The Los Angeles Lakers made a flurry of trades close to and at the trade deadline that revamped their roster in a major way. What is the overall impact? Did they improve the team, and if so, how much?
First, let’s look at the roster changes:
Outgoing Los Angeles Lakers:
- Patrick Beverley
- Thomas Bryant
- Damian Jones
- Kendrick Nunn
- Juan Tosacano-Anderson
- Russell Westbrook
Incoming Los Angeles Lakers:
- Mo Bamba
- Malik Beasley
- Rui Hachimura
- Davon Reed
- D’Angelo Russell
- Jarred Vanderbilt
The roster that GM Rob Pelinka assembled last summer had three major weaknesses; a lack of reliable outside shooters, not enough size on the perimeter and too many guards. How well did the midseason moves address these weaknesses?
For starters, they lost Bryant, a good-shooting big man who led the Lakers with a 44% three-point shooting percentage. But at 35%, Beverley was hitting nearly three percentage points below his career average on long-distance shots. Meanwhile, Nunn was shooting only 32% from deep, Westbrook just 30% and JTA a miserable 20%.
The guys the Lakers brought in should do a better job. Russell is shooting 39% from beyond the arc, Beasley 36% and Hachimura 35%, none of which are radically different from their career marks.
Secondly, Hachimura provides size on the wing that they previously lacked. Although he is not as good a defender as JTA, Rui is a better rebounder and a far bigger offensive threat.
Lastly, the Lakers jettisoned two of their smallish guards, Beverley and Nunn, along with Westbrook, who plays bigger than his height would indicate. Dennis Schroder, who remains with the team, is listed at 6-3 but plays smaller.
But Russell and Beasley both provide greater backcourt size. So does Reed, but he’s not likely to crack the rotation, as well as the remaining 6-5 swingmen Austin Reaves and 6-4 Lonnie Walker.
The strengths and weaknesses of the players the Lakers traded for:
The Lakers essentially swapped Bryant’s offense for Bamba’s defense. But Vanderbilt, who is a strong inside defender and rebounder but not much of an offensive threat, and 6-9 Wenyen Gabriel, who remained with the team, will push Bamba for minutes backing up both Anthony Davis at center and LeBron James at power forward.
All three should play more than the seldom-used Jones. The Lakers’ defense has been more of a concern than the offense, so much as Bryant will be missed, the team should benefit from the changes.
The two Russells could hardly be more different. The oft-criticized Westbrook could rarely be faulted for his effort and played surprisingly well enough off the bench this season to garner support for sixth man of the year consideration. And he was always a threat to penetrate the defense and get to the rim.
His passing, however, was erratic. One trip down the court he’d make a great feed to a teammate, but on the next trip his pass would end up in the stands. Turnovers were a problem for him and of course, his outside shooting was a major weakness.
D’Angelo, returning to the team that drafted him in 2015, is a natural shooter, both off the dribble and after catching a pass. He’s also a good passer who averaged 6.2 assists this season with the T-wolves. And although Russell will not beat many defenders driving to the hoop, he takes better care of the ball.
Westbrook needs the ball in his hands to be effective and it was immediately obvious to most observers that he’d never be a good fit with LeBron, who has always run the offense everywhere he’s played.
The type of player who complements James best is someone who can spot up away from the ball. Then, when the defense collapses on him, LeBron can find him for the open jumper. Because of his shooting ability, DAR could be an excellent fit, much more so than Westbrook could be.
Defensively, when he set his mind to it, Westbrook could be a better man defender because of his athleticism. But DAR has been a superior team defender.
So at least on paper, the Lakers should be better off with D’Angelo Russell at the point than with Russell Westbrook.
Beverley and JTA provided very little offensively. Both Hachimura and Beasley are much bigger outside threats, and along with DAR and remaining players Reaves, Walker and Troy Brown should provide more offensive firepower alongside Davis and James than we are accustomed to watching.
However, both Beasley and Walker are deficient defensively, so coach Darvin Ham will have to manage his rotations carefully.
One aspect of the Westbrook trade
It’s best to look at the moves as a whole rather than focusing on any one trade. The exception, however, is the need to consider one possible outcome of the Westbrook trade.
The contracts for both Russells expire after this season. If the Lakers do not re-sign DAR, they essentially dealt their #1 pick in 2027, when LeBron is presumably no longer with the team, for two one-way players, Beasley and Vanderbilt. Four years from now this may cause much anguish and regret.
For now, Pelinka has undoubtedly constructed a stronger, more diverse Lakers roster. The team now has far more offensive threats and better rim protection, providing a greater chance of moving up in the standings and qualifying for the playoffs.
But let’s not forget that Western Conference competitors have added two of the game’s best players, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. With a healthy Durant, the Phoenix Suns could become the team to beat in the West. And the combination of Irving and Luca Doncic could cause nightmare matchups for opponents of the Dallas Mavericks.
Unless chemistry issues surface, it now becomes much more difficult, if not impossible, for the Lakers to pass either of those teams. Nor is it likely they can catch the Clippers if Kawhi Leonard and Paul George remain healthy. And it would take a collapse by either of the two teams currently on top in the West, Denver and Memphis, to pass them in the standings.
That leaves the Lakers fighting it out with six other teams, the Kings, Pelicans, Timberwolves, Warriors, Blazers and Thunder (assuming the Jazz take a tumble as expected), for 6th place, the remaining automatic playoff spot, and the four play-in positions, 7th through 10th place.
There is one potential buyout target that would stand above the rest for the Los Angeles Lakers and he might actually be available.
Still, there’s a better possibility of that happening now than there was before the trade deadline, especially if both AD and LeBron stay healthy and continue to play at a high level.