NBA Disney Contenders or Pretenders: Los Angeles Lakers

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NBA fans, you can exhale now since basketball is only three weeks away from resuming the 2019-2020 season at the NBA Disney Bubble in Orlando, Fla. As of today, over half of the 22 teams have arrived at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Each one is either a contender or a pretender, in this new and unique NBA play. The Last Word on Pro Basketball staff continues this contender or pretender series, with the Western Conference leaders – the Los Angeles Lakers. 

Can LeBron James and Anthony Davis lead the Lakers to a finals appearance and “reclaim” the City of Angels over the Los Angeles Clippers?

NBA Disney Bubble Contenders or Pretenders? Los Angeles Lakers

The LBJ and AD Duo Effect

James and Davis are no doubt the best duo in the NBA, with both players ranked in the top five in their respective categories. James leads the league in assists per game (10.6), while Davis is tied with Milwaukee Bucks‘ center Brook Lopez for second in blocks per game (2.4).

When both players are on the floor together, the Lakers are in their best lineup. This is due to the duo’s chemistry, James’s superior court vision, and Davis’s long wingspan and upper body strength that challenge players while defending the rim.

Their high basketball IQs and speed also allow Alex Caruso and  Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to execute and push the ball up forward in fast-break transitions. This is where the Lakers excel at the most (2nd in NBA with 19.2 fast break points per game).

While there are many pros for a team that highlights the roster around two All-Stars, an eye-raising concern is the team’s health. Both players, especially Davis, had their struggles with injuries in the last two seasons. They may easily be at risk again with the Lakers’ lack of practice time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, it has been reported across sources such as ESPN, that the Lakers have secretly practiced together in a local gym they had access to. This means that the team has been working on their chemistry and the little things on offense. This also helps prepare the team to play in a new NBA without fans, which can make or break an organization.

In basketball, chemistry is the most important aspect of the game. As long as both players are healthy and on the same page, expect the Lakers to destroy teams down low.

Perimeter Defense Liability

The Lakers currently hold the best record in the Western Conference and second-best in the NBA. While most credit can be given to an elite and aggressive offense, they have significantly improved on the defensive side. Los Angeles has climbed up the defensive charts. They improved from a 108.9 rating (13th in the league) to a 105.5 rating (3rd in the league). They also rank 4th in steals per game (8.6) and leads the league in blocks per game (6.8).

A big concern coming into the 2020 season’s continuation was whether backup center Dwight Howard would suit up or not. His initial reasons were due to family health concerns and social justice awareness but have decided to join his teammates in Orlando.

Howard may not shine offensively on paper, but his defensive presence at the perimeter and rim are crucial to the Lakers’ success. In addition, his consistency all season has allowed starting center JaVale McGee to rest more on the bench. It is noted that McGee suffers from asthma, which was a major health concern coming in. This means Howard’s execution and success will give McGee a breather.

A key issue that has lingered the Lakers throughout the season is the forgotten art of defense: perimeter defense. Los Angeles is currently tied for last with the Dallas Mavericks in opponent fast-break points per game (16.8). This indicates two things: 1) the lack of speed and 2) poor perimeter defense. With Avery Bradley opting out of the Bubble, the Lakers will need to find a way to improve in man-to-man defense and the occasional match-up zone to compete against teams like the Clippers, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets.

Guard Execution

Losing Bradley meant that the Lakers had to find a quick replacement to fill out the roster and boost guard play. After Bradley opted out of the season, Los Angeles signed J.R. Smith to a one-year deal last week. The 2016 NBA champion will add more depth with his sharpshooting skills and perimeter defense.

Caruso will certainly control the offense alongside Caldwell-Pope, with veteran guards Rajon Rondo and Dion Waiters rotating off the bench. The Lakers present a solid, experienced bench. However, an issue that arises is the concern of Waiters’ and Smith’s game shape status. Both have not played in over a year and it takes a player some time to adapt to live game action. There is being in fit shape, then there is being in game shape. To perform at your highest, a player must be in game shape.

Head Coach Frank Vogel has plenty of options for guard rotations. As long as all players are utilized in their respective roles and not heavily used, the Lakers should make up for Bradley’s absence.

Los Angeles Lakers Verdict: Contender

The Lakers arguably have the best duo and coaching staff in the NBA. Los Angeles does have some concerns to address regarding perimeter and fast-break transition defense. The team’s health is also in question.  However, with solid fast-break offense skills and on and off-ball chemistry across the roster Lakers are NBA contenders.
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