You can call this an overreaction if you want, but some of us have been calling this from the start. The moment the Lakers traded for Russell Westbrook, there were plenty of doubters coming out of the woodwork to put the Lakers down. After their first game of the season and Westbrook’s horrid stat line, some of them feel validated now.
Even before the first game of the season, there are red flags with this Laker team. On paper, this team has some pretty big names. The ceiling is a championship, but the floor is pretty low too. This team could easily lose in the first round of the playoffs and here is why.
1. The Team Is Old
The Lakers are the oldest team in the NBA. The last time we saw an older team win it all was the 1998 Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan was 35 and Dennis Rodman was 37. These guys didn’t let age dictate their play, but even so, the Bulls had some younger parts around them. Some might look at the 2011 Dallas Mavericks and say that team is older as well, but Dirk Nowitzki was only 32, Jason Terry 33, and Brendan Haywood was 31.
Tyson Chandler was in his prime at 28 years old. Jason Kidd was 38, but he was primarily a backup point guard. The Lakers rely on 37-year old LeBron James, 32-year old Russell Westbrook, and 28-year old Anthony Davis. The bench is made up of older 30+ year old players in Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, Wayne Ellington, and DeAndre Jordan.
There is a big difference between playing basketball in this league at the age of 32 vs. 37. When you just enter your 30s, you have some prime years left. The closer you get to 40, the wear and tear starts to get to you. That is why the Lakers would have a great roster if this was 2010.
2. Russell Westbrook And LeBron James Are A Bad Fit
The headline says it all. Since 2010, Westbrook has been used in the offense over 30% of the time. That number has never dipped below 30% since that time, meaning that one of three times down the floor, the ball is in Westbrook’s hands. How do you think he is able to accumulate stats to get those triple-doubles? It’s because he somehow finds a way to have the ball.
Last year, Westbrook assisted on 48.6% of the team’s plays, which led the NBA. In the team’s opening game, Westbrook was featured in the offense 19% of the time and assisted on only 13% of the team’s baskets. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions after one game, but we knew this would be a problem. Westbrook has one style and it’s not going to fit with this regime.
Like Westbrook, LeBron needs the ball in his hands as much as possible. He has surpassed the 30% mark every season since 2005. You are trying to say that two players, who are often used in the offense 60% of the time, are going to make this work? LeBron led the league in 2019-2020 on assist percentage at 49.1% so both players seem to be pretty good point guards when needed. However, when was the last time you saw two really good point guards lead a team to a championship?
3. The Lakers Can’t Shoot From Three
When the Lakers traded Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to the Wizards for Westbrook, the team sent their top and second-best three-point shooters from last year. The team’s third-best three-point shooter was LeBron, who is an average outside shooter at best. The team didn’t bring in any reinforcements to help with the issue either.
Carmelo Anthony was brought in to help replace both players, but he had never shot over 40% in his career until last year. Also, Anthony turns 38 years old in May and is no Ray Allen or Kyle Korver. Anthony will also likely only take about three to four three-point shots a night. The Lakers have a massive hole here and didn’t fix it in the offseason.
Westbrook, Davis, and Kent Bazemore shot a combined 3-for-17 from three-point range in the opener. We would love to give them time to develop, but statistically speaking, none of them are great outside shooters. The team has Malik Monk, who has potential as a breakout shooter, but as a whole, this is not a deep outside shooting team.
4. Leading A Team At 37 Hasn’t Been Done
Michael Jordan left the Bulls after his sixth championship in 1998 when he was 35 years old. When Jordan came back, he couldn’t make the Wizards competitive. Karl Malone led the Jazz to those same NBA Finals and was 34 years old. After that year, the Jazz was bounced in the second round two consecutive years and then the first round three straight years.
When the Lakers won in 2010, Kobe Bryant was only 31. Even after those championship years, the Lakers were bounced in the second round two years with a first-round exit in 2013. The data shows that there is hope for the Lakers to make the second round of the playoffs, but the postseason trajectory decreases in probability because LeBron is three years older than Kobe Bryant was at the time.
LeBron will be the oldest player in this category to try and get his team to the NBA Finals. History shows that Jordan, Malone, and Bryant couldn’t do it. While LeBron will have his fair chance at accomplishing it, all signs point against him.
5. A Defensive Nightmare
Who is going to play defense on this team outside of Anthony Davis? The team had to sign Avery Bradley off the scrap heap just to have a defensive-minded player on the roster. Asking LeBron at 37 to play hard defense and score 30 points is just not in the cards. Westbrook is a tenacious athlete, but he can’t give the same type of energy as he could 10 years ago. Dwight Howard is not a Defensive Player of the Year candidate anymore, and Rajon Rondo is long gone from his stellar defensive days.
To an extent, the defense has won championships over the last few years. In 2019, the Toronto Raptors thrived off their defense, led by Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry. In 2020, the Lakers were a top-3 defensive team in the league and rode that defense to the very top. Davis was even the Defensive Player of the Year runner-up. Last year, the Bucks were a top defensive team in the league with Defensive Player of the Year candidate Giannis Antetkounmpo.
This year, a lineup with Monk, Anthony, Kent Bazemore, Howard, and whatever point guard out there is not a formidable defensive unit. The Lakers are going to have to score because giving up 120 points each night might be the norm for Los Angeles. The Lakers aren’t going to be able to keep up with that, especially if Frank Vogel can’t figure out how to mesh the team’s Big Three together.