Early-season report card: Grading every player on the Lakers roster

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers: Championship - 2023 NBA In-Season Tournament
Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers: Championship - 2023 NBA In-Season Tournament / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

On Saturday the Los Angeles Lakers won the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament. That's cause for a big celebration, right?

Actually, it's a nice achievement but the victory doesn't even count in the standings, nor do the player stats impact their season averages or totals. And once the NBA playoffs arrive, that "championship" will be long forgotten.

Besides, beating New Orleans and Indiana by double digits in single games in November is not exactly equivalent to winning 4 of 7 games against Denver and either Milwaukee or Boston in May and June.  That's the team's real goal this season.

So here's the important question: Is the team on track to compete for a title? Let's take a look at how all the individual players on the roster doing so far and assign grades to each player, based on expectations as well as performance.

Grading every player on the Los Angeles Lakers:

Max Christie: C+

After an outstanding Summer League season, many assumed that Christie was ready to take the next step forward and be a productive part of the rotation. However, he got off to a very shaky start, averaging under 3 points per game in his first 9 games while racking up 5 DNPs. 

But when Max was forced into action due to injuries he responded with much better play. In his last 9 games, he's averaged 7 PPG while shooting 37% on 3's and displaying impressive defense.

When the Lakers are 100% healthy, he may get buried back on the bench. But at just age 20 his future is promising.

Anthony Davis: A

Often criticized by fans for his injuries in past seasons, he's only missed one game so far this year. So far he's averaged 23 points (not counting his monster 41-point game against Indiana), 13 rebounds (second in the league), 3 assists and nearly 3 blocks a game (again, second in the NBA).

He is among the Lakers' top free throw shooters, 84%, which is a good thing since he leads the team in attempts. He is frequently double-teamed in the low post, which is why his field goal attempts are down slightly. And he is the anchor of a defense that is becoming one of the league's best.

Many expect AD to climb into the upper echelon of NBA stars. Well, guess what? His statistics are matched or exceeded by a few players in the league not named Jokic, Giannis, or Embiid. Overall, he is having an outstanding all-star-worthy season.

Rui Hachimura: B-

Much was expected of Hachimura after his impressive showing in last season's playoffs and a summer spent training with LeBron James. Injuries, however, have limited him to just 14 games and slowed him down in others. His overall stats are actually pretty good. He is averaging 11.4 points while shooting 50% from the field and 40% from deep.

But Rui isn't impacting the game as much as anticipated. Perhaps now that the in-season tournament has ended and the Lakers are nearly at full strength, Coach Darvin Ham will get serious about his plan to limit LeBron to 30 minutes a game. That, along with Rui's expected full recovery, would likely result in increased court time and expanded opportunities.

Jaxson Hayes: C

When Hayes signed with the Lakers this summer, it looked like Hayes would be the team's primary backup center. But when they later added Christian Wood, nobody was certain what to expect.

Hayes has played in 20 games but only 11 minutes per game, his career low. That probably accounts for his career lows in points, 3.1, rebounds, 1.7, and free throw percentage, 55%. Yet that doesn't seem to affect his enthusiasm or attitude and he seems to enjoy playing for a winning team. 

LeBron James: A+

In his 21st season, his performance is unprecedented in the NBA, rivaled only by Tom Brady in the NFL. LeBron is somehow averaging 25 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6.6 assists. even though he is close to career lows in minutes, 33, and shot attempts, 17. The soon-to-be 39-year-old is shooting near his career highs in overall field goals and 3-pointers.

James remains a nearly unstoppable force driving to the hoop and is showing the world how well he can still play when he's healthy. The biggest question for both him and the Lakers remains: Will he be injury-free for this season's playoffs? When he fell to the floor holding his knee against Indiana, Lakers fans held their collective breaths until he shook it off.

Ham wants to reduce the wear and tear of a long season by limiting him to 30 minutes per game. Hopefully, he can now start implementing that plan.

Taurean Prince: B

The Lakers signed Prince to be a 3 and D threat at the small forward position, essentially replacing Troy Brown Jr. The career 37% long-distance shooter vowed to connect on 40% of his attempts. But so far he has only hit on 36%.

He has started every game to date, although that might change once Jarred Vanderbilt is at full speed. Overall, Prince has performed pretty much as expected, averaging 9 ppg, although his free throw percentage is a career-low 72%. Perhaps if he does come off the bench he'll have more opportunities to showcase his skills. 

Austin Reaves: B+

The fan favorite got off to a slow start, perhaps because he played year-round basketball, including a summer with Team USA. In his first 5 games, he averaged only 11 points while shooting 35% overall and just 21% behind the arc. Ham moved him to the bench in an effort to get him going.

Perhaps that helped, but his offensive resurgence is now in full gear and his overall numbers are up to 14/47%/33% along with 4.7 assists, 4.7 rebounds and a team-leading 86% on FTs. And again, that doesn't include his 28-point outburst against Indiana. He's still logging plenty of minutes with both AD and LeBron while also providing an offensive spark off the bench reminiscent of John Havlicek.

Overall, Reaves has become a major contributor to the Lakers' success, ranking 4th in ppg, 3rd in assists, 5th and climbing in 3-point percentage and even 5th in rebounding. His slow start prevented a higher mark but he's strongly trending upwards.

Cam Reddish: B

Reddish has become one of the team's unsung signings. The 2019 top-ten pick had bounced around the league with three different teams without living up to his supposed potential. There didn't seem to be much reason to expect differently this season, although Ham, who was an assistant coach with him in Atlanta, immediately expressed confidence in Reddish

His defense stood out in the early games. After moving into the starting lineup, his offense started to pick up as well. His modest stats don't jump off the page (7th leading team scorer at 7 ppg) but he's established himself, along with Vanderbilt, as the team's best perimeter defender. Reddish has also hit several key 3-pointers from the corner. He's certainly performed better than anticipated.

D'Angelo Russell: A-

Ever since the Western Conference Finals, D-Lo has been roundly criticized by Lakers fans. Yes, his performance in those 4 games was horrendous. But it's time to get over it and instead evaluate objectively what he brings to the team on the court.

By any impartial judgment, Russell is having an excellent start to this season. He ranks 3rd on the team in scoring and 2nd in assists with per-game averages of 16.7 and 6.3. He leads the team in 3-point percentage (a career-high 40.5%) and is shooting 48% overall, also his best ever. His turnovers are at a career-low 1.8 and he's 4th on the team in free-throw percentage at 78%.

His defense is also markedly improved. In fact, the only legitimate criticism is that his scoring is inconsistent game-to-game, but that's nothing new. If he continues to play at this level, all the potential trade rumors can cease and desist because the front office won't part with him.

Christian Wood: C-

Most fans were very excited when the Lakers signed Wood just before training camp. Many thought he'd step right into the starting lineup despite his defensive deficiencies.

But the Lakers coaches and front office saw him as a reserve who would sub in for AD, and sometimes play beside him. The results have been uneven. 

Wood has had a handful of good games but also several ones where he contributed little. In the tournament, he didn't play at all against Phoenix or Indiana and only entered the game in garbage time against New Orleans. Overall he has not performed up to expectations.

Two key players have too small a sample to be graded. Gabe Vincent has only played 4 games before being injured, and his performance was subpar. Jarred Vanderbilt only recently returned from injury and is displaying the brand of tough defense and hustle plays that every team needs.

Not surprisingly, none of the five rookies, Colin Castleton, Alex Fudge, D'Moi Hodge, Jalen Hood-Schifino and Maxwell Lewis, have played enough games or been given enough opportunity to warrant a grade yet. 

The bottom line is this: if Davis, James, Reaves and Russell continue their outstanding play, if Hachimura steps up his game a bit, if Prince, Reddish and Vanderbilt contribute strong defense and occasional scoring, and if either Hayes or Wood proves to be a decent back-up big, the Lakers will be a very competitive team.

The good news: it is reasonable to expect that every "if" in that formula can be attained.

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