How is it that the Los Angeles Lakers display an individual demise while still dominating the league?
It is no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers are one of the deepest teams in the NBA. Thanks to an outstanding and highly successful offseason, unusual for a team that just won the championship, Rob Pelinka replenished his ranks in the wake of several key players leaving LA for a better paycheck.
The Lakers are currently sitting on the top of the mountain once again with an 11-3 record, proving their dominance on both ends of the floor.
But if we take a look at the individual numbers, we will notice how the production of every single player (with the sole exceptions of Talen Horton-Tucker, who was a rookie and did not get a real chance to play until the bubble, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) has dropped compared to last season.
How is that possible for the Los Angeles Lakers?
They are the best team in the league with every member making a step back? To understand why this is happening we must look at the big picture and get back to the beginning, or, better, the end (of last season).
After winning the 2020 NBA championship, the Lakers could not enjoy some normal rest to recharge and get ready for the following season. Instead, they got through the shortest offseason in the history of the league.
Playing their last game on October 11th, they would have the 2020/21 season opener scheduled for barely two months and a half later (just two months the preseason).
Therefore, it was to be expected that they would not push the gas from the beginning, given the short time to rest and heal they were given, to preserve their players for the long run. With this in mind and the chemistry to build with a bunch of new players on the rosters, a rocky start would not have been a surprise, nor something to be worried.
Much like 2019/20, the Lakers had another slow start, losing to the Los Angeles Clippers in the season opener, and went 2-2 through the first four games. Yet, after that, they never looked back and following with a 9-1 run.
The crazy thing is that they are really taking a cautious approach and preserving their stars. LA’s roster depth has allowed them to dominate the league so far without having to overuse their main rotation players.
I mean, they are unfairly deep.
First and foremost, no Laker has been playing more than 31 minutes per game. More incredibly, 11 players are logging at least 15 minutes per game. This means Frank Vogel is going with a full 11 player rotation.
And two guys like Quinn Cook and Alfonzo McKinnie, who currently sit at the end of the bench getting just three minutes in blow out victories, could easily crack the rotations in a mediocre team without the absurd quantity of talent the Lakers have.
With this level of talent, bodies and chemistry the most logical outcome is for everyone’s stats to see a reduction in the name of team play and success. And that is exactly what is happening. Furthermore, this stat-drop involves also the best players on the roster. Yes sir, even the dynamic duo of Los Angeles has been having the chance to give up its fair share of responsibilities, able to steadily rely more on the supporting cast.
LeBron James is playing a career-low 31 minutes per game and averaging a career-low, as well, 24.1 points. The same goes for Anthony Davis, who is putting together the lowest figures since his rookie and sophomore seasons.
This is possible since the Los Angeles Lakers added a lot of pieces around them in the offseason. The front office managed to address the only issue that plagued them last year. The lack of a reliable bench that could hold its own when those two (especially LeBron) were out of the game.
And how do you address this need? Well, pretty easy. Getting the two best sixth men in the NBA.
The biggest necessity, a playmaker capable of creating scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates, was delivered in the form of Sixth Man of the Year finalist Dennis Schröder.
Although starting at point guard, he spends a lot of time with the second unit, giving James the chance to rest without giving up big leads when he is on the bench. By the way, the German’s numbers dropped since last year too, from 18.9 points per game to 14.2.
More help came with Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell, boosting further the bench’s productivity.
In addition, the emergence of Talen Horton-Tucker gave LA another weapon to count on.
This newfound depth is giving the Lakers the luxury to manage their players, providing the maximum rest possible and easing them into the new season, while still performing at the highest level team-wise.
So they will be ready to increase their load and playing level when things will start to pick up later in the season, without having taken the risk of getting injured or fatigued due to the unusual schedule.
The Brooklyn Nets might have just added James Harden and formed a formidable big three, but with this juggernaut roster, the Los Angeles Lakers remain the primary force in the league and the favorite to the championship.