Los Angeles Lakers, one of the most pedigreed teams in the NBA, has found the going tough since winning its 17th title in 2020.
The team missed the Playoffs last season after two successive appearances. Injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the two stars of the team, made matters worse. Lakers ended the season 33-49, a forgettable one by its lofty standards. Much criticism came the way of Russell Westbrook and veterans Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard.
The team’s poor defense came under the scanner in particular. Lakers got a 112.8 defensive rating last season, which ranked 21st in the league of 30 teams.
Lakers had prepared an ambitious roster to assist LeBron, but things did not go to plan. Lakers, however, is ready to move on and has made some notable additions. The team has acknowledged its defensive lapses and focused on strengthening the back court.
The most notable addition is Patrick Beverley, along with the return of guard Dennis Schroder. The team will also be headed by a new coach, Darvin Ham, who was earlier the assistant coach at Milwaukee Bucks.
While much is new, the team will continue to revolve around LeBron and Davis. LeBron, a four-time NBA champion, signed a hefty two-year extension following his career high 30.3 points per game season. Davis, too, is fit and ready to take charge of the Lakers season.
Here is a look at how the team could line up and what the new signings will bring to the table.
Which players has Los Angeles Lakers traded in?
Over the years, Beverley has created an image for himself. He is the man you need in your team, by your side. He’ll fight for loose balls and stare down opponents. The 34-year-old hustles for every play he’s on the hardwood.
With Ham insisting that Beverley and Westbrook will play together, it is likely that Beverley might make the starting lineup.
While Lakers will hope for more from him than his present career average of 8.8 points per game, the guard’s main duty will be to man the perimeter. It’s a role he has specialised in for a major part of his career. Beverley averaged 1.2 steals and 1.4 turnovers per game for Minnesota Timberwolves last season.
Beverley’s addition adds defensive heft to the Lakers.
The German international is back for a second spell with Lakers.
After a season averaging 15.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 2020-21, many were shocked that Lakers let the point guard go. While he struggled in the next couple of seasons, he found his footing with the Boston Celtics last season, where he was an effective bench option providing a 14-point game average.
The 30-year-old, into his tenth season in the league, has said he wants to be more efficient in defense.
Bryant is another trade by Lakers that is focused on shoring up defense and boosting presence in the paint. Bryant is young, has great athletic abilities and can hold his own while shooting, too.
His athleticism means that Bryant can not only protect the rim, but be impactful in transition also.
His shooting efficiency of 64.8% from open play, and over 50% from the three-point line in 2020-21 gives enough evidence that the 24-year-old can be looked at as the starting centre.
Lakers also acquired Damian Jones who can contest for the No.5 position. He is just as good in shooting and protecting the paint as Bryant.
Which players have left Los Angeles Lakers?
The infusion of young blood meant that Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard had to leave.
What the Lakers starting lineup could look like?
It is clear that LeBron and Davis are the main players for Lakers. The team’s success, though, will be determined by how Westbrook fares.
The point guard had a tough first season with the team, where he struggled with his shooting from the paint, assisting ability, and conceded lots of turnovers. His points per game average dropped below 20 for the first time since 2009-10. His points per possession average was 0.85 last season, giving a picture of his dwindling influence.
The addition of Beverley triggered talk that Westbrook could be traded out, but, with the preseason games, Ham seems to have placed his faith in the point guard.
Ham will keep his bench options Austin Reeves and Kendrick Nunn ready, in case Westbrook fails to deliver.
The biggest positive for Lakers this season will be the depth of its bench. It has players for every position on court, thanks to the addition of Juan Toscano Anderson. Lonnie Walker, Scotty Pippen Jr and Troy Brown Jr.
This will be crucial in giving rest to LeBron and Davis, who will do the heavy lifting.
Davis, too, like Westbrook, has a point to prove this season. The forward has gone cold after displaying his clutch abilities in the title winning year.
His three-point shooting efficiency in the 40 games he started last year was a dismal 18.6%. This is low returns given the all-round abilities that Davis possesses.
His rebounding, at 9.9 per game, was in shape last season, but still lower than what he was managing at New Orleans Pelicans. If fit, and firing on all cylinders, Davis can complement LeBron.
LeBron, meanwhile, will be out to script another chapter in his storied career. The 37-year-old was scoring at a career-best rate before his season came to a premature end.
With a point to prove, after his hefty contract extension raised a few eyebrows, LeBron will set out in the hunt for his 5th title, and Lakers’ 18th.