The State of the Los Angeles Lakers: Post All-Star Break

Feb 15, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) reacts after guard Austin Reaves (15) scores a basket and draws the foul against the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half at Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The end of the All-Star break signifies a renewed push for most teams as they try to either maintain their top status or claw their way there.  For the Los Angeles Lakers, the situation is dire.  After moving on from Russell Westbrook, LA hopes to rebound, led by LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and a young and hungry supporting cast.

The State of the Los Angeles Lakers: Post All-Star Break

Making Moves

It’s no secret the Lakers struggled through the first half of the season, thanks in large part to a lack of chemistry, injuries, and being unable to keep up with the competition.  As a result, they have attained a 27-32 record and are sitting at 13th in the West in February—even with two superstars at the helm.

However, the trade deadline masterclass by General Manager Rob Pelinka gave the team new hope.  The new-look Lakers handed the Golden State Warriors their seventh loss at home on February 11, 109-103, and dominated the New Orleans Pelicans four nights later, 120-102.  For transparency, they were also blown out by the Portland Trail Blazers because they could not guard the three-point line.  Still, however, the potential is there.

Breaking things down further, here is a look at how each acquisition has impacted the Lakers so far and where the team goes from here.

The New Guys Are Alright

Since the trade deadline, D’Angelo Russell has led the charge among the new additions.  LA’s lottery pick in the 2015 draft has shined in his return home, averaging 17.3 points and 5.7 assists per game while shooting 45% from the field, 37% from deep, and 77% from the free-throw line.  He had 21 points, seven assists, and one steal last Wednesday–his first Lakers home game since 2017.  His chemistry with James and Davis has not gone unnoticed either, as he noted in a postgame interview after the victory over New Orleans.

“[When] LeBron and AD are going like that, it’s easy to follow those guys. I can only imagine what the future looks like,” he said.

On the Role Players

Aside from Russell, the impact of the other new Lakers cannot be overstated.

Jarred Vanderbilt has quickly become a fan-favorite among the Lakers faithful with his effort on both ends of the floor.  He’s averaging eight points, nearly eight rebounds, three assists, and one steal for LA while shooting 71% from the field.  He made a great first impression in his purple-and-gold debut against Golden State, garnering 12 points, eight rebounds, and four assists.  Since then, he has continued to make a dent in multiple categories, being an overall positive factor on the floor.

Veteran Malik Beasley has shown flashes of potential in his short time as a Laker, tallying 22 points on 6-12 shooting from deep in the team’s loss to Portland.  He has not been much of a factor in their two wins, though, shooting 5-18 from the field and 2-13 from deep in the process.  However, don’t give up on him for that reason alone.  Beasley has proven his worth at each destination in his career.  Surely he can get out of the shooting slump and be the high-impact role player the Lakers need him to be.

Mo Bamba made his Laker debut against the Pelicans, putting up four points, six rebounds, and three blocks before fouling out in 15 minutes of action.  However, he showed out every time he was on the floor, finishing plays at the rim with ease and defending it just as well.

Davon Reed, who the Lakers acquired from the Nuggets, has made a negligible impact so far; however, his solid three-point shooting (38% for his career) could prove useful in a plug-and-play situation.

Adjusting the Lineups

With those new guys come major questions with regard to lineups and the overall rotation. Lonnie Walker IV, who had once been a consistent starter for the Lakers, has fallen out of the rotation with how deep the team has gotten on guards and wings.  Dennis Schröder’s starting job appears to have been taken over by Russell, which, Schröder says, is fine by him.  With the new pieces starting to carve out roles for themselves, that leaves many of the current Lakers to find ways to adapt and help the team succeed. Sacrifices from Walker and Schröder are prime examples of it.

Head Coach Darvin Ham appears to have found a starting group that works for him.  Russell, Beasley, Vanderbilt, James, and Davis were the first five on the floor last Wednesday.  They tallied an offensive rating of 134.6 and a defensive rating of 100, in addition to boasting a perfect assist percentage, according to NBA Stats.

Whether that starting group remains is, of course, up to Ham.  But given how well they performed together, it is hopefully a sign for him to start those guys more often.

The Los Angeles Lakers Going Forward

There’s no doubt the Lakers will need to be playing near perfection to get a shot at the playoffs.  Dennis Schröder said via Instagram that the team’s goal is to win 16 of their remaining 23 games, and LeBron appeared to agree in the comments.  James doubled down on the importance of the Lakers’ schedule during All-Star weekend, saying they are “23 of the most important games of my career for a regular season.”

But it’s not enough that they should succeed; others should fail.

For the Lakers to get into the Play-in at minimum, fans should be praying on the downfalls of the #7-12 seeds in the West, which include the Pelicans, Warriors, Jazz, and Timberwolves.  They sit a mere two games behind the 10th-seeded Thunder and are three games behind the Pelicans, who occupy the seventh seed at the time of writing.  If they want to shoot for the moon, the Mavericks are at 31-29 and sixth in the West—four games better than LA. Beyond that–barring a cataclysmic collapse–there is no shot that the top-five seeds falter in the remaining 20-30 games.

The point remains, the Lakers have begun to turn things around.  Heading into the home stretch, everything will have to go right for them in order to get back into the conversation for the playoffs—and maybe even the championship.