The Los Angeles Lakers have a revamped roster that is going to have to fit well together to succeed.
A seventy-one-day offseason registers as the shortest in American sports history — and that’s what the defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers are facing.
General manager Rob Pelinka took the bull by the horns directly following their Game 6 victory over Miami in the Orlando bubble, trading for runner-up Sixth Man of the Year candidate Dennis Schroder before signing the winner of that award, Montrezl Harrell.
They also signed Wesley Matthews and Marc Gasol in all to replace Danny Green, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo and Javale McGee.
All year long in the 2019-2020 campaign, the most prominent critique that dominated Laker headlines was the lack of production in the non-LeBron James minutes. Part of that was “Well yeah, any team should regress when that guy goes to the bench,” but it was more than that.
Outside of Rajon Rondo’s explosion and turning-back-of-the-clock in the bubble, the Lakers didn’t have a playmaking luxury to resort to. The additions of Schroder and Harrell surely aid in that department.
Those two combined for 37.5 points per game off the pine last year for OKC and LAC, respectively, The Lakers bench as a whole combined for 38.8, so we can expect a projected uptick in bench scoring for them beginning on December 22nd.
Furthermore, via pbpstats.com, teams outscored the Lakers by 4.88 points per 100 possessions in the regular season when LeBron was off and Rondo and Davis were on. “Playoff Rondo” however did show up in Orlando.
In terms of the actual basketball, the Lakers’ pick-and-roll attack should be even more dangerous for a number of reasons. For one, LeBron will theoretically have less on-ball volume which should enhance the times when he is on it.
Schroder, while no Chris Paul in the pick-and-roll, can certainly provide net positive minutes in that creation role because of his cleverness, elusiveness and touch around the paint.
Exhibit B (0:30-0:40):
Secondly, Harrell is an elite rim runner, screen setter and can play out of the short roll, either with LeBron as the ball-handler or Schroder. He’s also adept at flipping the direction of his screen, which goes hand in hand with Schroder’s ball-handling and agility at the point of attack in getting downhill.
A very possible scenario is that the Lakers have too many options to resort to in crunch time, which is a good problem to have. Of course this raises the concern of playing Harrell and Davis together, since Harrell is a non-shooter and would probably push Davis out to the perimeter more than you’d like.
Regardless, Harrell’s quickness while slipping screens and his awareness in the short roll are evidenced here.
Exhibit A (0:11-0:16):
Exhibit B (4:02-4:09):
With that, I’m not sure Vogel will go to Harrell in closing minutes of crucial games over someone like Marc Gasol (or even Caruso/KCP/Matthews if they want to go small with Davis at center), but that’s a wait and see thing.
Gasol poses a threat as a secondary playmaker in the short roll similar to Harrell (something McGee and Howard didn’t do), which bodes well if he’s out there with LeBron and shooters.
The biggest question for the Lakers with all these new pieces is finding the ideal complimentary fifth guy. It’s safe to assume the closing lineup will feature a combination of LeBron, Davis, KCP and Matthews.
That fifth guy may vary between Caruso for perimeter disruption and smarts, Gasol for playmaking and post defense (against the Nuggets!) or Kyle Kuzma if he’s feeling it. It’s very situational, but ultimately a nice problem to have as the reigning champs.
Danny Green’s departure as part of the trade for Schroder was basically nullified once they signed Wesley Matthews. Per NBA.com/stats, Matthews finished in the 81st percentile as a spot-up shooter for the Bucks last season, on a 28% frequency (1.15PPP).
For off-screen ending possessions, he finished in the 66th percentile. Conversely, Danny Green on those two actions for the Lakers finished in the 70th and 25th percentile, respectively.
While the offenses differ stylistically, Matthews was statistically a more effective shooter last year. You’d also have to assume the majority of his FGA will be spot-up threes, capitalizing on the help from LeBron James drives and Anthony Davis’ post-ups.
On defense, while Green is good, Matthews is also known to be as well. One could argue he’s even a tad more mobile on the perimeter. Retaining Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the presumable jump Alex Caruso will take should bolster the perimeter defense, if not maintain it anyways.
Transitioning to a 72-game regular season because of a shortened calendar window, scaling down the workload of the Lakers superstar-duo is much more tenable with Harrell and Schroder now coming off the bench. LA’s number one priority should theoretically be to limit those two early on so they can ramp up for the Playoffs.
Fit matters a lot, and the Lakers additions to the roster (I haven’t even mentioned them resigning Markieff Morris, who was vital to them last year), fit that mold, maybe aside from pairing Davis and Harrell, as broached previously.
With that, if Davis takes a leap as a *consistent* perimeter shooter, that may not matter. As presently constructed, the Lakers’ “worst” player aside from Talen-Horton-Tucker is…Kyle Kuzma? That’s a loaded roster.
Regarding other top teams in the West, the Clippers’ addition of Serge Ibaka is important, but they didn’t address their *biggest* need, which is backcourt playmaking. Not having someone who can consistently create open looks (not Beverly) while also having someone who isn’t a massive net negative on defense (not Lou Williams) really put the Clippers in a bind this year and strained Kawhi Leonard.
They might have the least dynamic guards in the West, among contenders. Portland added wing depth, but do they really challenge the Lakers? The Mavericks, Suns and Warriors should all be in the mix, maybe the Warriors less so because of the Klay Thompson injury, but the Lakers 10-man rotation looks to have an edge.
When your two best players are LeBron James and Anthony Davis, your championship equity starts at a “floor level” that isn’t comparable to other teams. What’s scary is that many pundits believe the Lakers roster improved heading into next year.