After an awful start to the 2022-2023 season, Rob Pelinka and the Los Angeles Lakers front office made some roster adjustments midseason. Those midseason changes yielded extremely positive results, most notably a highly unforeseen trip to the Western Conference Finals.
After a strong finish to the 2022-2023 season, Rob Pelinka and the Lakers front office elected to make some more personnel alterations. On paper, those offseason changes seemed like the type of maneuvers that could officially catapult the franchise back to the top. In reality, the new roster has been borderline average to start the 2023-2024 season. Though the start to this campaign was not as alarming as a year ago at this time, many assumed the team would pick things up right where they left off in the 2023 postseason.
Unfortunately, that has not been the case, and we must now confront the unwarranted questioning of how things could have been different had the team stayed the same. After our previous run (the bubble run), we felt the impact almost immediately from the loss of some of those role players (JaVale McGee, Dwight Howard, Danny Green, etc).
Those guys would have certainly helped during the ensuing season. And it should go without saying that the entire Lakers organization and fanbase have not collectively moved on from the losses of Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso (clearly among the front office’s biggest regrets), and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. You never fully get that sense of what you had with guys like that until they are gone, but everyone felt the impact that followed the exits of those fellas.
So, could some of the good men the Lakers lost this summer be of assistance today?
*Please note that these are only guys that finished the season with the Lakers. Any team can always use a locker room guy like Patrick Beverley*
The Lakers could use the help of:
Lonnie Walker IV, Malik Beasley, Tristan Thompson, and Dennis Schroder.
The entire universe would have to agree that the biggest things presently hampering the Lakers (aside from health) are shooting and rebounding. Shooting is more than likely the most sought-after skill in the modern NBA, and it has almost evolved into a requirement for playing time in the present. With so much emphasis on shooting the ball, the magnitude of rebounding the rock has also amplified. That is not to say it has not always been a staple ingredient of victory, but as the overall pace of the sport has picked up so too has the amount of shot opportunities. With an uptick in shot opportunities comes an uptick in rebound opportunities.
Right now, the Lakers are not taking advantage of their shot or rebounding opportunities.
The team, which looked perfectly competent from beyond the arc in the preseason, has completely floundered from outside to start the season. Defense is the name of the game, but if you are a team that cannot hit shots than you simply cannot be considered a legitimate title contender anymore. That is especially true if your key role players cannot hit shots consistently.
D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves and Taurean Prince were thought to be three of the squad’s most trusted marksmen from long range. None of them are shooting even league average to begin the year. Max Christie and Gabe Vincent (in the brief times that we have seen them) have just been bad shooters so far. In the case of Vincent so far, that is all caps, italicized and bolded BAD.
Meanwhile, Lonnie Walker IV and Malik Beasley are off to tremendous starts with their new clubs. Beasley has started every game in Milwaukee and has hit his treys at a hair below 40%. Fans were quick to erase him from their memory after a tough trial in LA, but were he knocking down those same jumpers today next to LeBron and AD he would be a fan favorite. Lonnie Walker is currently in the midst of his best start to a season, pumping in a shade under 17 points per night in Brooklyn. More importantly, he is scorching the net at over 46%, putting him comfortably in the class of the league’s top shooting threats in the early stages of the 2023-2024 NBA season. That type of shot-making would have made a world of difference for the Lakers in the early chapters of the schedule.
Shot-making has been an embarrassment for the Lakers, but not the only area the team should be ashamed of. The Lakers have been getting pummeled on the boards, and most notably the offensive boards. While he may not have been the hottest name in terms of available big men this offseason, the frontcourt could surely use a bruising type of big like Tristan Thompson right now. He has never been afraid to throw his body around and would offer a heightened sense of physicality behind Anthony Davis which Christian Wood and Jaxson Hayes simply cannot. He would not solve all of their problems, but he could unquestionably assist in shoring up the team’s struggles in keeping opponents off the glass.
It seems like there were mixed feelings when Dennis Schroder was effectively replaced with Gabe Vincent. On one hand, fans and reporters were high on Vincent’s fit in Los Angeles. On the other hand, Schroder was a subtly major contributor to this team a season ago. His defensive pressure was invaluable, with that being especially the case after Pat Bev’s departure. Schroder has thrived in his time with Toronto so far, and it is good to see him shining. If he can continue hitting his outside shots (currently shooting a career high 39.5% from 3), then his loss will linger a bit more closely to the foreground as time goes on. However, if he reverts back to his streaky shooting ways and Gabe Vincent can establish a rhythm upon returning from injury, the Lakers should not think too deeply into what could have been with Dennis the Menace.
The lakers do not necessarily need:
Mo Bamba, Troy Brown Jr, Wenyen Gabriel, and Shaquille Harrison.
Referencing back to the value of shooting and rebounding, the player that Mo Bamba is could be useful in theory. In the past, he has been a big body capable of stretching the floor, protecting the rim, and battling on the boards. However, he was hardly utilized by the Lakers after coming over from Orlando last season. Now, he is hardly seeing the floor behind Joel Embiid in Philadelphia. His primary calling card is his outside stroke, being that his slender frame prevents him from being a full-blown control mechanism on the boards. If he is not hitting his shots, which he is not, than the thought of having him back becomes much less attractive.
Troy Brown Jr. was an admirable member of last year’s team. He never did anything spectacular, but he stayed healthy and was always available to do what was asked of him on the court. On the court, he played decent defense on the perimeter, hit jumpers at a solid clip, and helped out on the boards as much as he could. He may have been a bit more ready to contribute than Cam Reddish right away given that he already had a full season to play with the core guys, but Reddish has more potential to grow into something greater.
With guys like Reddish, Taurean Prince, and Max Christie in the fold, there just was not much of a need for TBJ. So far with the Timberwolves, he has not done much of anything to make the front office regret on not retaining him.
Wenyen Gabriel showcased glimpses of solid potential throughout his time with the team, but he was another guy whose loss never seemed to receive much backlash. Being an undersized big with a shaky jump shot never bodes well in the present, as evidenced by Gabriel’s ongoing pursuit of his next official contract from an NBA roster. His energy was always refreshing, but his overall lack of size at the 5 would not have helped the team much in it’s quest to control the rebounding concerns.
Shaquille Harrison is another guy from last season’s squad who is currently seeking an NBA contract. His defensive instincts and intangibles are nice to have on the end of your bench, but there is a reason why he has never truly found his place in the league. He has never developed a respectable jump shot, and does not bring much to the table in terms of offense.
Having him around would be nice in the event that some of the other wings normally tasked with the most difficult assignments went down, but many probably did not even realize he was on this roster to close out the 2023 postseason.