The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the best teams in the league and have shown that they are an elite team on both offense and defense. Their season has gone about as well as anyone could have hoped for and they seem to be firing on all cylinders right now. We are a little over a quarter into the season and I have watched them closely. In this article, I look at three things I have liked about the Lakers season and two things I haven’t liked.
What I Like…
The Lakers have been one of the best defensive teams in the league, if not the best. As of the Portland Trail Blazers game, they rank 3rd in defensive rating with a rating of 102.4. They are only 0.2 points behind the Denver Nuggets and 0.8 behind the Milwaukee Bucks. Just from a personnel standpoint, I think they have the best defense in the league. Anthony Davis is the best defensive player in the league and it shows on a nightly basis. He’s an absolute monster in the paint and can bother every position on the perimeter. The Lakers also have multiple players who are in their defensive primes or are former all team defense players.
Frank Vogel is also known for his defensive schemes and he has been a perfect fit with this team. Combine key defensive players with an excellent defensive coach, and you get a team that is able to completely lock down opposing teams on a regular basis.
If the Lakers want to be the last team standing at the end of the year, they have to maintain their identity as a great defensive team. They have the ability to score at will with LeBron James, Davis, and a good supporting cast, but the defense will be the reason they achieve their ultimate goal.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis
This one might seem incredibly obvious, but going into this season it was not a for sure thing that Davis and James would be two of the five best players in the league. LeBron did not look great on the back half of last season. He was bad defensively and at times looked like he wasn’t at the peak of his powers.
Davis, on the other hand, had not really played meaningful basketball in a year. It was obvious coming into this season that he was a top ten-ish player, but it wasn’t clear where he stood.
A quarter into this season, it’s pretty obvious that both James and Davis are top five players. In my opinion, the five best players in the league this season are, in no particular order, Giannis Antentokounmpo, James Harden, Luka Doncic, James and Davis. The Lakers are the only team in the league that has two top-five players, and really the only team that has two top ten players.
This gives the Lakers a nightly advantage. On most nights, they have the two best players on the court. On nights when they play another top player, they’ll have at worst two of the three best players. This makes the Lakers tough to beat. Come playoff time, it makes the Lakers an incredibly difficult matchup for most playoff teams.
Vogel was seen as a bit of a lame duck coming into this year. He wasn’t one of the Lakers first choices as head coach. He was also grouped up with other former head coaches like Jason Kidd and Lionel Hollins. It was an easy narrative to make; If and/or when the team struggled, Vogel would be blamed and he would be fired and replaced by Jason Kidd.
None of this has come close to happening, though, and I think Vogel deserves a lot of credit. He has done an incredible job with this team. His overall scheme has been excellent, and his game to game coaching decisions have all made sense. The players really seem to like him and the coaching staff and everyone on the team seems bought in to what he is selling.
Vogel clearly wasn’t the first option for the Lakers, but he has clearly been the best option for the team, and he is proving to be one of the best coaches in the entire NBA.
What I don’t Like…
Lakers don’t have a definitive third best player
The Lakers’ two clear best players are James and Davis. After that, I honestly couldn’t tell you who is their true third-best player. In my monthly player rankings, I have Danny Green. He is a great shooter and really good defensive player. He fits his role perfectly and has been a great addition to this team. But, I wouldn’t say he is someone I think of as the definitive third guy. He is as inconsistent as anyone in the league. There are games when he clearly just doesn’t have it and he won’t play big minutes because of it.
Kyle Kuzma is the obvious choice here, but he’s been very inconsistent this season as well. There’s a case to be made that he’s the third most talented player on the roster, but that talent doesn’t always show in-game.
Maybe it’s fine that the Lakers don’t have that solid third guy. But come playoff time, I’m worried what will happen if the Lakers are unable to find a player not named James and Davis who can step up in big games. Maybe James and Davis are great enough to carry the team by themselves, but I hope that they won’t be required to do all of the heavy lifting.
The Lakers need a defensive-minded wing
The Lakers biggest weakness right now is defending good wing players. The team has lost to three teams; the Clippers, Raptors, and Mavericks. In those games, they have played Kawhi Leonard (who will be joined by Paul George next time the Clippers and Lakers match up), Pascal Siakam, and Luka Doncic. They really need someone who can at least bother those types of players.
LeBron is more than capable, but he carries such a load on the offensive end that it wouldn’t make sense to expect him to run an entire offense and then lock down the other team’s best player on defense. The obvious answer here is to somehow land Andre Iguodala. He is probably on his last legs at this point, but he’s one of the best defensive players ever, and he is someone who could help the Lakers in big moments. The problem is, the Grizzlies do not seem to want to buy him out, and the Lakers do not have much to trade. The Clippers and other contenders also seem to want him, so it makes getting him that much more difficult.
The Lakers are going to be very good with or without Iguodala. Landing him though means the Lakers are covered on all bases and won’t have to worry as much about going up against elite wings in the playoffs. If the Lakers can’t land him, they need to do their best to find someone who can do a decent job defending wings. As of right now, outside of asking LeBron to carry a huge burden, they don’t have anyone who can consistently defend wings outside of asking Davis to guard the perimeter.
Hopefully, the Lakers can figure out their lack of an option at the wing before the playoffs start. Because come playoff time, they’re desperately going to need to figure out how they’re going to slow down some of the best players at that position.