The Los Angeles Lakers are held to a higher standard. For this reason, last year was a failure of epic portions. A losing season and missing the playoffs is not the end of the world for most professional organizations. It sucks, but not the end of the world. By Lakers’ standards, making the playoffs is supposed to be a guarantee.

2021-2022 Record: 33-49

2021-2022 Home record: 21-20

2021-2022 Road record: 12-29

Strength of schedule rank: 15/30

2021-2022 Championship Odds: +2,500 (FanDuel)


Rarely will a team that is plus-2,500 to win the NBA title be considered a favorite in many circles. You could point to the large fan base of the Los Angeles Lakers and/or LeBron James. Many feel a healthy, well-coached Lakers team is as good as any other team out there. Los Angeles is only a few years removed from an NBA title and, while that was in the bubble, they were still matched up against the best players in the world and came out victorious. The two foundational pieces remain in LeBron James and Anthony Davis.


Difference-makers

Anthony Davis: The Lakers’ best and only chance at a return to glory rest on the health of Davis. The often-injured big man is one of the more talented, versatile players in the NBA. In his absence, many have forgotten just how good he is. When ranking big men, the usuals appear in the form of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, and Joel Embiid. Then everyone else. Recently, I saw a list from a major, reputable publication ranking Karl-Anthony Towns and Bam Adebayo above AD. Blasphemy at record levels. This offense cannot run at a level that competes with the best in the west unless AD is the on the floor and putting some miles on.

Lonnie Walker: The best player on the Lakers you do not know is Lonnie Walker. I introduce to you this year’s Malik Monk. Here is the kicker, Lonnie will be around for a while and is fully accustomed and vetted into a collaborative style of play from his days at San Antonio. Walker will share and shoot the ball when he should. He is the perfect complement to James and Davis and is fully capable of managing the point guard position, so if you think by mid-season, he will be stealing minutes from Russell Westbrook, you are right.

Austin Reaves:  Lebron James recently said this about Reaves:

“Austin can fit in any group,” James said. “A guy who plays extremely hard plays well doesn’t make mistakes, always in the right place at the right time. He plays extremely hard. His IQ is very high. He fits in any group, and it is always good to be on the floor with him. I love AR.

“He is just super-duper cool. He doesn’t do much of anything besides play ball, chill, and golf. I will always be a fan of AR for the rest of his career. Hopefully, his career is a lot longer than what I got from my career. If I’m still playing and he’s not playing, there’s a problem. But AR is great, man.”

I will assume this is an accurate assessment of Reaves, as few are better at noticing these things. An underrated part of LeBron’s game is his intelligence and court awareness. Bron is a basketball savant so he knows what he’s talking about, and it is high praise from who many call the best player of all time. Reaves figures to be the player on LA’s roster to take the biggest leap year-over-year. His playing time should increase drastically and he will be in the game at pivotal moments.

Patrick Beverley: Beverly’s on-court presence and reputation as a disrupter may be the grit and grime that the Lakers need. His role on the defensive of the ball is what made this move make sense. Beverley did not need the Lakers, as much as the Lakers needed Beverley. He immediately took to ruffling feathers and stirring the pot, playfully.

 

Most great teams have a disrupter – a guy that has a screw loose or just does not care. Draymond Green, Metta World Peace, Bill Laimbeer, and Dennis Rodman all had/have an extra gear that embodies hard work, an all-out approach to every part of the game – and a little bit of crazy. Pat Bev has all of that.


Other factors

Russell Westbrook: The curious case of Russell Westbrook rolls from one season to the next, and few thought it would. The Lakers did everything in their power to ensure Russell was not on the team at the start of the 2022-23 season, attempting to trade him and offload his salary in the offseason. It is believed they may still be trying to move the future Hall of Famer. To say Westbrook has lost something over the years would be a big understatement. At age 33, a player that dominated the league with speed and athleticism, it is fair and expected that he is not the same guy. Skillful players often develop their jump shot in the older years to keep pace. That is not something that has happened for Russell. He has declined from a shooting standpoint. His role will be one of support, defense, and taking shots only when it makes sense. The team cannot afford the chaotic play and turnovers we saw from him last season.

Dennis Schroder: Schroder returns to L.A. after a one-year absence. In his first go-round with the Lakers, he shot 44% from the field, averaging 15 points and 6 assists per game. Dennis was a dynamo at the recent European Championship. Starter, Kendrick Nunn is an A+ free-throw shooter and a near-50% shooter from the field. He is the better all-around offensive player. Schroder lines up second on the depth chart and should work himself into a timeshare with Nunn as he becomes more comfortable in the offense. If the Lakers choose to run more, the veteran could find himself on the floor a lot.

Thomas Bryant: A wildcard of sorts, Bryant is an accomplished center who brings with him a few solid years from his time with the Washington Wizards. In the 2019-20 season, he posted a 13-point and 7-rebound average in only 25 minutes per game, and then 14 points and 6 rebounds per game averaging 27 minutes per contest in 2020-2021. His health will be the question. Thomas has battled injuries most of his career, only once playing more than 46 games over five seasons in the NBA. Thomas staying healthy is important because someone needs to provide size with or without Anthony Davis. Damian Jones is listed as the starting center, but Bryant can easily slide into the starting role and double as a power forward if Davis needs a breather or succumbs to injury. Third-string center Wenyen Gabriel is not the guy the Lakers want to turn to; therefore, Bryant plays a key role in the Lakers making a run.


Los Angeles Lakers Starting 5

Point Guard: Russell Westbrook

Shooting Guard: Kendrick Nunn

Small Forward: Lebron James

Power Forward: Anthony Davis

Center: Damian Jones


Summary: Noticeably absent from the players listed above is LeBron James, who is still arguably the best player in the NBA. It is understood if he does not perform, the Lakers will be a bad team. No player has ever been as productive and durable as LeBron James for so long.

This team will go as James does, but the key components that make the Lakers a championship threat are Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves, and Russell Westbrook. Westbrook will have to fall into a supportive role or get out of the way.

The other crucial part of the Lakers’ chances will be Darvin Ham’s ability to lead. We have yet to see LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook on the floor during the preseason, and not much during practice. It is unclear what his approach will be and what lineup the Lakers will run out there each night, but the feeling is that Ham is going to lean on LeBron to help him craft the best lineup.

Fantasy implications: Anthony Davis is scary as an ongoing injury threat, but this is exactly why you can draft him late first and maybe even late second. Bron is Bron, take him. I love Lonnie Walker and Austin Reaves as low hangers in the draft that will be bigger minute guys come the middle of the season.

Prediction

Regular Season: 45-37 – 7th in the Western Conference

Postseason: Loses in Western Conference Semifinals to Denver Nuggets