Who Will Be the Final Piece of the Lakers’ Puzzle?

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After waiving guard Troy Daniels on March 1, the Los Angeles Lakers look to acquire the final piece of the puzzle in their pursuit of the championship. 

LeBron James’ former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate Dion Waiters is one of the front runners to fill the final spot on the roster after impressing the Los Angeles Lakers during a workout on the March 2.

Waiters can help command the second unit and is used to being heavily involved. Although it is a very small sample size (3 games), during this season Waiters has a high usage rating of 29.6% combined with a 47.3% from 3-point land. These stats show that Waiters can handle the ball and be relied on to create points.

Looking back at a more complete sample; during the 2018-19 season these percentages dropped to 21.3% and 37.7%, respectively. Although these dropped quite significantly it’s still a relatively high usage/conversion rate.

His threat from 3-point range, along with his overall skill-set, gives the Lakers some much needed spacing and opens an opportunity for more cuts to the basket, as well as pressure around the rim.

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Waiters, if conditioned properly and with the right mindset, can be a huge bonus on the defensive end. Per Bleacher Report’s Jim Boehiem, who coached Waiters in college, was quoted saying “he has all of the tools necessary to be a formidable on-ball defender in the NBA. He’s got great quickness, strength and instincts”.  

The main issue with Waiters is his attitude and conditioning. Miami Heat suspended Waiters 3 times this season due to issues ranging from unprofessional conduct to eating edibles on the team plane. If Waiters came in with an open mindset then the culture and professionalism the Lakers offer could help turn his career around. Leaders like LeBron James could help ground Waiters and give him some much needed direction. 

Another former teammate of LeBron James, J.R. Smith is also in the running for the spot. Smith was part of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2016 championship winning team which was spearheaded by James.

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Smith can bring points off the bench which for the Lakers is a huge benefit as when Anthony Davis and/or LeBron James is off the floor there needs to be a body who can provide a scoring output.

Last season Smith was only averaging 6.7 points per game on 34.2% shooting. This isn’t that efficient, however it was a very small sample size of 11 games. With a higher calibre cast around him, Smith would get more open looks resulting in a higher efficiency potentially. During the 2015-16 Championship season, Smith had a 41.5% field goal percentage with an impressive 40% 3-point conversion rate.

By losing Troy Daniels, the Lakers have got rid of an efficient 3-point shooter. J.R smith can help fill that void. He’s a threat from deep with a career 3-point percentage of 37.3%. His main characteristic is being a streaky shooter, however when he gets hot, he ignites and rains them in from downtown.

Smith brings championship winning experience which will help as the Lakers look to push down the stretch and into the playoffs. The main issues regarding Smith is his age and his defensive capabilities. He will have to adjust to spare minutes coming off the bench and needs to be consistent from deep to have a positive impact.

Former Los Angeles Laker, Lance Stephenson has been enjoying a season in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) with the Liaoning Flying Leopards. But due to the coronavirus outbreak the league has suspended matches for the next few weeks, and have suggested extending it to months. Stephenson is open to the opportunity of returning back to the NBA if he finds the right team.

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Stephenson is averaging the 12th highest points per game average in the CBA with 26.7. Whilst maintaining an efficient 52.2% shooting rate. Stephenson can create a lot of his own points and he showed this during the 2018-19 NBA season, with the Lakers, where 49.5% of his field goals were unassisted.

With LeBron James off the floor, the Lakers lose their main play-maker and one of the best passers in the league. Players like Stephenson can help relieve some of those play-making pressures.

A good passer and rebounder, Stephenson offers more to the game than just points. He’s an average defender and when needed will put the effort in and be an annoyance to his opponents. His passing will be needed with the bench unit as although he won’t necessarily be the main playmaker, he can find shooters in good spots.

One of Stephenson’s weaknesses is his streaky 3-point shooting. He shoots at a below average rate from deep and has been shooting 30% during this season in China. Although when with the Lakers previously, he was shooting at an above average 37.1%.

The beauty of having Stephenson in this type of bench role is that when he’s hot you can play him and know he’s going to create shots and points. But on the other hand, there isn’t necessarily a need for him to soak up minutes if he can’t get it going. He can sit.

The Lakers have a few options and these players will all come with pros and cons. However, if they are used in the right way then they all can elevate the team going into the postseason. It’s all about finding that gem in the rough and completing the puzzle.