Ask any betting house, pundit or NBA analyst, you will hear that the Los Angeles Lakers are the top three hot favorites to reach the NBA Finals.
The question is, will the Lakers eventually clinch the Larry O'Brien trophy? This question, at this point in the NBA bubble, has yet to be answered convincingly. The main issue is that the Lakers have not come across as dominant and feared as a top Western Conference seed should be.
Below we analyze the top 10 major problems the Lakers must resolve immediately if they want to win the championship this season.
1. Giving Up Too Many Three-Pointers To Opponents
The Lakers are giving up to 15 three-pointers on some games, which is hurting their ability to hold on to leads.
The dependence on Avery Bradley is evident. In the absence of this premier "three-and-defense" player, everyone needs to chip in to help the perimeter defense specialist, Danny Green.
Defending the three-pointer is hard work and the whole team needs to swarm the opponent shooters with bodies if the Lakers want to increase their winning chances.
2. Team Effort Needs To Step Up On Steals
The Lakers are rather inconsistent with their steals. Some games, the team hits double-figure steals. Other games, there are single-digit steals from only one or two players. Everyone has to be more preemptive and quick to intercept opponents to rack up the steals.
3. Quicker Switching
The Lakers' big men have been very effective in defending the post. However, when opponents drive the lanes or dance around the elbow or shoulder, the Lakers big men need to be able to switch fast, make quicker decisions, or call for defensive moves for teammates. That way, the defense is more fluid and dynamic during the intense Playoff situations.
4. Team Playmaking
LeBron James led the NBA in assists per game. This is a good fact. However, the team is overly reliant on him for playmaking. When his assist numbers fell in the past few games in the NBA bubble, the whole team's offense stagnates.
We do get occasional assists from Anthony Davis, Alex Caruso, or Quinn Cook. However, in order for the team to be dangerous and versatile in every situation, every player must have to ability to move the ball and make playmaking decisions. Once every player is able to contribute a few assists each game, the team can then collectively hit twenty or more assists regularly and keep the opponent on their toes.
5. Lack Of Clear Third Scoring Option
As of now, the Lakers don't have a defined third bona fide scoring option. Everyone is assuming Kyle Kuzma is the man but he has not proven his mettle with his twenty points or lower contribution thus far in the NBA bubble.
Either Kyle has to miraculously increase his production in offense or someone else has to quickly step into this role to lower the pressure on the two primary superstars, Anthony Davis and LeBron James.
6. Three-Point Shooting Volume Is Too Low
Take a look at last season's Western Playoff teams, the average three-pointers per game was 10.9. Contenders like Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets were shooting a jaw-dropping 12.2 and 15.6 per game respectively. All of them are capable of shooting high volumes of three-pointers. All were consistent and dependable to outshoot the opponent when it matters. The Lakers are shooting just 8.33 three-pointers per game in their six games in the NBA bubble and it is screaming atrocious on all levels.
The Lakers have been firing at a uglily low volume thus far in this NBA bubble. With an abysmal low of 2 for 19 in their outing against the Houston Rockets and a pathetic 5 for 37 in their poor showing against Oklahoma City Thunder, the Lakers looked nothing like a top seed in a slugfest Western Conference. As a result, most of their points come from drives, dunks, or mid-range shots.
With this aging team, scoring the three-pointers is more efficient and more productive for the slower players that the Lakers have. This change is key for a long run in the Playoffs.
7. The Return Of "Playoff Rondo"
Whether it is the courtside camaraderie, the time-out advice, the basketball IQ during plays, the defensive effort, or the playmaking ability, the Lakers have been missing the presence of Rajon Rondo ever since he was injured.
The good news is, Rondo is returning soon. The more pertinent need now is to quickly integrate him back into the team so that he can lend his Playoff experience to the team and propel then further with his championship DNA.
8. Kyle Kuzma Has To Be More Aggressive
Ever since the exodus of his buddies, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma has been treading on thin waters. He has been careful and deferring in taking his shots, giving way to the two superstars.
While we know that any team LeBron is on will always need adjustment to his ball-dominant style and be ready as a spot-up shooter, Kyle definitely is capable of surpassing just being a shooter. Kyle Kuzma was clutch before the arrival of LeBron. He showed flashes of a high volume closer and attacks relentlessly.
This season, Kyle's game matured in that he knows how to read schemes better and plays meaningful defense. All the Lakers need right now is for Kyle to bring out that competitive juice in him and be more aggressive in attacking. If he is able to demand the ball, demand the attention of the opponent defenders even more with nightly high scoring, the Lakers will enjoy better spacing and freedom on the floor. This is key to the championship hopes.
9. LeBron James Has Yet To "Flip The Switch"
We always hear that superstars can "flip the switch" when it matters most. Now, more than ever, the Lakers need LeBron to be in that dominant mode.
We shall see if the longevity of LeBron is as good as it gets in his 17th season. Nothing works better than proving it with a fourth championship ring.
10. Anthony Davis Needs To Play The Center Position
Despite his reluctance to bang against the big men in the post area, Anthony Davis is a rare gem as a center. His unique size, athleticism, wingspan, ball handling, speed, scoring ability, and defensive prowess makes him easily the most versatile and unstoppable center in the league if he wishes to.
Anthony Davis is also a premium switching big man who makes defenses fear when they commit to help or double team. He can put it on the floor and dribble to the basket. He can post-up and score that hook shot. He can drive and kick-out to shooters. He can also pull-up almost anywhere and make his shot.
If he is willing to play center all Playoffs, there is little to no chance that any team can have a single answer to the Lakers lineup.
So after seeing these loopholes and weaknesses in the Lakers' overall ability, it is imperative that they make some adjustments heading into the Playoffs. It would be interesting to see how the Lakers morph, adapt, and solidify themselves into the hot title favorite that everyone has been talking about all season long.