s too short to guard most elite center (he’s listed at 6’7). Offensively, he is probably the best roll man in the league as he and Lou Williams formed a lethal pick & roll combination with the Clippers.
Harrell generated 1.31 points per possession as the roll man and ranked in the 81st percentile in those types of plays. He was also ridiculously efficient on his shots as the roll man making 69.7% (!!!) of his attempts as the roll man.
Can Harrell replicate that type of success in the pick & roll on the Lakers?
I would like to see them try and replicate that type of success with LeBron James as the main ballhandler. After all, James is one of the greatest playmakers of all time so his fit alongside Harrell on this type of play should be very interesting (James generated .99 points per possession and ranked in the 83rd percentile in the pick & roll as the ballhandler).
Schroder on the other hand is a bigger question mark. Assuming both players come off the bench, Schroder and Harrell might share some playing time on the court. Last year, Schroder was not a great pick & roll ballhandler as he ranked in the 51st percentile and he ran that type of play with more frequency than LeBron. Maybe it was more of a personnel issue but that is still a huge question mark.
Finally, we have Marc Gasol. Coming back to the team who drafted him (and traded him for his older brother) makes for great storytelling. But moving on to the basketball side there are some legitimate questions for Gasol (not his fit, I think his fit is great). Gasol will turn 36 this season and he looked every part of his age in his playoff series against the Boston Celtics.
Some might point to the bubble (which is fair) while others might point to the matchup (I tend to side with this one). The Celtics had a plethora of wings and their center rotation consisted mostly of Daniel Theis, Robert Williams, and he sometimes had to face Grant Williams. Those players are all on the shorter side and it doesn’t help that they’re all in their 20s.
On offense, Gasol had the second-worst shooting season of his career (42.7%), but he actually made his threes at a decent clip (38.5% on 3.4 attempts per game). His real value though comes on the defensive side of the ball, Gasol is still an excellent post and paint defender. From 15 feet or more, Gasol allowed a defensive field goal percentage of just 35.3%.
Will Gasol be able to contribute enough in 20-25 minutes of play or was the bubble a sign of a decline?
This one is a bit trickier but he showed that he still might have enough on the tank to contribute to the well-executed Laker championship defense.
As previously mentioned, Rob Pelinka had a heck of an offseason. He assembled a team with a clear message to LeBron and AD: our time to win is now. With championship windows becoming increasingly shorter, Pelinka went to work and provided Frank Vogel and his staff a team worthy of a repeat. The Lakers are on top of the world and they just might stay there.