Through 12 games this season, the Los Angeles Lakers, in typical Laker fashion, have had significant ups and downs; from seemingly being unable to win a first quarter to seeing Anthony Davis start what could be an MVP/DPOY-type season. The team has had both returners and new faces alike out-perform and underperform to this point.
One of the more disappointing aspects of the season has come in the form of the ole purple and gold injury bug. Los Angeles has been without players such as Gabe Vincent, Jalen Hood-Schifino, Rui Hachimura (who has since returned and is playing fantastically), and most importantly, Jarred Vanderbilt. While not debilitating, losing these players certainly has not given us the complete picture of what this team could be.
One of the bright sides to this season so far has been the emergence of Cam Reddish. Over the last four games, Reddish has averaged 15.2 points per game, shooting 52% from three, and most importantly, 2.8 steals per game. He’s specifically been a defensive menace on the perimeter, averaging five pass deflections a game, which ranks him third in the league over that span.
It has been great seeing a talented player like Reddish finally have stability and confidence instilled in him here in Los Angeles through both his coaches and teammates, and while Reddish’s growth has been a welcoming site, it means even more with the arrival of one of the injured Lakers return on the horizon.
Lakers will have an elite defensive lineup once Jarred Vanderbilt returns
The team announced on Monday that forward Jarred Vanderbilt has been cleared to begin a “return to play progression.” His return couldn’t come at a better time, especially with Reddish’s emergence as a defensive asset.
As referenced earlier, Anthony Davis has been putting on a show worthy of early Defensive Player of the Year consideration. The Lakers big has tallied up a league-leading 3.4 blocks per game, often forcing guards to rethink their decision to drive into the paint only to run back to the three-point line to reset the offense.
With Reddish’s newfound success out on the perimeter, the imagination runs wild with what a combination of him and Vanderbilt would look like against opposing teams. Reddish, being 6’7 with a 7’1 wingspan, paired with Vanderbilt, who’s reportedly grown to 6’10-6’11 and also has a 7’1 wingspan, creates problems for most, if not all, teams in the league.
The pairing’s ability to quickly navigate screens and length to make up lost ground provides a weapon for the team’s defense that I’m not sure another team in the league has. When you have two defenders of that caliber shutting down plays from the perimeter and funneling players into the best defensive player on the planet waiting in the paint, it leaves you with little to do as an offense.
Let’s say they can put out a lineup of D’Angelo Russell, Cam Reddish, LeBron James, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Anthony Davis on the floor. If the Lakers were to send out this lineup, I’m not quite sure who would be able to consistently and effectively score at any of the three levels.
That’s three high-caliber defenders in Davis, Vanderbilt, and Reddish, while also having LeBron and Russell (who’s been great on the weak side and recovery defense) all on the floor at once. The smallest player would be Russell at 6’4, making this lineup a far cry from the guard-heavy lineups we’ve seen in seasons past.
While it’s all still hypothetical at this point, the concept of the defense should be worrisome enough to have coaches across the league already preparing for what’s to come.