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  • Writer's pictureEvan Woods

An Oldie but a Goodie - the '21-22 Lakers

Wow. I knew the Lakers needed reinforcements, but I completely didn't expect all the moves they made this summer, especially trading for Russell Westbrook. When I first heard about the trade, I cringed at thoughts of future Westbrook blunders, leading to a frustrated King James. All I initially thought of was this meme, just with Russ on the receiving end of it.

But then I started to think more about it - and this could actually work. Throughout his entire career, LeBron has desperately needed another play-maker that could take pressure off of him. Sure, he had Kyrie. But he's more of a scorer than a facilitator, which is what LeBron has needed the most. As he fights father time, a tired LeBron is the worst enemy of the Lakers - so bringing in someone to handle the main offensive responsibilities and allow LeBron to play more time off-ball was crucial. And Russ perfectly fits the bill, and his presence will allow LeBron both a physical and mental break during offensive possessions, which is something important for those old legs of his. Speaking of old legs, the integration of Russ is not the only thing the issue that the Lakers' Coaching Staff will have to navigate - let me explain.

In addition to signing Russ, the Lakers also went out to sign more veteran talent. They signed Carmelo Anthony, one of the most prolific scorers of all time, and long time friend of LeBron. This reunion was a long time in the making; but reunions not long in the making were those of Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard, who both played huge roles on the Lakers' '20 Championship team. Continuing the trend of bringing back former players, the Lakers also signed veteran swing-man Trevor Ariza, ¹ who assisted the Lakers win the Finals back in 2009, ¹⁰ and Wayne Ellington, who was on the team during the '14-'15 season. They even recently went out and signed Deandre Jordan - another former standout who, despite his decline in athleticism, should be able to use his playoff experience to help the team. You may have recognized a common trend for these additions: miles on those tires. Although this can be alarming to some, I believe the Front Office's objective was to surround LeBron with trustworthy vets. And they did exactly that, ² as they now have 5 players on their roster in at least their 16th year in the league. As you could probably imagine, ³ this would make the Lakers the oldest team in the league. This is an unusual strategy to reach the Finals, ⁴ however 8 players on their active roster have been all-stars in their career, and the Front Office is definitely trying to replicate that production. And if you're going to do it with any veterans, this is the group to do it with, ⁵ as the Lakers now have 7 All-NBA talents on their team. So maybe we shouldn't get so caught up in the age of the new guys, and focus on the positives they can bring to the team. Adding a strong veteran presence around their core was essential for the Lakers, but now in addition to seeing how they adjust to their new roles, they must also address the integration of Russ into their core along with LeBron and AD.

We've established that the Lakers have brought in a platoon of veteran talent to give their roster some stability, so let's talk about how Westbrook fits into the mix. Going back to what I said earlier, the main reason for bringing him in is to give LeBron breaks on offense; essentially load-managing him without him having to miss games. Westbrook's talent is undeniable, however his decision-making on the court has been questionable at times. Despite that, ⁶ he has averaged a triple-double 3 of the 4 past seasons, something that has never been done before. His ability to pile up triple-doubles stems from his play making ability, ⁷ as Russ he lead the league in assists each in each of those immaculate seasons. In order for him to fit on the alongside LeBron and AD, Russ will have to solely focus on distributing the ball and running the offense, rather than hunting for his own shot. LeBron and AD are both offensive forces that the Lakers can depend on to lead them to the promised land again, but Russ forcing ill-timed shots will get in the way of that. While Russ excels at breaking down the defense and driving the lane, his shooting is a big concern. What's more of a concern is that his poor numbers do not seem to deter him from shooting his shot. ⁶ Over his career, Russ has had a Field Goal percentage of 43.7%, lower than the league average of 46.6%. He also has shot a 3p% of 30.5%, lower than the league average of 33%. Yes, I realize he's not far off from the league averages and I’m splitting hairs here, but anyone who has payed attention to Russ over the past several years knows that his shooting numbers are on the decline, yet he simply will not stop shooting the ball. Rather than pulling up from the elbow, mid-drive, seconds into the shot clock, Russ will need use his ability to attack the paint, so that passing lanes will open up for LeBron and AD to cut to the basket. He has to change his style of play in order for this Big 3 to work - and he wants to win a championship as much as anyone, so I don't doubt he'll be able to transform his game. It all sounds good in writing, but of course actual application will be different. But I believe he is a skilled enough player to make the adjustments necessary for the experiment to be a success. Let's not forget, Russ is a former MVP too, and is capable of most things on the basketball court. Old age and bringing in a new super-star are both obstacles Coach Frank Vogel will have to form a new strategy around this coming year, so how exactly will he do it?

In order for the Lakers to be successful, defense has to be a major focal point of Frank Vogel's overall scheme. Of course, that can be said about any team, however it is especially relevant in this case. Over the past two seasons, ⁸ the Lakers have finished in the top 10 in overall defense, so Vogel will need to try to replicate his defensive strategies with these new players. ⁹ He'll have some assistance with two former DPOY award winners, Dwight Howard and Marc Gasol, in the middle of the paint, but of course he will have to balance the playing time of the aging big-men. Along with other defensive standouts in LeBron and AD, the rest of the Lakers' roster is rounded out with formidable defenders, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them back amongst the league's best defensive units next season. With the defensive side of the ball covered, Vogel will have to reassess his offensive strategy with all of the new recruits. As I eluded to earlier, the Lakers will need to space the floor for Russ, allowing passing lanes to the stars, while providing escape routes to open three point shooting. That's where my issue with this roster comes into play. Anyone who has followed LeBron's career knows he excels when he has shooters waiting in the wings; however this particular roster is not designed with the sharpshooters he needs. A large portion of the Lakers' 3-point shooting is gone from last year, as they dealt Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the trade for Russ, and they let Wes Mathews and Dennis Schröder walk. As the roster stands right now, their best sniper is journey-man Wayne Ellington, ¹⁰ with a career 3p% of 38.2%. Sure, they brought in other young guards like Malik Monk and Kendrick Nunn, but neither have cemented themselves as known 3-point shooters. Hopefully playing alongside Russ and LeBron will provide more open shot opportunities for these young guns, so they may be able to raise their shooting level to the appropriate standard. If they are able to do so, the Big 3 can handle the rest, while also leaning on the veteran guidance from the rest of the team.

Look, it's no question that when you're the Lakers, you're expected to win. That expectation is even more amplified by LeBron's presence. However General Manager Rob Pelinka has done a tremendous job this offseason by bringing in a whole new supporting cast for the King, head-lined by a former MVP. Even with all of the talk of the age and possible chemistry issues, ¹¹ NBA Analyst and former Pro Jalen Rose said, "... [the Lakers] are the clear cut best team in basketball. If they stay healthy, LeBron James is getting another ring this year." Those are pretty confident words from Rose, but I do echo his sentiments. Of course, baring injury, this team has the ability to make it far in the playoffs - but that can be said about many teams. It will be more important for all of LeBron, AD, and Russ to minimize their egos for the greater good of the team. If they are able to do that, then I don't see a better team in the Western Conference. Even with the emergence of the Suns and Nuggets, and the enigma that is the Clippers, I think the Lakers will have the best chance to be the last team standing on their side. I'm no psychic, but I see a 2022 Finals featuring another chapter of the LeBron/KD rivalry when the Lakers face the Nets. One thing is for sure though - this offseason has been nothing short of exciting, and on of the most entertaining in recent memory. I can't wait for opening night.



¹ Land of NBA Players: Trevor Ariza Profile and Basic Stats. (n.d.).

² Micah Adams, (2021, August 30). Lakers updated roster and PROJECTED lineup after signing Rajon RONDO to one-year deal. Sporting News.

³ Dator, J. (2021, August 3). The Lakers used free agency to become the oldest team.

⁴ Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) "The Lakers will have eight current or former all-stars on the roster next season" 9/3/2021. 7:29pm. Tweet.

⁵ ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) "The Lakers now have 7 players who have made All-NBA in their careers: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol ,Rajon Rondo. No team has had 7 former All-NBA players appear for them in at least 1 game in a season." 4/31/2021. 11:00am. Tweet.

Russell Westbrook Stats. Basketball. (n.d.).

NBA & ABA Year-by-Year leaders and records for assists per game. Basketball. (n.d.).

Teams defense. NBA Stats. (n.d.).

⁹ Wikimedia Foundation. (2021, July 4). NBA defensive Player of the Year award. Wikipedia.

¹⁰ Wayne Ellington Stats. Basketball. (n.d.).

¹¹ LakeShow (@LakeShowCP) "Jalen Rose can take that fearless forecast to the bank" 9/01/2021. 10:36pm. Tweet.

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Oct 05, 2021

Great work Ev, where's my October post though?!?🏅

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