One of the biggest storylines this offseason has been the formation of the next “superteam” in the Los Angeles Lakers. They currently have the second-highest NBA betting odds to win the 2022 NBA Finals, at +350, which is just behind the Brooklyn Nets, at +250. Many seem to already have the Lakers written in pen in the NBA Finals, and for some, already winning it all. To fans of LeBron James and the Lakers, I hate to break it to you, but the Lakers aren’t legitimate title contenders.
Los Angeles Lakers Aren’t Legit NBA Finals Contenders
One of the biggest reasons the Lakers fell in the first round to the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs was because of a lack of depth. Anthony Davis was hurt and LeBron James was just coming back from an injury. This team was one of the best in the NBA last year when healthy, but there lies the major problem. It’s not a given. We saw seemingly every team in the playoffs lose a key player, so it’s far from a guarantee when it comes to durability. So, what did the Lakers do this offseason? They decided to go even more top-heavy by trading Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell for Russell Westbrook in addition to a first-round pick.
While Kuzma was an up-and-down player, to say the least, the Lakers cleared out an already incredibly thin bench to bring in Westbrook. If any of the big three gets hurt, this team is easily worse than last year, as they have no bench to back them up. The big three of the Lakers are quite nice. The rest of the starting lineup, however, is a 36-year old Marc Gasol and either Wayne Ellington or Malik Monk. After a postseason where the two final teams were the deepest in the NBA, this doesn’t cut it in terms of depth at all.
When it comes to shooting, everyone loves to rag on Giannis Antetokounmpo, and rightfully so, for his awful three-point shooting. The funny thing about that is Giannis shot over 4% better from deep than Anthony Davis last season and Westbrook was only a single percent better shooter from deep, at 31%. That gets even more problematic when you take into account that Westbrook shoots under 30% from deep in the playoffs. Not only is Westbrook’s shooting a factor, but the Lakers also lost five of their top six three-point shooters from last year. Out of the “big three,” LeBron has the highest three-point percentage, at an average 36.5%. This isn’t the early 2000’s; that kind of shooting from deep will put the Lakers behind their opponents.
While the Lakers did bring in other guys, such as Malik Monk, Kent Bazemore and Kendrick Nunn, none of them have a career three-point percentage above 36.5%. When you need to replace five of your top six shooters, you need good, not just average. The key has obviously always been to put good players that fit a certain role around your stars, but what role do these new players fill? It’s no question that they need to be shooters, so why are the Lakers favorites when their shooting among starters and bench players became significantly worse?
It would be a disservice to deny LeBron and Anthony Davis their due credit. When they want to, they are two of the best defenders in the league. Russell Westbrook isn’t known particularly for his defense, but his hustle and effort are more than serviceable. The problem doesn’t lie with them, however, it relies with everyone else.
Let’s take the two top teams from the East. For the Nets, LeBron can match up against Kevin Durant, but what about Kyrie Irving and James Harden? Sure, Westbrook could likely guard either Harden or Kyrie, but one of the two will need to be guarded by either Wayne Ellington, Malik Monk or AD. Every single one of those matchups is a nightmare scenario for the Lakers. That doesn’t even account for the lethal shooting of Joe Harris and Patty Mills. When putting an old-ass Carmelo on them is arguably the best option, you’re already screwed.
For the Bucks, AD or LeBron could match up against Giannis. Just like with the Nets, however, the problem lies with everyone else. AD is too slow for Khris Middleton and, while LeBron could work, Middleton is very good at using his body to draw fouls. Even if they shore that up, what about Jrue Holiday? NBA fans saw the damage he did to a solid defensive team in the Hawks when Giannis went down in the Eastern Conference Finals. Will Westbrook be able to guard that? Even if they can, foul trouble will become an issue quickly and, as previously mentioned, the Lakers have no depth or shooting to make up for it whereas Milwaukee has plenty of both.
I don’t want to take anything away from the Lakers. This team, although flawed, is still very good. To sit here and say that they are a true contender though, when even a healthy L.A. team would have massive issues against Brooklyn or Milwaukee, doesn’t make sense. This team is good, but good doesn’t always win out. Add in guys with durability concerns and one Russell Westbrook, who doesn’t come through in the playoffs, and I don’t see a realistic world where the Lakers win the NBA Finals. Say what you will about LeBron, but as we’ve seen throughout his entire career, one player can’t win a championship.
To the few Lakers and LeBron fans still reading, I know you think it’s your time and you will immediately disregard everything just laid out in front of you. Just remember that when the problems with depth, shooting and defense come up over the course of the season, it’s not just a fluke. It’s not just an off night. This team has too many fatal flaws to actually win the 2022 NBA Finals. The sooner you and the front office understand the glaring issues this team still has, the easier it will be to fix it before it’s too late and someone else is hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy in 2022.
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