The Los Angeles Lakers signed Lebron James a touch over 12 months ago now. After Magic Johnson promised it was showtime last year, Lebron got injured and they missed the playoffs. Fast forward to this June and they traded the young core that took years to build for Anthony Davis. Though NBA teams would make this trade 100 times out of 100, when they pulled the trigger on this trade the clock started ticking. Lebron has three years left on his deal, and potentially only two of these will be at the MVP level fans are used to. The Lakers need to start winning right away.
Laker fans have been waiting ten years for a team to win 50 games again. How quickly can Lebron and AD mesh and how does the rest of the roster fit with them?
DeMarcus Cousins may be the piece that gets the Lakers over the top. A recent photo of Cousins had the internet in a spin, showing him trim and taught. If Cousins get anywhere close to the player he was two years ago for the Pelicans, then the Lakers have their big three after all. Lebron and AD may be enough, but adding in a fit and motivated Boogie is a game changer.
Cousins if fit and back to his best, will enter next years Free Agency as the big fish. What better motivation is there than having a resurgent year so he can get the big payday that most of his all star peers have commanded? We know that AD and Boogie fit well together, the Pelicans had the leagues third best offense two years ago. They were also third in rebounding, and third in assists. How coach Frank Vogel chooses to use Boogie will play a major part in the success of the second unit. Maybe Vogel needs to stagger his minutes slightly so Boogie can destroy second units with shooters. Though Boogie wont have the elite shooting he did from last year, when he was alongside one of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson he was at his best.
|Lineup data per 100 possessions||MP||PTS▼|
|D. Cousins | S. Curry||482:57||+11|
|D. Cousins | K. Durant||423:01||+9.8|
|D. Cousins | K. Thompson||612:59||+7.6|
The other exciting piece for the Lakers is Avery Bradley. Playing for the Boston Celtics he was an All-Defense selection in 2015/16, followed by a conference finals appearance the next year where he was a key piece. Recently he only played 109 games for three different teams, injuries and rebuilding teams hurt his stock and on court play.
The Lakers though, look like they have got a guy who is ready to get back to his best. Like new teammate Cousins, Bradley is back in shape and claims to have lost 40 pounds since he was with the Clippers. At his best he is one of the leagues premier perimeter defenders. Be it chasing shooters around screens or closing out on shooters, Bradley can be a lock-down defender when fit. Offensively he was a great finisher at the rim for the Celtics and is a career 36% shooter from three point range. He has the ceiling of a guy who is perfect for the playoffs.
Frank Vogel may decide to flick the switch and play fast this season. When the Pelicans were at their best with Anthony Davis, they were in the top three teams in the league for pace. Lebron is still a wrecking ball in transition also. The Lakers at their peak last year, were playing fast. This roster, though different to last year has lob threats as well as guys who can hit transition threes. It might not be showtime like the 1980s, but it will be effective.
Vogel has different options this year in terms of play style. Magic Johnson’s focus on ‘ play-makers ” last year had the team fall short of the postseason. Arguably they have more play-makers this year when you add in AD and Boogie. Big men who can play-make while stretching the floor are nightmare match-ups for opposition defenses. Last year, ball stoppers like Lance Stephenson hurt the strengths of the roster. This year they will look to move the ball to create mismatches for their ultra skilled bigs.
Last years Lakers team finished 21st in defense. Though at first glance they had the fourth best defense at the rim, they also allowed the fourth most attempts. The perimeter wasn’t much better, allowing a lot of threes and not defending them well either. Adding defensive player of the year candidate Anthony Davis is obviously a massive upgrade. Davis is one of the best when it comes to playing elite defense and not fouling. Per Cleaning the Glass, he is the only player in the league to finish in the top 6% in steal and block rate while fouling on less than 3% of possessions. Bringing back good defenders Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and JaVale McGee means the bench defense wont be lacking like last year. While Avery Bradley and Danny Green provide elite perimeter stopping without slowing down the offense.
Though the Western Conference is stacked again this year, the Lakers have two of the leagues top five players and what may be an elite defense. They will play fast and shoot a lot of threes, while their big men will get to the rim at will. The front office have gone all in this year, come October the rubber will hit the road and the world will see if showtime has really returned to LA.