5. Defense = Rings
When the Los Angeles Lakers entered training camp they were woefully short of players who would get down in the trenches and do the dirty work, particularly on the defensive side. That became perhaps the team’s greatest weakness once Ariza was injured.
Most of the other new guys were offensive specialists, scorers who had never been known for their ability to guard others. That created an almost impossible situation for Coach Frank Vogel.
The first step in the right direction was signing Bradley. Although he’s not particularly quick or fleet of foot, he gets right in the face of the man he’s defending, usually the opposing point guard, and does as good a job as anyone can to slow him down.
Next was the surprising play of Reaves, who was originally signed to a two-way contract. But his play in training camp earned him a regular roster spot. Even then, few expected him to play much. Yet his hustle and willingness to do all the little things on the court has won the support of Vogel.
Ariza finally returned but then the onslaught of Covid-19 forced several Laker players to enter league protocol. Pelinka wisely took the final step by signing Stanley Johnson to a 10-day contract. The #7 pick of the 2015 draft had played for three different NBA teams and never shot as high as 40% for a season.
Even though he led state Santa Ana Mater Dei to four state high school titles, Johnson was never a natural scorer. But he is a hard-working defender who plays exactly the role the Lakers need. He has started 5 of his 7 games for the team, not scoring much but playing strong D and making effort plays every game. He earned a second 10-day contract and chances are excellent that he’ll stay with the team for the rest of the season.
Collectively, Ariza, Bradley, Johnson and Reaves give the Lakers four “dirty work” players who Vogel can call upon when needed. These role-players won’t make many highlight reels, but they are the kind of players that are on the roster of every winning team.
Second Half Outlook
So what’s the realistic outlook for the second half of the season? For the Lakers to be successful they need Davis to return and play at a level at least approaching how he performed in the team’s 2020 title season.
They also hope that when Nunn is cleared to play he will adjust quickly to new teammates and assume leadership of the second unit. Finally, they need to stay healthy
If all those things happen, the Lakers suddenly have a deep, talented team as envisioned last summer. Additionally, they are unlikely to make a major midseason trade but might still sign a waived veteran in the next month, which could help even more.
But the Lakers still have much to prove. They can start by winning games against some of the league’s best teams, something they haven’t yet done.
Does it mean the team will win this year’s championship? The odds are still stacked against that, but it is also too soon for fans to give up on them. The players believe in themselves and a sustained Lakers postseason run is not a far-fetched notion.
All statistics courtesy of www.basketball-reference.com