The Los Angeles Lakers are once again the favorites in the Western Conference as perennial title contenders. The team is completely re-stocked with superstars and former All-Stars, and a ton of experience on the roster. In terms of championship pedigree, the Lakers have the best chance to make the NBA Finals with their core of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook.
But their talent alone will not automatically make them title contenders, because 7 key factors need to fall right for the team. The Lakers need to make sure they focus on the keys to success because the NBA is very competitive right now with superstars playing for every team around the league. There is no doubt that the Lakers are the best team in the West, but they have massive roadblocks in the form of the Brooklyn Nets and defending champions Milwaukee Bucks. Here are the 7 keys for the Los Angeles Lakers if they want to win the 2022 NBA title.
7. Bench Must Play A Big Role
The Lakers bench is stacked with veterans, young guns, and shooters. On paper, the depth is truly incredible. But the game is not played on paper, and the key bench players must step up during the regular season and the playoffs. Carmelo Anthony was signed after the 10-time All-Star rejuvenated his career with the Portland Trail Blazers. Averaging 14.3 PPG with the franchise after failing to find a way to get back on the court, Anthony must be close to the same player to give the Lakers a scoring option off the bench.
Meanwhile, young guns such as Talen-Horton Tucker, Kendrick Nunn, and Malik Monk will need to be ready at any moment to play significant minutes whenever the Lakers rest their older stars. Horton-Tucker, Nunn, and Monk are very capable of playing 30 MPG and will be needed throughout the long regular season. Shooters such as Wayne Ellington and Kent Bazemore will need to make sure their three-point shooting is steady throughout the season, as the players shot 42.2% and 40.8% last season respectively. Veterans such as Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, and Trevor Ariza will need to be leaders on and off the floor by showing their championship pedigree. Without the bench playing up to par, the Lakers will falter against the top teams in the league.
6. Championship Core Returns
The Lakers were NBA champions in 2020, led by their superstars in LeBron James and Anthony Davis and a host of important pieces including Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, and Talen Horton-Tucker. This year, that core is back intact except it is bolstered with some more important pieces including Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and DeAndre Jordan among others. Without a doubt, the Lakers’ most important core was James, Davis, Rondo, and Howard. These 4 players and (possible) future Hall of Famers are all back, and ready to win another championship together.
Having 4 veterans who were/are All-Stars and superstar talents at their positions guiding the way, the Lakers have a headstart in building chemistry with new pieces such as Russell Westbrook joining the squad. LeBron James is the best leader in the NBA, and he will make sure everyone is war-ready from Anthony Davis to the rest of the roster. James has 4 rings, Davis has 1, Rondo has 2, and Howard has 1 with the Lakers. Meanwhile, Frank Vogel is back in charge of the team and his confidence will still be sky-high after winning it all in 2020. A championship core is well intact and that means Los Angeles will find it easier to incorporate the new guys into their system.
5. Key Players Must Keep Healthy
Health has always been the important determinant in the season for NBA teams because injuries and inconsistencies throughout the lineup cause a ton of chemistry issues for contending sides. Perhaps most importantly for the Lakers over any other team, the Lakers must keep healthy because their key stars are injury-prone and the roster is very old. While the Lakers have a ton of big names on the roster, they are all up in age and will need to make sure they can pace themselves throughout the season. We already saw how LeBron James missed 27 games last season while Davis was unavailable for 36 games in the regular season.
Of course, that injury bug killed the Lakers’ title chances as they dropped to the 7th seed. Davis was also unable to continue his play in the first round of the playoffs, leaving his team undermanned against a rampant Phoenix Suns squad. The Lakers’ two most important stars must keep 100% healthy by the time the playoffs start, and the rest of the roster must keep injury-free as well. Russell Westbrook can expectedly miss around 20 games per season, but he needs to be physically ready for the postseason. Similarly, older veterans such as Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, and DeAndre Jordan will need to be available when their numbers are called.
4. Lakers’ Defense Will Win The Championship, But Are The 'Old Lakers' Ready For That?
In 2020, the Lakers’ greatest strength was not their instant offense but their suffocating defense. Even when playing against a great offensive team in the Rockets in the second round or the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers were stifling the opposing team’s best players and protecting the paint with their size and defensive awareness. For the Lakers to win the championship once again, they will need their defense to be the main calling card.
Los Angeles have a ton of great defensive players from Anthony Davis to Dwight Howard, although losing the likes of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Danny Green over the past 2 years hurts. The Lakers must make sure their interior defense is the best in the league while finding their rhythm in defending the perimeter. Los Angeles do not have defensive stoppers on the wing anymore, so they will need Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Talen Horton-Tucker, and others to focus on defending the three-point line. It will be tougher for the older veterans to dominate the defensive end, although the skill and experience are there. The Lakers have the cards to be a great defensive team, they just need to execute consistently.
3. LeBron James Must Be The General On The Floor
LeBron James will be 37 years old, an age considered “old” by NBA standards. James averaged his lowest PPG average (25.0) since his rookie season but was still able to dish out 7.8 APG. That assist total is impressive considering that was a season after leading the league in APG (10.2). For James, at 36 going on 37, he must focus on being the primary playmaker to allow Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook the keys to the offense. Westbrook has always been a spectacular playmaker, but he must take on a scoring role while LeBron leads the offense the majority of the time.
James does not have the energy, time, or the need to lead the team in scoring and we could possibly see the lowest scoring total of his career. James could still average 25 PPG in his sleep, but with 2 superstars alongside him, that will not be necessary. If James can be one of the assist leaders in the league while averaging somewhere around 20 PPG, that should be enough to guide the Lakers to the #1 seed in the West. LeBron has to pace himself throughout the regular season until the playoffs, something The King does better than most. If LeBron focuses on being the floor general, the Lakers will be very hard to beat.
2. Russell Westbrook Need To Play Smart Offense
The Lakers’ acquisition of Russell Westbrook was a polarizing one. Critics will point to the fact that Westbrook is a poor shooter and is not a natural fit with James and Davis, while fans of the trade will point to Westbrook’s physical dominance at his position. There is no doubt that Westbrook is a future Hall of Famer and one of the greatest point guards we have ever seen. Despite not winning an NBA title in his career just yet, the triple-double machine has 10 All-Star Teams, 2 scoring titles, and an MVP Award in his resume.
Westbrook plays the game with an extreme passion, something that has come in the way of his impact at times. The triple-double superstar has shown the inability to keep a cool head at times, losing possessions for his team through wayward passes or ill-advised shots. Westbrook should improve that aspect alongside the great LeBron James, but a leopard hardly ever changes his stripes. It will take a ton of effort and focus on Westbrook’s part to not fall in love with the three, the triple-double, or any particular individual matchups. Rather, Westbrook needs to be a smart offensive player because a 37-year old LeBron James will be depending on him.
1. Anthony Davis Must Play At An MVP Level
As great as LeBron James and Russell Westbrook are, the key to the Lakers’ title hopes is Anthony Davis. Without Davis on the roster, this team is not a threat by any means. In terms of two-way play, Davis should be recognized as the best big man in the NBA. He was dominant during the 2020 season, averaging 26.1 PPG as the leading scorer on the team. In the postseason, he averaged 27.7 PPG while shooting 38.3% from three and 83.2% from the stripe. When Davis plays like this, the Lakers might be unbeatable. After all, Davis provides a matchup problem for the Brooklyn Nets who cannot stop a dominant big man with versatility.
The Milwaukee Bucks have their own dominant big man in Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he is a few inches shorter than Davis and often handles the ball for his team. Davis has the privilege of playing with 2 elite playmakers and often does not need to create his own shot. When he is fed the ball, the 6’10” superstar will need to look to score every time. It is likely the Lakers will build their offense around Davis, because his size and talent could be overwhelming for almost every team in the league. Of course, Anthony Davis must keep healthy because an ill-fated injury will completely shatter any title hopes the Lakers have. With the Brooklyn Nets looming, the Lakers will need all 3 of their stars at full health but Anthony Davis specifically holds the key to the 2022 championship.
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