CAN ANYONE STOP THE LAKERS?
After signing LeBron James prior to the start of the 2018/2019 NBA season, some questioned the motives of the Los Angeles Lakers board asking “Why build a franchise around the aging [now 34 years] LeBron James?”. After a rough season where LBJ missed a career-high 17 straight games due to a strained groin, many questioned the wisdom of that decision. The Lakers finished 10th of 15 in the NBA regular season, thus missing the playoffs. During the offseason, there were radical changes with the Lakers trading Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram (potential all-star players) together with Josh Hart and three first round picks (including the No. 4 overall in the 2019 Draft) for just one man, the highly rated 26-year-old Anthony Davis aka AD (the 1st overall in the 2012 NBA draft).
Figure 1: LeBron James (left) and Anthony Davis (right) celebrating during their game against the Warriors
AD, the former New Orleans Pelicans star had already demanded a trade the previous season and despite the knowledge that the Pelicans were going to draft the highly rated rookie, Zion Williamson, he refused to extend his stay with the club. The Lakers however managed to hold on to the highly rated youngster, Kyle Kuzma, who can play both the point forward and power forward roles.
The Lakers also kept their standout players, the likes of Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee and still obtained the likes of Danny Green (from the Toronto Raptors), Dwight Howard (from the Washington Wizards) and the duo of DeMarcus Cousins and Quinn Cook (from the Golden State Warriors). To say they had an amazing off season is an understatement.
Fast forward 10 months and all the doubters have been silenced so far. The Lakers sit atop the Western Conference with the best record in the entire league, 13-2 (wins-losses).
Figure 2: Current NBA Western Conference standings
The Lakers have been ruthless and effective this season, winning by convincing margins and grinding out results when required. Their only two losses so far this season have come against the Brooklyn Nets in October (114-111) and the Toronto Raptors this month (113-104). One of their largest winning margins this season came against the bottom placed Golden State Warriors (94-120) who are definitely not making the playoffs this season with the Splash Brothers, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, both out with injury.
The speed with which AD and LBJ established chemistry on thee court was remarkable. They have played together in the past during all-star weekends (Davis is a 6× All-Star) but the way they do so on a consistent basis now is mind blowing. They are two players with outstanding abilities at both ends of the court which is why it is not surprising that they lead the team in almost every major category, stats-wise.
Figure 3: Lakers’ players stats this season, sorted in descending order based on average points per game
Before coming to the Lakers, AD believed he would share the No. 1 duties with LBJ 50:50 but was surprised when told by James that, “Nah, this is yours. I’ll play the second guy. We’re going through you”. With his immense passing ability, James has played the role of creator in the Lakers squad, currently averaging 11.3 assists per game, the highest in his entire career and the highest in the entire league, yet he still averages 24.9 points per game despite having to ease off on the attacking end.
AD, rated one of the best defenders in the entire NBA currently (NBA All-Defensive first team 2018) playing with James, rated one of the best defenders his entire career (5× NBA All-Defensive First Team (2009–2013)) has led to one of the tightest defences in the league this season with AD second only to DeAndre Ayton in blocks. He has been described as “a monster” by Lakers coach, Frank Vogel. They have played to their strengths, relying on a terrific inside game with their physical prowess as opposed to shooting from outside the three-point arc like most contemporary NBA teams.
Figure 4: The very muscular Lakers guard, Rajon Rondo, who is widely considered a “pass-first point guard”
As good as the duo have been, their teammates have also been remarkable. The likes of Kyle Kuzma, Dwight Howard and Avery Bradley are all stepping up and they look like a completely different team this season.
Figure 5: The forward, 24-year-old Kyle Kuzma who comes off the bench to provide a scoring lift for the team
The season still has a long way to go and anything, including injuries, can still happen. However, many would agree that this Lakers team has the ability to go all the way to win a championship trophy, so far the duo of AD and LeBron can stay fit.
Sources: www.NBA.com; www.ESPN.com; www.Wikipedia.com; www.Google.com/images.