Los Angeles Lakers Roundtable: Part 1

Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

The Los Angeles Lakers are off to a red hot start to begin the year. Even the most hardened non-Laker fans must admit that this Lakers team has the chance to be something special.

With LeBron James and Anthony Davis leading the charge, the purple and gold look like a powerhouse capable of making a deep playoff run.

Here at Lakers Fanclub UK, we are proud to have a group of dedicated, talented and hard-working contributors who love everything Los Angeles Lakers.

We have all gotten together to give our opinions on some pressing Lakers questions that could be important this season.

This is Part 1 of a two-part series.

dwight howard 2019
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

1. Other than Lebron James and Anthony Davis, who has been the Laker’s most impactful player to start the season?

Matt Evans: “Alex Caruso. He’s the perfect role player for any roster, the Lakers are truly blessed to have him. For a player of his talents and impact to have been picked up undrafted, through the G-League, is a steal.

He does the dirty work, drawing charges, earning the Lakers extra possessions. He is solid on defense too, always locked into his duties, being a nuisance, causing opponent errors. He’s currently 4th on the Lakers in steals per game, with 1.1. And 5th in plus/minus out of the entire roster, which shows his consistency night-in-night-out. Plus, those dunks from time-to-time are fun!

Phil Sizemore: “Dwight Howard. This team has a lot of guys showing their best game right now, but none of them have the game-wide impact Dwight can have. His ability to switch and stay in front of guards – he’s had great stretches this season against fast guards like Devin Booker and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – as well as protect the rim and rebound is huge for the defensive game the Lakers want to play.

If he and Davis stay able to keep guards in check 1v1 when called upon, then the Lakers have found a way to avoid the dreaded size/quickness trade-off with their two best bigs. It’s a recipe for a historically good defense. He’s also been active and unselfish on offense, which is the cherry on top.

Kwadwo ‘Kojo’ Larson: For me the most impactful player on this roster so far this season has been Dwight Howard. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with his ability to stay locked in defensively and his energy to always be a team player. His contributions off the bench have been monumental for this team and are a reason why the team has had this level of success so early on this season.

Frank Gaulden: Aside from LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the most impactful player for the Lakers to start the season has surprisingly been Dwight Howard. With Anthony Davis insisting on playing the bulk of his minutes at power forward, the Lakers needed a center who could capably play alongside Davis.

Howard has done this by making an already improved defense even better. The combination of he and Davis has led to stifling defense. According to Basketball-Reference, Howard’s offensive rating is 127, meaning that the Lakers score 127 points per 100 possessions with Howard on the floor. At the same time, his defensive rating per 100 possessions is 99. This is an impressive ratio and it is why Laker fans’ attitudes have done such an about-face since his signing late in the summer.

Los Angeles Lakers v Utah Jazz
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

2. While the Lakers are firing on all cylinders currently, what is a weakness the Lakers have shown so far this season? 

Matt: The Lakers haven’t shown too many weaknesses so far this season. Early on it was the ability to defend the 3-point line that looked to be an issue, but that hasn’t been too bad throughout the season so far, despite slips now and then.

A weakness though would be the ability to do work offensively from the 3-point line though. Statistics show that the Lakers don’t focus their game too much on shooting beyond the arc. But at times this season, the Lakers have converted poorly from 3-point land. If they could find some consistency in that category, maybe some of these wins could be more comfortable.

Phil: Ball handling at the guard position. We saw this coming before the season with the roster construction, and the injury to Avery Bradley, who is the only handling guard on the roster aside from Rajon Rondo, has made the problem worse. But being dependent on Rondo for play-making when LeBron James doesn’t have the ball isn’t great no matter how good a distributor Rondo is, because it makes the offense predictable.

Additionally, Rondo likes to command a set offense, which makes him a sub-optimal partner for high-level improvisers like Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso. The team could use one more ball-handling guard who can run the pick and roll and find guys like Kuzma on cuts to the basket, but without the ball-dominance that comes with using Rondo as much as they have.

Kojo: As of right now, there isn’t any clear weakness for the Lakers. If you would have asked me 3 weeks ago, I would have said the three-point shooting was a problem, however, as of late, the team is shooting just under 50% from the three-point range.

The Lakers are pretty much solid in all areas of the game and that is why I hold the belief that if this team can stay healthy we are certainly title contenders.”

Frank: The biggest weakness the Lakers face is their lack of credible wing defenders. Notwithstanding LeBron’s defensive resurgence, their lack of wing defense was seen in the games they’ve lost.

The few teams that have bested the Lakers thus far have all had one thing in common: dominant wing play for which the Lakers could not adequately matchup.

The Lakers have lost to the Clippers with Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors with Pascal Siakam, and Dallas with Luka Doncic. With the current crop of wings, aside from LeBron James, consisting of Kyle Kuzma or an out-of-position Danny Green or often mismatched Kyle Kuzma, it is clear the Lakers must tighten up this loose end for their stellar defense to hold
up against wing-heavy competition going forward and in the playoffs.

Adam Pantozzi-NBAE via Getty Images

3. In a potential buyout market, who would be an ideal player to add to the Lakers?

Matt: All eyes appear to be on Andre Iguodala, and that is realistic. He should get bought out from the Memphis Grizzlies eventually if they can’t find a trade suitor. The Lakers need a defensive-minded wing presence at the moment, and Iguodala would fit the bill. Even at 35-years-old, he could be an impact player in multiple facets of the game, defense (as previously mentioned), rebounding, distributing the ball, and shooting.

Another good option would be a wing, Jae Crowder, who is also currently with the Grizzlies.

Phil: Everyone says Andre Iguodala and his usefulness is obvious, but a ball-handling, distributing guard who can also get his own shot seems a more pressing need for this team than perimeter defense.

Reggie Jackson in Detroit is an intriguing prospect in that regard. He’s making a lot of money at the end of his prime and Detroit is an objectively bad basketball team. Detroit should be looking for younger talent to pair with Drummond. Jackson is a free agent after this year, so he doesn’t stand to lose much in a buyout if he wants to play on a contender.

Coming off the bench as a ball-handling scorer who is capable of both getting hot himself and making decent reads on the fly, he could help unlock the Lakers’ offensive tools when LeBron is off the floor or away from the ball.

Kojo: “The Lakers would be in prime position if the Memphis Grizzlies can buyout Andre Igouadala’s contract. Many fans of the purple and gold believe that the team could do with another wing player who’s aggressive on the defensive side of the game.

Numerous NBA experts and analysts believe at this rate the purple and gold are the favorites to make it to the conference finals alongside their cross-city rivals the L.A Clippers. To beat the Clippers, you will have to create defensive matchups to nullify the likes of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Adding Iggy to the mix would go a long way in doing this.

Frank: The obvious choice for the most ideal player the Lakers can add in the buyout market is forward Andre Igoudala.The major problem with this is that Memphis knows he’s an ideal fit for not only the Lakers but also several other NBA contenders such as the Clippers.

Adrian Wojnarowski has reported that Memphis does not plan to buy out Igoudala, but will only entertain a trade for him. With Igoudala’s current contract totaling a whopping $17 million in 2019, he is harder to move in a trade than one might think. So it may be that Memphis is merely posturing to see what they can get at this point. Memphis has nothing to lose by holding onto him until the last possible second to see if a team gets desperate.

A player that also plays in Memphis, Jae Crowder, who is also a wing player could fill a similar role to Igoudala, though it’s unknown if Memphis would buy him out either.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Lakers
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

4. If you could bring back a former Laker role player and add him to this squad, who would it be and why? 

Matt: “It’s a no-brainer, Lou Williams. He is the ultimate scorer off the bench. Kyle Kuzma has been relatively inconsistent in such a role so far this season, but he should find his groove eventually. But Williams would provide the scoring punch needed to pull away from teams in close games and carry the team when LeBron and AD go cold.

It’s just a shame he’s doing just that currently with the Clippers.

Phil: Hands-down, this is Michael Cooper. Cooper was such a hounding defensive presence that he won DPOY from the bench in 1987, which is the sort of need the Lakers are looking to fill eventually with Iguodala.

He had both the size and quickness to defend elite wings like Kawhi Leonard and James Harden and got a sort of manic glee from irritating great offensive players. His overall offensive game wasn’t elite, but it was unusually complete for a role player. He was a capable handler, slasher, and distributor as well as a league-leading outside shooter who also happened to possess the athleticism to play above the rim. Bringing Cooper back would eliminate essentially every weakness this Lakers team still has.

Frank: If the Lakers could go back in time and take a past Laker role player to fit on the current 2019 squad, the player they should obtain is Rick Fox. Since the Lakers need a wing defender, few former Laker role players could fill this void more capably, if any.

Fox played on a Laker team where everyone other than Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant had to accept a secondary role. Fox did this capably by being the perfect, gritty, “3 and D” role player the Lakers needed. On the current team where the pecking order is equally as defined with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Rick Fox’s skill set would fit perfectly within the team concept and a position of need.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Lakers
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

5. Predicting the Lakers record for the rest of the season and why? 

Matt: The Lakers could win around 60 games, it could be more, however. When the team has lost this season, they have bounced back in a resilient fashion. But the time will most likely occur where a losing streak kicks in, and that’s where some games could be dropped from the win column.

1st place in the West is the goal, but it isn’t the end of the world if the Lakers slide to the 2nd or 3rd. As long as they maintain that home-court advantage going into the playoffs. All of this is, of course, depends on the health of the roster moving forward, however.

Phil: During the preseason, ESPN predicted the Lakers would win approximately 46.6 games. For perspective, the Lakers would have to end the season 38-32 after their 19-3 start to have as few as 47 wins. They will have a much trickier schedule from December through the yearly long road trip in January, but the end of their season projects to be nearly as soft as the early games were.

The eye-opening performances they turned out on back-to-back nights in Denver and Salt Lake City demonstrated that when this team is healthy and focused on getting a win, it doesn’t matter who they’re playing or where the game is. Barring a significant injury to a superstar, these Lakers are a 60-65 win team.

Kojo: “The Los Angeles Lakers will have a record of either 58-24 or 60 -22. I’m proclaiming this!!! If the teams stay healthy I have no reason not to believe that they will accumulate high amounts of wins in the regular season.

To go into more detail, a 1st or 2nd Seed is where I can see the Lakers finishing this season.

Frank: The Lakers’ current record puts them on pace for 70 wins. However, their most likely record by season’s end will be somewhere from 55-60 wins. As the season goes on, the Lakers are likely to find an increasing amount of games in which to load manage LeBron James and Anthony Davis who has missed very little game time in the first quarter of this season.

The Lakers’ December schedule has been and will continue to be extremely difficult which will likely add some more losses to the Lakers’ record. For instance, three games leading up to Christmas day include the Milwaukee Bucks, the Denver Nuggets, and Los Angeles Clippers.

An NBA team would be hard-pressed to play a more difficult three-game stretch in an NBA season. After the grind of the regular season, the Lakers would be smart to give Davis and LeBron rest leading into playoffs so they are as fresh as can be when they will be needed most.

Many thanks to Matt Evans @Mattyyyevans, Phil Sizemore @phsizemore, Kwadwo ‘Kojo’ Larsen @kwadwo_l and, Frank Gaulden @FrankGaulden for participating in the article.

Part Two is coming soon!.

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