The Los Angeles Lakers have been an American staple for a long time now. They seem to even emulate America throughout their history, starting with the franchise’s fascination with glitz, glamour, and sex in the 1980s, a period that will be covered in full through the scripted HBO drama “Winning Time” coming out in March. They’ve most recently emulated America’s worst qualities, sacrificing quality for the big splash — as well as the bottom line — by reportedly refusing to pay Alex Caruso his due while also shipping out past championship contributors for one Russell Westbrook.
The Lakers continue to do their best impression of America following their offseason decisions that still plague them, as the Lakers and America have a wing shortage.
Now, in America’s case, I’m referencing delicious chicken wings that have been in shortage in the country at different times since demand skyrocketed from stay-at-home orders early on in the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s still an issue, as some famous chicken wing restaurants such as Wingstop are pivoting to selling the easily attainable chicken thigh.
In the Lakers’ case, they have a shortage of wing players. These wings have become staples in the league for all of the most elite teams. Rob Pelinka and the front office — whether it’s from a lack of options or just sheer poor decision-making — failed to equip this roster with enough wings to defend even the average NBA team.
Instead, they loaded up on guards such as Kendrick Nunn, Malik Monk, and Avery Bradley in addition to the aforementioned Westbrook. It’s caused the team to view players like Talen Horton-Tucker and Austin Reaves as wing players due to their strength and wingspan compared to the guards listed above, but with heights of 6’4” and 6’5”, respectively, they’d be two of the shortest “wings” in the league.
It’s been an issue all season, however, the issue is really starting to show its ugliest side lately as the team continues to put up poor defensive performances without Anthony Davis. The Lakers have played the Grizzlies, Kings, and Nuggets in their last three games, losing all three. Their defense has been an absolute joke in that stretch, as the team has the second-worst defensive rating of 130.1 in that span with the most points given up in the paint at 58.7 per game.
Sure, having Anthony Davis would help a lot (the Lakers had the 10th-best defensive rating before he most recently went down), but the past three games have exposed roster weaknesses that should still be able to be exploited down the road even with a healthy Davis in the lineup.
If the roster was better constructed with more wing players, the Lakers might have a baseline of size and strength that would allow them to reduce that astronomical amount of points-in-the-paint. Instead, opponents are just finding and exploiting individual mismatches caused by having players such as Bradley, Monk, and/or Reaves taking up the two and three positions on the team. It’s resulting in easy transition baskets as well as easy half-court opportunities from initial advantages found via an undersized defender.
The video below might be the most perfect way to illustrate how the Lakers are just far too small right now. Since the Lakers aggressively shifted to a small-ball style of play to open up the offense, Bradley has found great success cutting with Westbrook and LeBron finding him with their impressive passing. However, defenses have seemingly anticipated these cuts lately, resulting in easy blocks at the rim. The 6’2” Bradley gets rejected here, with the elite-in-transition De’Aaron Fox just going directly at Monk’s chest.
From the way that Pelinka and the team stacked up on guards even after acquiring Westbrook, it seems as if the team hoped Westbrook could improve his reputation as a lackadaisical and weak defender. With his strength, maybe they thought he could do his best impression of a wing player. Well, that’s definitely not been the case, with Westbrook being taken advantage of many times including cases where he’s the team’s last line of defense on the weak side, something that should just never be happening even if Davis is out.
Simply put, the Lakers have been helpless lately. It’ll definitely improve once Davis returns before the end of the month; however, given how bad it has become lately against teams that the Lakers may have to face in the playoffs, it might not improve enough to the point where they should be taken seriously once the postseason comes around. Head coach Frank Vogel even said the team had a “spirited” film session following their loss against the Kings in hopes that they could correct some defensive mistakes before playing the Nuggets.
The Nuggets scored 133 points. It was the third most points the Lakers have given up this season. No amount of “spirit” can help this team’s defense. Just take a look at LeBron’s feeling of helplessness below as the Nuggets started to pour it on.
The front office seemingly recognizes that they need to correct mistakes they made in the 2021 offseason, as they’ve reportedly been connected to wings such as the Pistons’ Jerami Grant and the Raptors’ Gary Trent, Jr. However, with limited assets to trade, it’s doubtful they can attain two impactful wings at the deadline. One of Grant or Trent, Jr. would help, but it really feels like this team needs at least two wings for them to really match up with the Nuggets or Grizzlies of the world, let alone the Warriors or Suns.
I’d be shocked if a move for a wing isn’t done before the February 10th deadline. Will the return of Davis and the inclusion of a new wing be enough to get the Lakers back on track to a championship? If it’s not, the front office will have to re-think everything done in the 2021 offseason that led to such a problem at the wing.