The Los Angeles Lakers currently hold the best record in the NBA, being 9-3. The league has gotten even stronger from last year, but have their changes kept them as the best team in the league?
The Lakers changed their championship roster for the better this offseason making big improvements. Here’s how the Los Angeles Lakers improved.
The Lakers lost:
- JaVale McGee
- Dwight Howard
- Danny Green
- Rajon Rondo
- Avery Bradley
- J.R. Smith
- Dion Waiters
The Lakers added:
- Marc Gasol
- Wesley Matthews
- Alfonzo McKinnie
- Montrezl Harrell
- Dennis Schroder
The first thing that needs to be looked at is the Lakers’ defense. They are currently ranked first in Defensive Efficiency. With the loss of JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard, they sacrificed their rim protection, but that hasn’t stopped them from being a good defensive team.
Howard and McGee helped the Lakers lead the league in blocks. However, despite losing them, their ability to protect the rim is still formidable, largely thanks to the runner up in last year’s Defensive Player of the Year award, Anthony Davis.
They replaced the duo with Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol. Harrell, last season’s Sixth man of the year gained criticism as a defensive liability, however, what he brings to their offense makes him a great pick up.
He works better in a pick & roll than the previous Lakers centers due to his ability to finish at the rim. He can also get the ball in the post and get himself a bucket, something Howard and McGee weren’t very effective in.
So far he’s averaging 12.7 points per game. Harrell is capable of scoring over 18 points from the bench on a consistent basis, he did it last season, which is big for the Lakers whose main weakness was their bench.
A noteworthy Harrell performance from this season was against the Chicago Bulls.
The next thing that needs to be reviewed is how the Lakers have improved their offense.
Bringing in Marc Gasol is a big reason for this improvement. Gasol can space the floor as he is a more than a decent three-point shooter. He is shooting 33% so far this season. He shot 38% from three last year in Toronto and 35% in his whole career. This makes getting to the rim easier for Lebron James and gives him more options to find on the three-point line. Him being able to shoot the ball makes the Lakers’ offense more versatile. Gasol can pick and pop whereas last season the Lakers centers could only set a pick and roll to the basket.
In addition to this, Gasol is a great passer. This will undoubtedly lead to more backdoor cuts to the basket. Great news for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma, who will enjoy playing off-ball more with Gasol in the rotation. Whilst Gasol doesn’t provide the great paint protection they had last year from the five, he is still a very capable defender when it comes to guarding centers in the post.
They also picked up Wesley Matthews from free agency. He can be looked at as an upgrade on Danny Green, who was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Dennis Schroder. Matthews is a good defender and three-point shooter. He is shooting 41% from downtown this season, coming off the Lakers’ strong bench. We’ve already seen him have nights where he goes off from the three. He went 6-6 in the Lakers’ first matchup with the San Antonio Spurs. Matthews is currently out with a sore Achilles but will continue to prove to be a great free agency pick up when he returns.
The biggest addition from the offseason was probably trading for Dennis Schroder. Before the season, Schroder said, “I did this off-the-bench stuff already in two years with OKC,” and that he “can be helpful as a starter in the PG position.”
He was right, as Schroder has slotted in the Lakers’ starting line-up in an impressive manner. He’s averaging 14.3 points and 4.8 assists. Schroder continues to show how great he is at attacking the rim. He’s relieved some pressure off Lebron James to run the offense and allowed him to play off-ball more. Trading for Schroder undoubtedly made the Lakers significantly better.
Ultimately, the Lakers will go as far as Lebron James will take them. At age 36 and year 18, the King shows no sign of slowing down. James is average 24.2 points, 7.5 assists and 8.3 rebounds so far. We know that come postseason he takes his game to another level, but so far in the regular season he looks good considering the lack of rest the Lakers got after winning the NBA Championship.
The Lakers have one of the best starting lineups in the NBA now with Gasol, Davis, Lebron, Caldwell-Pope and Schroder. With new pieces seeming to fit in well with Davis and James, it is clear that the Lakers have gotten better and are in a great position to repeat.
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