Is LeBron James Going to Win His 5th MVP Award?

He Just Leads the Path For Us": Giannis Antetokounmpo Sees LeBron ...
(Image/Essentially Sports)

This season, as always, the superstars and titans of the league have been battling to earn the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award. Two of the main contenders are the Los Angeles Lakers superstar duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.  

The King of Los Angeles, LeBron James is like a fine wine that gets better with age. At the age of 35, he has led the purple and gold to the top spot in the Western Conference with an impressive record of 49 wins and 14 losses.  

James is the facilitator and is constantly talking and shouting out plays. His passing this year has been exceptional and that along with his basketball IQ makes him one of the best playmakers in the league. This season James is averaging 10.6 assists per game. This is the highest in the league with the Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young in second, with 9.3 per game. Alongside his playmaking skills, James’ scoring has been dominant, averaging an impressive 25.7 points per game. Most of these points come from his unprecedented ability to get to the rim with 14 drives per game which equates to 57% of his points.  

He has been a threat from deep by being just below a league-average 3-point shooter and has increased his efficiency from last year (from .339% to .349%). This efficiency along with his great mid-range game and rim finishing equates to an effective field goal percentage of .555%. Which combined with 19.6 field-goals attempted per game is a hugely impressive feat.  

Defensively James has been solid and the infamous chase down block has been on display many times in the city of angels. He has been grabbing a lot of rebounds with 7.9 per game, of which 6.9 are defensive. His insane athleticism along with his strength allows him to guard anyone if needed, and when players do get past him, he has the speed to recover and defend the rim. 

When looking at Jacob Goldstein’s Player Impact Plus-Minus (PIPM) metric, LeBron James comes out as third in the league with a hugely impressive 6.10. Looking at the Player Efficiency Rating (PER) metric James has a rating of 26.0, which is in the top 10 in the league. 

The 35-year-old superstar has been the focal point for this exceptional Lakers team. He has led the team to the top in a very competitive conference and has had some huge performances against other championship-contending sides. In the game against the Milwaukee Bucks on March 6, James had a sublime 37 points in 36 minutes. The game after that was against the Los Angeles Clippers in a great derby win where he had 28 points in 34 minutes. Both teams are very strong contenders and favourites to win the championship. James showed them what they should expect and fear in the playoffs.  

LeBron James have proven this season that he is an extremely strong candidate for the MVP award. At the age of 35 there’s still no sign of him slowing down. 

Navigate through the other MVP candidates via the link below.

NEXT: Giannis Antetokounmpo

An Interview With Phil Handy (Assistant Coach, Los Angeles Lakers)

(Image/Nelson Chenault/USA Today Sports)

On the latest episode of The Lake Lake Show podcast, Los Angeles Lakers Assistant Coach and 2-time NBA Champion, Phil Handy, featured as a guest.

Handy speaks briefly about the NBA season resuming, his first spell with the Lakers (2011-13), his return to Los Angeles, and the difficulty in leaving Toronto after the Raptors’ title-winning season.

Other topics include the Lakers’ chemistry this season, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma, and his playing days in the United Kingdom with the Manchester Giants in 2000.  

You can check out the interview on all major podcast platforms, including Apple and Spotify. As well as on YouTube, through the link below, where the visuals are available.

Check out Lakers UK’s podcast The Lake Lake Show on all podcast platforms. Including Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Google Podcasts.

Lakers UK are proud affiliate partners of Fanatics UK and the NBA Store Europe. We do possess unique promotional codes for both websites that can offer our readers and followers 10% off site-wide through the following weblinks.

Fanatics UK: and enter the promotional code LAKERSUK10 at checkout to receive 10% off. This is not limited to just NBA apparel, but the discount can be used on MLB, NFL, NHL, Football/Soccer gear also!

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Re-Signing Superstar Power Forward Anthony Davis

(Image/Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

The Los Angeles Lakers and their young star, Anthony Davis, look to take their relationship to the next level.

When they acquired Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans after a lengthy public courtship, the Lakers justly celebrated a mission accomplished. Having acquired LeBron James, they paired him with another superstar just entering his athletic prime. At a stroke, they had made the team a Finals contender again.

Yet, given the probability that Davis uses his player option and becomes a free agent after this season. The Lakers, as well as Davis’ agent (and burgeoning global mastermind) Rich Paul, have had one eye on the contract negotiation to follow. While Davis had forced his way to the Lakers specifically and was widely expected to re-sign with the team, seeing Kawhi Leonard leave Toronto in free agency after winning a title has been enough to stoke furious speculation about Davis’ upcoming off-season throughout the year.

The most likely course has always been that Davis would opt-out to become a free agent, then sign a two-year deal that made him more money than his current contract. In two years, his 10th year in the league makes him eligible for a veteran maximum deal. Davis would then secure a huge contract.

The probability of sudden salary cap reductions following the massive loss of revenue from the coronavirus shutdown complicates matters. Most of the Lakers’ current salary is on contract through next year, and the Lakers may not be able to afford the deal Davis and his agent was expected to sign this summer.

If the salary cap cuts are steep enough, it may end up being more profitable for Davis to decline his player option and extend his current contract one more year. Ideally negotiating when the virus shutdowns have been safely lifted and the league revenue situation is clearer.

One thing that seems clear is that, regardless of the salary situation, the Lakers remain the runaway favorites to secure Davis’ services for the long haul. They have a championship-caliber roster, future space to secure another max player as James ages. Not to mention the well known climatic and financial advantages provided by the city of Los Angeles.

Furthermore, the coming cap crunch will be felt across the league, crippling the ability of other teams to offer a contract sufficient to lure Davis away from his chosen destination.

Anyone living in our current timeline would be a fool to dismiss the unlikely, but it would take a significant unforeseen event to prevent Davis from returning. That makes the Lakers’ plan for the next five years to first secure a long-term star to pair with Davis through his prime, then fill out the roster with cheap but high-value contracts.

Check out Lakers UK’s podcast The Lake Lake Show on all podcast platforms. Including Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Google Podcasts.

Lakers UK are proud affiliate partners of Fanatics UK and the NBA Store Europe. We do possess unique promotional codes for both websites that can offer our readers and followers 10% off site-wide through the following weblinks.

Fanatics UK: and enter the promotional code LAKERSUK10 at checkout to receive 10% off. This is not limited to just NBA apparel, but the discount can be used on MLB, NFL, NHL, Football/Soccer gear also!

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Grading the Lakers’ 2019/20 Starters

(Image/NBC Los Angeles)

With the NBA and the world at a halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s the ideal time to roundup the Los Angeles Lakers’ season especially when there are rumours floating around that the season may be canceled. 

The Lakers have had a successful season and are currently sitting on the second-best record in the league, 49-14. Led by the aging titan LeBron James and perennial All-Star Anthony Davis, who are averaging 25.7 and 26.7 points per game, respectively. With the team having performed so well we’re going to grade each starting player from A+ to F- based on their contributions and impact. 

LeBron  James After NBA Suspends Season: 'What We Really Need to ...
(Image/Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

At the age of 35, LeBron James is the purple and gold’s floor general that dominates the court. He is facilitating and orchestrating most of the plays and is the leagues assists leader, posting a sensational 10.6 per game. Not only is James assisting a huge amount, but he is also scoring relentlessly with 25.7 points per game.  

James was more of a threat from deep this year compared to last, this was evident as his 3-point percentage increased to an above-average 34.9%.  

When looking at Jacob Goldstein’s PIPM metric, James is sat in third with an impressive +6.1 score. On both ends of the court he has been a huge presence and his defensive impact has been evident throughout the year.  

There are not many negatives when looking at LeBron James’ season. However, the glaring issue is his poor free-throw shooting (.697%) which is below his career average. 

The Lakers traded a lot of key pieces to get Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans to form arguably the best duo in the league, and this was a crucial move for the organisation. With the way James has stepped up into another gear, it’s clear that it was a great decision. 

Questions were asked on whether LeBron James would deteriorate but he has proved again why he’s in the conversation of being the greatest player of all time. 

Grade: A+ 

Anthony  Davis Reiterates He Will Enter Free Agency Next Summer
(Image/Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

In his debut season for the Lakers, Anthony Davis has shined and has proven to be the perfect superstar to link up with LeBron James.  

Davis is proving to the league that he is one of the best 2-way players. He is leading the Lakers’ scoring effort with an impressive 26.7 points per game, whilst being one of the top Defensive Player of The Year candidates.  

When looking at Jacob Goldstein’s PIPM metric, Davis is sat at 7th with an impressive +4.55 score. Davis has been exceptional on the defensive front and is averaging 9.4 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, and 1.5 steals per game. 

Davis has been asked to put up more 3-pointers and his efficiency (33.5%) is around league average. He needs to put up even more shots and work on his efficiency as it creates a lot more space by drawing defenders out to him when beyond the arc. 

Overall, Anthony Davis has been a top-10 player but there is another gear that he can go into. 

Grade: A 

Danny Green note sa performance au cours de la saison NBA 2019-2020
(Image/Getty Images)

After his Championship winning season last time out in Toronto, Danny Green landed in the City of Angels and has been a good addition to the roster. 

Green has not hit the heights of last season and his performances have dipped. But he has still been impactful. When looking at Goldstein’s PIPM metric, Danny Green has a +1.51 score. Although it’s not as impressive as last year (+3.85) he is still in the top 100 (#65).

Green is known for his “3 and D” playstyle and has been impressive on the defensive end, but his scoring hasn’t been as efficient compared to his previous seasons. His 3-point percentage is still above league average at 37.8% but this is a huge dip compared to last year where it was 45.5%. 

Overall Danny Green has been a good addition but has not reached near the level he showed last year in Toronto. To get close to that he needs to be more consistent and improve his field goal and 3-point efficiency. 

Grade: C

Avery Bradley on beating Nuggets for second time in Denver: "They ...
(Image/Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Avery Bradley’s defensive work rate and efficiency has been great this season. He has brought his toughness along with a high work rate and has been a big reason why the Lakers are a top-3 defensive team.  

Bradley’s offensive game has improved this year compared to last and he’s a lot more efficient. His shooting efficiency has increased from last year. By 1.3% from range and by 3.6% from the field. This efficiency increase along with his defensive output has made a big impact on the team.  

Overall, Avery Bradley has had a good season and has improved upon his last. The consistency is the only question mark around Bradley. 

Grade: B 

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(Image/Kirby Lee-USA/TODAY Sports)

JaVale McGee’s defense has been excellent this season and he is also a big reason as to why the Lakers are a top-3 defensive team in the NBA . 

McGee’s rim defense has been exceptional resulting in him averaging 1.5 blocks per game. He is a key component to the defensive cog of the Lakers and not only is his defense exceptional, but his offense has really improved this year. McGee’s field goal percentage is the second-highest it has been in his career at 64%. 

JaVale McGee has found his role within the team and although he plays limited minutes he certainly makes an impact when on the floor. 

Grade: B+ 

Check out Lakers UK’s podcast The Lake Lake Show on all podcast platforms. Including Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Google Podcasts.

Lakers UK are proud affiliate partners of Fanatics UK and the NBA Store Europe. We do possess unique promotional codes for both websites that can offer our readers and followers 10% off site-wide through the following weblinks.

Fanatics UK: and enter the promotional code LAKERSUK10 at checkout to receive 10% off. This is not limited to just NBA apparel, but the discount can be used on MLB, NFL, NHL, Football/Soccer gear also!

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Rebirth of the Big Man: How the Lakers and Bucks Are Bringing Back the Big

(Image/Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

After years of ascending small-ball, the Association’s best are winning with size.

The last 20 years of NBA basketball can be seen broadly as a process of reorienting the focus of play from the low post to the perimeter – specifically to the three-point line. The NBA in the 1990s was a brutal place, where “freedom of movement” did not really exist and intimidating defensive bigs took sadistic glee in physically punishing anyone who dared attack their baskets.

The most common strategy NBA teams employed to deal with those bigs was isolation offense. The two general options featured either a countering big large and skilled enough to take the punishment and score anyway (Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson), or a smaller player who could operate in space while the bigs manipulated the illegal defense rules to clear the paint (Michael Jordan, Reggie Miller).

Beginning in the early 2000s the league decided to actively discourage isolation ball, particularly from the post. Anxious to prop up viewership after Jordan’s second retirement and faced with a seemingly unstoppable post player in O’Neal, the league reasoned that loosening up the ball and refocusing play toward the perimeter would make the game more exciting for fans.

(Image/Andrew Bernstein/Getty Images)

First to go was the illegal defense, changes to which permitted partial help positions that fell short of a double team, effectively legalizing zone defense for the first time in the NBA. The variety of additional defensive coverages this rule change allowed made scoring in isolation from the post significantly harder. Then came the outlawing of hand checks and the freedom of movement rules, both designed to give perimeter players the room to run freewheeling motion offenses.

The collection of new defensive rules made post-ups with bulky centers a less attractive and less efficient option on offense, even in the presence of a mismatch. The consequence was that when elite teams – eg the LeBron James-era Miami Heat and the Golden State Warriors – chose to go small and space the floor with a bevy of strong wings rather than play traditional bigs, teams who did play those bigs were exposed on defense and unable to compensate offensively.

The center position became smaller, quicker, and emphasized switchability over rim protection on the defensive end. On offense, former back-to-the-basket bigs found themselves required to stand in the corner or the “dunker spot” as floor spacers while their ball-handlers attacked the rim. Those who were unable to space effectively found they had little left to contribute.

Collectively, these changes paved the way for the brand of maximally spaced, three-point gunning, wing-dominant basketball we have seen in the association for most of the last decade. In the process, they banished the kind of slow, bruising defensive big so popular in the 90s and 00s. Guys like Roy Hibbert and Timofey Mozgov, once important pieces on contending teams, found the market for their services wither and die in the space of two years.


As mentioned above, the necessary thing for a modern big to provide on offense is spacing. Spacing in the new NBA generally comes with the connotation of three-point shooting, but that need not be the case. Non-shooting lob threats such as Javale McGee and Jarrett Allen have leveraged their length and athleticism to space the floor in the third, vertical dimension rather than laterally toward the three-point line.

There is a simple reason why a pure lob threat can be impactful in the NBA today in a way that a more skilled back-to-the-basket scorer who lacks athleticism cannot; offenses no longer begin in the post. Initiating the offense from the post position allows 20 years’ worth of rule changes to work against it.

It is much more efficient to penetrate from the perimeter, where the rules are friendlier to the offensive player, and then allow the big to read the defensive help and act as a finisher. Regardless, a plausible big on a successful NBA team must be able to either step out to the three-point line or be a lob threat and elite finisher from the screen and roll.

(Image/Getty Images)

The Lakers have gone all-in on the latter approach, sacrificing more shooting from the 5 positions in exchange for athletically gifted finishers. They are able to do so because both McGee and Dwight Howard are significant lob threats and skilled finishers around the basket from the bounce pass. The offense rarely runs through them, but they make themselves essential by expanding the variety as well as the location of passes a ball-handler can make.

Anthony Davis provides yet another degree of complexity as he is a finishing threat from the pocket pass, lob, or three-point line. LeBron James, with the potential to shoot or drive from all three levels, finds that he regularly has several shooters and a lob threat/finisher from which to select his preferred assist. Regardless of who provides the help, he is always one pass from a good shot.

The Bucks, alternatively, have focused on the shooting big approach with players like Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova. Uniquely in their case, Giannis Antetokounmpo is properly classified (for now) as a non-shooting big but is also their primary ball-handler. As a result, the Bucks have found it convenient to play a 5-out offense. They trust Antetokounmpo’s superior physical gifts to break down the defense and give him an array of three-point shooters to choose from based on the source of the help defense.


The defensive end of the floor is the most important for bigs. As analytics gurus since Dean Oliver have pointed out, even in the days of the illegal defense, it was never necessary for a successful offensive team to have a dominant big. Elite perimeter players can score just as well.

On the contrary, almost every great historical defense has been anchored by an intimidating big. The reason is obvious; the two most efficient shots in the game are layups/dunks and foul shots, and a skilled defensive big significantly reduces the number of such shots an offense can produce.

(Image/Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports)

The problem, as illustrated, is that with the increased efficiency of the three-point shot in the last ten years such a player must be able to reasonably contest the three-point line as well as rim protect. If the big cannot do both, the defense has to find some way to compensate on the perimeter in order to keep him from being played off the floor.

The Bucks are able to play a slower-footed big like Lopez on defense in a way most teams would not be. They can do so because of the absurd length and athleticism across the remainder of their lineup. Their array of wings can cover the necessary space on the perimeter to allow Lopez to use his talents and timing as a rim protector without being taken advantage of by perimeter players with too much regularity. The fact that they can make their rotations more quickly means they either don’t have to switch quite so frequently or are able to recover faster.

The Lakers, by contrast, have been blessed with three proper bigs who have the combination of quickness and length needed to contain ball-handlers in Davis, Howard, and McGee. In important game situations throughout the season, the Lakers have trusted those three in 1v1 situations against smaller players and found that the switch is not systematically exploitable.

The Formula

The scarcity of the true big in recent years is largely due to the rapidly changing nature of the position. It is hard enough to last 5 or 10 years in the grueling climate of the NBA, but to be asked to do so from a position the demands of which are shifting in ways many players are unable to accommodate seem downright cruel. Teams have found it easier to play small and diversify skill-sets than to have to pick their poison with players who are more physically gifted but less versatile.

The Lakers and Bucks have taken two distinct but related approaches to solving these problems which deliver a solid collective blueprint for how to play with real size in the modern NBA.

(Image/Natheniel Butler/Getty Images)

The Bucks use their shooting bigs to provide maximum space for Antetokounmpo on offense while covering for their perimeter defensive deficiencies with the combination of elite size and athleticism at the other positions. The Lakers, meanwhile, have chosen to employ multiple switchable rim-protectors for maximum defensive versatility, while compensating for their lack of shooting bigs with several elite lob threats who provide vertical spacing.

Both choices have benefits and drawbacks. The Bucks are far and away from the best in the NBA at defending the rim, in part because they always have their primary rim protector somewhere in the vicinity. The Lakers conversely allow fewer three-pointers than the Bucks because their switchable bigs are able to deter otherwise-good shots.

For all their stylistic differences, the essential commonality is that these two teams have found a way to play big without being overextended by jump-shooting, wing-heavy lineups of the sort that have been the most successful in recent years. The fact that the two teams doing this most effectively are the two best teams in the league by every commonly used metric is suggestive.

There are a number of cogent arguments to be made that the NBA ought to consider rule changes to revive some of the skilled big play lost in the last 20 years. Even in the absence of those changes, though, it seems that perhaps – like many dinosaurs – the NBA center is not dying out so much as simply evolving. As more bigs are brought into the league to specifically fill the strategic niches exposed by teams like the Lakers and Bucks, playing larger may well find itself in vogue once again.

Lakers UK are proud affiliate partners of Fanatics UK and the NBA Store Europe. We do possess unique promotional codes for both websites that can offer our readers and followers 10% off site-wide through the following weblinks.

Fanatics UK: and enter the promotional code LAKERSUK10 at checkout to receive 10% off. This is not limited to just NBA apparel, but the discount can be used on MLB, NFL, NHL, Football/Soccer gear also!

NBA Store Europe: and enter the promotional code LAKERSUK10 at checkout. This is not limited to Lakers gear, the discount is available site-wide on any product you wish to purchase!

Anthony Davis’ Impact on the Lakers

(Image/AP Photo/Nam Huh)

With the playoffs within sight, how big of an impact does Defensive Player of the Year candidate Anthony Davis have on the Los Angeles Lakers?

The Los Angeles Lakers ever nearing the end of the current regular season campaign. With Championship or bust aspirations and winning a record tying 17 titles for the late great Kobe Bryant on their minds. The Lakers should be locked in for the remainder of the season.

A crucial part of the pursuit for the 17th ring will be Anthony Davis.

Davis was front and center during the 2020 All-Star game. Playing in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois. He took the game winning free throw to win the game for Team LeBron.

Alongside the likes of LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Davis and Co. upped the intensity in the second half and the 4th quarter was full of grit and determination and was a great tribute to Bryant’s ethic and mentality. Although many critics complained it ended on a free throw, it was quite a fitting ending as Bryant started and ended his career from the line. 

R.I.P Mamba.

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(Image/Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports)

Davis has shown that the steep price the Lakers paid for his services has been worth every cent. Davis is having an excellent season for the purple and gold. The perennial All-Star is boasting an impressive +4.3 PIPM (Goldstein’s PIPM) score. This is evident when looking at his exceptional defense; Davis is staking his claim for DPOY with a huge 2.4 blocks per game, as well as 1.6 steals.

Alongside JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard, Davis and the Lakers allow minimal points in the paint. This and along with some great perimeter defense equates to the Lakers currently being a top-5 defensive set-up.

On the offence, Davis is averaging a sensational 26.6 points and is fulfilling the role of being one of the best two-way players in the league. He is getting to the line more often and is attempting his 2nd highest free-throw attempts of his career this season whilst hitting a career high in percentage (85.3%). 

Davis has been a monster in the paint this season but he is also stepping up his long-range game and is causing opponents to respect that aspect of his arsenal.

After being persuaded to take more 3s, he has put this into action whilst still maintaining an above average efficiency and this is important when playing alongside LeBron James as creating space and having a threat from deep is crucial to fulfilling the team’s potential.  

The 26-year-old is shooting a below average 31.6% on 3.4 attempts. While his shooting percentage is not at league average, he is still hitting the 3-point shot with enough consistency to force teams to respect his outside game.

Look at the game against the Denver Nuggets just before All-Star weekend to assess the impact Davis is having on the team. Davis put on an exhibition and this was evident as he finished with 33 points (50% from 3), 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks.

In overtime he sank two threes with assists from James to put the pressure on Denver, then shuts out the game by calmly hitting both free throws. His defence on the Nikola Jokić was nothing short of exceptional and was key to the win.

Image result for anthony davis lebron james
(Image/Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)

While Davis’ impact has been felt hugely in 1st half of the season, we can expect for Davis to step it up even further post All-Star break with the Lakers looking to nail down the top seed in the Western Conference.

With the last stretch to go before playoffs it’s going to be an exciting watch as we see the Lake Show dismantle teams at Davis and James’ mercy.  

Lakers UK are proud affiliate partners of Fanatics UK and the NBA Store Europe. We do possess unique promotional codes for both websites that can offer our readers and followers 10% off site-wide through the following weblinks.

Fanatics UK: and enter the promotional code LAKERSUK10 at checkout to receive 10% off. This is not limited to just NBA apparel, but the discount can be used on MLB, NFL, NHL, Football/Soccer gear also!

NBA Store Europe: and enter the promotional code LAKERSUK10 at checkout. This is not limited to Lakers gear, the discount is available site-wide on any product you wish to purchase!

Can the Lakers Compete Without Anthony Davis?

(Image/Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

After Anthony Davis suffered the lower back injury against the New York Knicks on the 7th of January, the Los Angeles Lakers got there first chance to show what they could do without there All-Star Big Man. With AD back in the starting lineup, it is definitely worth having a look into whether the Lakers can compete without him.

Anthony Davis initially underwent an MRI after the injury but was then diagnosed with a gluteus maximus contusion. Fortunately for the Los Angeles Lakers, the fall did not cause major injury for the former Kentucky Big Man.

Even though Davis is considered a cornerstone for the Lakers title chances this season, it is well worth taking a deeper look at how capable the Lakers are without The Brows. At the end of the day, considering his health in the past, it is not out of the question that the Lakers may have to endure a long stint without AD in the future. Perhaps even into the playoffs.

The five games the Lakers had to play without AD is a good sample to pull from as it is the first extended period of games the Lakers had to face without there starting Power Forward.

Almost surprisingly so, the Purple and Gold did pretty well in Davis’ absence. From the 10th through to the 18th of January they won four of five games, only losing late to the Orlando Magic on Wednesday the 15th.

Despite Davis providing 27 points and 9 rebounds a night, the Lakers stats didn’t drop off at all they went up.

So who was responsible for filling the gaps?

LeBron James

(Image/Getty Images)

Even though LeBron James missed one of the last five games, he kicked his (already heavy) workload up a notch to keep this team ticking. Until AD went out, James averaged 25 points and 10.8 assists on the season, in the four games he scored an average of 29 points a game and assisted on 11.5 shots for the 16-time champions.

As far as Usage Percentage is concerned (a stat that estimates the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor), James went up slightly from 30.8% to 32.6%. This goes along nicely with a 5% percent increase in True Shooting Percentage.

James also had a 3 point increase in his Player Impact Rating (PIE measures a player’s overall statistical contribution against the total statistics in games they play in).

This is expected from James when his Robin goes down, he is more than capable of carrying this team for short stints of the season. But the Lakers must be careful with the four-time MVPs’ minutes and Usage Percentage as they learned their lesson the hard way last season.

The organization will hope that moving forward some of the other guys can step up, whether that requires a trade or otherwise.

Kyle Kuzma

(Image/Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images)

Kyle Kuzma has to be an obvious mention. After a pretty impressive five games, including an extremely successful game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Scoring 36 points in the game, shooting 62.5% from the field, this added nicely to his average of 20 points over the 5 games where Davis was absent – going up from his usual 12 points a game.

As expected, Kuzmas’ minutes went way up. Over the five where Davis was unavailable, Kuzma played an average of 32.7 minutes a game. As opposed to his 23.4 minutes a game he averaged throughout his first 28 games of the season. Of course, this coincided with him taking more shots, with his Field Goal Attempts going from 10.3 per game up to 17 shots a game.

Unfortunately for Kuzma, that’s where the upwards trend ends, everything else pretty much stayed the same. This, however, does create an interesting conundrum regarding Kuzma. And whether it is just more minutes he needs to be effective as a third scorer, or it’s the fact that a combination of coming off the bench and the style of play whilst Davis is in the rotation has some sort of effect.

The main issue is perhaps Kuzma struggles without an efficient offensive initiator. In the five games without Davis, Kuzma either started alongside LeBron James (one of the best offensive initiators in the game) or a red hot Rajon Rondo.

This is depicted well when you look at the Net Points Per 100 Possessions for 2-man combinations. When Kuzma plays with James they sit at +14 (highest on the team). The next two highest-rated for Kuzma is when he plays with Rondo (+8.2) and Alex Caruso (+7.8). This shows that when Kuzma comes off the bench and the back- up Point Guard is struggling then he will almost definitely struggle to be effective himself.

This probably means that Kuzma’s current form isn’t sustainable when he joins back up with the bench unit. Unless he finds a way to score efficiently without a playmaker he may not be the answer to the Laker’s third scorer needs.

Quinn Cook

(Image/Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Another player that benefited from the increase in minutes over the last 5 games was Quinn Cook, particularly in the loss against the Orlando Magic on January 15th. He scored a season-high of 22 points on 9 of 14 from the field. He played in all five games whilst Davis was unavailable but only received significant minutes in three of the games.

In the three games in which he played at least 18 minutes he averaged 14 Points Per Game and shot 66.8 True Shooting Percentage; that’s a nice increase coming from averaging 4.6 PPG and a TS% of 48.5. He was also able to improve his PIE rating over the three games, up to 13.3 from 6.3.

This is a nice little flash in the pan group of performances from Cook, a player that many expected a bit more from before the season started. This recent little stint may show that he requires more minutes then he usually receives to be effective

Dwight Howard

(Image/Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

So who grabbed those extra rebounds while there wasn’t a 6′ 10″ 250 lbs beast recording 9 a game? Nonother than Dwight Howard. After his return to the Lakers this summer Howard has bean impressive but was still able to take it up a notch when given the space to do so.

With a slight increase in playtime, Howard was able to pull in 12.2 rebounds a game. It left him averaging a Double-Double at the end of the five games as he was able to record 11.6 points per game, up from his season average of 7.1.

As far as Advanced stats go, he also improved. The big man’s USG% rose from 13.5% to 18.2%, showing that the initiators recognized the extra space Howard had inside while Davis recovered. To go along with the increased usage, Howard managed to increase his PIE rating from his season average of 10.8 up to 15.7.

All in All, the three-time DPOTY had a solid five games. With the help of fellow big man, JaVale McGee, they were able to make up for the hole in rebounding that they could have suffered from without Davis. With him also being able to make slight improvements in other areas of the game.

Rajon Rondo

(Image/Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images)

With almost an honorable mention we have Rajon Rondo. A guy who due to injury was only able to play two games in the concentrated group of games Davis missed, but boy did he play well in one of those games.

In the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on the 11th, Rondo scored 21 points, earned 8 assists and grabbed 12 rebounds. Isn’t it strange that it coincided with Lebron James taking a night off?

Even though this is just a small flash of what Rondo used to be, it is a sign for Lakers fans that he is still capable of that, even just for one game. I am not saying that in anyway Rondo is back in his Celtics days but it is well worth having him on the roster in case he decides to have a vintage day in the playoffs.

To summarise, if the Lakers are forced to play another 5-6 regular-season games without Anthony Davis they’ll be able to survive. Unfortunately, the playoffs are a whole different case. Without any kind of movement in the buyout market or before the trade deadline (February 6th), the Lakers’ success this season hinges completely on there two main guys.

You could argue this regarding any team but it applies especially to the Lakers as they lean on James and Davis to not only be there main scoring output but also facilitate their whole offense.

Lakers Fanclub UK are proud affiliate partners of Fanatics UK and the NBA Store Europe. We do possess unique promotional codes for both websites that can offer our readers and followers 10% off site-wide through the following weblinks.

Fanatics UK: and enter the promotional code LAKERSUK10 at checkout to receive 10% off. This is not limited to just NBA apparel, but the discount can be used on MLB, NFL, NHL, Football/Soccer gear also!

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The Lakers Keep on Rolling: A Mid-Season Review

(Image/Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

We have passed the mid-way point of the 2019/20 season, and it’s far to say that the Los Angeles Lakers‘ season so far has been nothing sort of remarkable.

41 games through, the Lakers sat at 33-8, and are 34-9 at the time of writing this. Not even the most hardened fans of the purple and gold would have expected such a start to the season. Especially with the team sitting multiple games clear at the top of the Western Conference.

To mark the halfway mark of the campaign, we have brought five UK-based Laker fans on-board to provide their views and opinions on the early season success of the 16-time NBA Champions.

Could this season be where the franchise lifts championship number 17? Possibly so.

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(Image/Chris Elise/NBAE/Getty Images)

Q: The Lakers are sitting top of the Western Conference at the moment, and by quite distance too. What are your thoughts on the season so far?

Cole: “Great. I love the chemistry and the belief around the team. It really is great to have a winning team again. I really do think the regular season is important to this team’s confidence. The way we finish this season could seriously affect the way we start the playoffs.”

Mark: “This season feels legitimate. It is like being back in the good old days of the title-contention Kobe years. There’s a maturity about the team – not just that the average age of the players is higher, but across the board from the front office, the coaching staff, and then the playing squad. The approach to the season feels like when Playoff time comes the whole organisation will be locked in.”

Jamie: “The season has been fantastic so far. It’s a refreshing change to see us winning plenty of games and it makes that 3am get up to watch games a lot more enticing! I expected us to be a top 3-4 seed in the Western Conference but didn’t think we would be top seed by so many games at the half way point of the season.”

Amandeep: “The Lakers have been absolutely tremendous to watch this season. If you told me at the start of the season that after the midpoint of the season we would be so far ahead at the top of the Western Conference, I would’ve snapped your hand off! I thought there would be in a transition phase, similar to other teams, but the chemistry seems to be already at a high level throughout the team.”

Jonathan: “I think even the most fanatical Lakers fan couldn’t have wished for a better record at this point in the season. On the back of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers look like the team to beat in the Western Conference. With an excellent supporting cast and room to improve, the Lakers could be an even more dangerous animal if they can pull off some trades before the deadline.”

Q: Why do you think this team is so good?

Cole: “AD and LeBron is the simple answer. Put those two guys on any team in the league and it’s a pretty good team. But one thing I do think is underrated is Frank Vogel’s effect on this team. As we know he is a great coach and with the right tools, his teams can be successful.”

Mark: “When Walton was hired we heard a lot about the “culture” of the team. Unfortunately, during those Walton years the culture or personality of the team never quite came together. Over the summer, the Lakers were transformed somewhat from the top down. We now have a driven AD, a determined LeBron, and a serious and capable Head Coach. I think you have to credit Jeanie Buss and Rob Pelinka for righting the ship somewhat, let’s see how far that goes.”

Jamie: “Adding a second star in AD has been a huge factor. But I think the criticism that LeBron got in the summer has been one of the major factors. He’s playing at an MVP level in every single game and he carries the team at times. The other major factor for me is the rim protection we have with AD, JaVale McGee, and Dwight Howard. That’s been second to none this season so far.”

Amandeep: “The quickness of how this team has gelled, they look a real unit. Lakers have numerous strengths. For one, I think we have the best interior defense in the league, especially highlighted by the 20 block game against the Knicks. I feel the team has a great know-how, a way to get things done. It shows with our tremendous record against under .500 teams. Even if we don’t play well, we seem to get it done for the most part, which is always the hallmark of a championship team.”

Jonathan: “With this Lakers squad, there is a sense of unity and togetherness that we haven’t seen in a long time. Not since the days of Magic and Kareem have we seen two superstars so in sync. With a team full of players capable of starting, it shows the character of this team that they are willing to play a role to help the Lakers win. They have all bought into Coach Vogel’s system and philosophy.”

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(Image/Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Q: This roster has many strengths, that’s clear too see, but what are you concerned about with the Lakers moving forward? What are the weaknesses?

Cole: “The obvious concern moving forward is the lack of a third scorer. Kuzma has shown flashes of that already, but nothing solid. It’s a problem that needs addressing moving forward otherwise we are stuck relying on a random third option from night-to-night.”

Mark: “I think it’s easy to say we need another wing, a backup point guard, and possibly some toughness on the bench. However, the current NBA is replete with excellent teams, but no perfect teams. In other words, there’s areas that need improvement but I’m not really concerned about weaknesses.”

Jamie: “My main concern hasn’t changed at all since the start of the season – and that’s how we cope without LeBron. We may be able to cope with the odd game but if he missed a stretch of say 4-6 games then I would worry about who would run the offence in his absence.”

Amandeep: “A big weakness I would point to is the lack of defensive options at the wing to guard a tandem like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. LeBron isn’t going to guard them all the time. Danny Green certainly can try. I think KCP is too small physically to cope in that role.”

Jonathan: “Two major concerns are the Lakers’ lack of depth at the small forward position behind LeBron James, and play-making.”

Q: Who has been the most surprising player so far this season?

Cole: “DWIGHT!! He’s been great. Way more than expected. We really couldn’t have hoped for more from his return to Staples.”

Mark: “Back in 2009 I was trying to get my young brother-in-law into basketball. To this day he says he’ll call his first son Dwight. That was the Dwight Howard who we thought would put the Lakers back on top again – we all know how that turned out. Things could have been so different…maybe, just maybe, this year they will. Whatever happens, I’ve never enjoyed a sports redemption story as much as I have with this year’s Dwight Howard.”

Jamie: “The most surprising player for me has been Dwight Howard. He’s been an awesome addition to our team and whilst we all knew he could still play a little, the most surprising thing is how much he seems to be loving his time back in LA.”

Amandeep: “The most surprising player has to be Dwight Howard. He’s been a revelation. It’s a real bonus that a former DPOY can regain form and still play at a high level, even if it’s off the bench. I approached him with teal skepticism at the start of the season, but he really has proven me wrong.”

Jonathan: “The surprising player is clearly Dwight Howard. Coming back to LA seemed like a recipe for disaster for him but he has been able to resurrect his career and is now one of the most beloved teammates and is a fan favorite. Time really does heal all wounds.”

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(Image/Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images)

Q: And… the most underwhelming player?

Cole: “Probably Cook. I really liked the signing after his stint at Golden State. Unfortunately, he has struggled to make a real mark on the court. I think he would maybe have more success if we played him as more of a catch and shoot player rather then an initiator.”

Mark: “Sadly I have to say Kuzma. Not that I think he’s the worst performer on the team, he’s probably about where you might expect. It’s just that we had to hope he would make a noticeable improvement and thus far that hasn’t really happened. That being said, I’d be in no hurry to trade him.”

Jamie: “Might be controversial but my most underwhelming player has been Danny Green. There is no doubt he has had a few great games for us but I expected him to contribute a lot more. I think maybe Vogel agrees as he seems to limit his minutes quite a lot in certain games.”

Amandeep: “The most underwhelming player for me is Lebr… just joking it’s Rajon Rondo! Yes he can turn it up every now and then but he’s clearly lost another step and his defense is woeful to say the least.”

Jonathan: “Kyle Kuzma has been incredibly underwhelming this year. He has not reacted well to coming off the bench. If Kuzma continues to play this way, there is a high likelihood he will be traded.”

Q: The trade deadline is fast approaching (February 6), should the Lakers make a move? If yes, what type of move?

Cole: “I think it all depends on what happens with Darren Collison. The thing is we have a real hole at point guard and could really do with an experienced ball-handler to take the pressure off of LeBron. If Collison falls through then Bogdan Bogdanovic or Derrick Rose could be options. Unfortunately, the only guy that holds enough value to get either of these guys is Kuzma, a player I like but still hasn’t proved himself playing at this level.”

Mark: “The Lakers front office should certainly be looking to see what moves might be on the table. That’s their job. But the chemistry has been so good this year, and this team has been so starved of season-to-season consistency I don’t think there should be a rush to make sweeping changes before the deadline.”

Jamie: “Given the recent efforts from our role players while AD has been out, I wouldn’t trade anyone personally. I can understand the noise around a Kyle Kuzma trade but the team chemistry seems fantastic and I don’t think we should mess with that. Yes, Kuzma is very inconsistent but he still has the ability to go for 20-25 points on any given night which is invaluable.”

Amandeep: “With the trade deadline fast approaching, I would look for a buyout candidate in Collison. Iguodala looks unrealistic at the moment, so Collison would be a real plus. If I had to make a trade I would try and move Cook/Daniels and maybe Cousins for Rose. Or Kuzma/Cook/Daniels for Bogdanovic and another piece.”

Jonathan: “With this Lakers team, I think minor moves could help the team get better. Moving Kuzma for wing depth would help the Lakers greatly. Kuzma and pieces to the Phoenix Suns for Cam Johnson and Dario Saric would be a good exchange. This gives the Lakers added length, shooting, and depth at both small forward and power forward.”

Q: The buyout market is also an option, should the Lakers explore it?

Cole: “The only guy I think we should keep a close eye on is Igoudala and whether the Memphis Grizzlies finally decide to give up on him or not. He would really add another piece of championship pedigree that we could always use. Not to mention a great wing defender.”

Mark: “They should absolutely explore the buyout market, for the same reasons as above. I’d be looking for someone like Jared Dudley – an experienced pro, good team-mate but also capable of contributing in his role.”

Jamie: “In my opinion we should just explore the free agent market for a ball handler and wing defender. For me, Collison and Iguodala are the 2 names I would be pursuing. Adding them both would be ideal but if we can get at least one of them, I think we have enough to go all the way.”

Amandeep: “Lakers should certainly go for Collison or Igoudala in the buyout market. Although Collison seems to be the only deal that looks likely.”

Jonathan: “In the buyout market, the ideal candidates would be Jae Crowder, Goran Dragic, and Trevor Ariza. Andre Iguodala could be an option too but the Grizzlies seem hesitant to do business with anyone not willing to hand over picks. Landing a quality wing defender and play-maker could be huge in terms of the Lakers beating the Clippers and making it to the NBA Finals.”

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(Image/Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Q: What will the Lakers’ record be at the end of the regular season?

Cole: “I think 60-65 wins is well within reach now considering the start.”

Mark: “I hoped for about 53 wins this season. 60 looks more likely now. Pinch me.”

Jamie: “I think we will finish with a winning record of 58-24 as we have a much tougher schedule in the second half of the season.”

Amandeep: “The Lakers’ record at the end of the season will be 64-18. I feel like we will drop some more games as LeBron and AD will tailor off the minutes towards the end of the season.”

Jonathan: “If the Lakers continue as they are going I don’t think 66-16 is an unrealistic record. The main thing the Lakers should be focusing on however is being healthy, full of energy and ready for the playoffs.”

Q: And finally, what’s the ceiling of this team? What will be the outcome of this season?

Cole: “Hopefully a championship, I think anything otherwise would be a disappointment. But then I always say when it comes to the Lakers, if you expect disappointment you won’t be disappointed. Bit pessimistic, I know.”

Mark: “This team rides on LeBron’s health. He stays healthy? We’ve got a chance of going all the way. He and AD both stay healthy? Expecting anything less than a Championship would just not be the Laker way.”

Jamie: “For me, we will reach the Western Conference Finals against the Clippers but I then think it’s 50/50 as to whether we will go through to face probably the Bucks for that illusive 17th Championship.”

Amandeep: “The ceiling and outcome of the team is simple – Championship babbbyyyyyy!”

Jonathan: “The ceiling for this team is an NBA championship. They have proven so far this season that they have the talent to beat anyone if they can improve even further then they can really put teams like the Clippers and Bucks under a lot of pressure. I think the outcome will be a Larry O’Brien trophy… if they stay healthy.”

Thank you to Cole, Mark, Jamie, Amandeep, and Jonathan for taking part and providing their views. Make sure to give them all a follow on social media through the links included.

Lakers Fanclub UK are proud affiliate partners of Fanatics UK and the NBA Store Europe. We do possess unique promotional codes for both websites that can offer our readers and followers 10% off site-wide through the following weblinks.

Fanatics UK: and enter the promotional code LAKERSUK10 at checkout to receive 10% off. This is not limited to just NBA apparel, but the discount can be used on MLB, NFL, NHL, Football/Soccer gear also!

NBA Store Europe: and enter the promotional code LAKERSUK10 at checkout. This is not limited to Lakers gear, the discount is available site-wide on any product you wish to purchase!

Are Howard And Davis The New Robinson And Duncan?

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(Image/Harry How/Getty Images)

A huge claim to say the least, but with the young superstar in Anthony Davis and the aging former MVP candidate, yet effective veteran, in Dwight Howard. Are they the next big man duo to set the NBA alight?

Let’s get this out of the way early. I am not comparing Dwight Howard at this moment in time to an in his prime David Robinson.

I am simply comparing Robinson at age 33 and Dwight Howard at age 33 (now 34 but for the start of the season, aged 33). Tim Duncan and David Robinson throughout their illustrious career accomplished more than most NBA players ever will and it would be unfair to compare careers to this point. For the sake of argument, we are comparing the production of Howard and Robinson at 33 and Anthony Davis and Duncan at 25.  Are we all in accord? Great.

The Los Angeles Lakers after suffering an opening night loss to their city rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers, have put together some impressive wins to open the season and have shown that they have the potential to make some noise in the playoff picture moving forward.

On the back of stellar play from superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the purple and gold have put teams to the sword at times and look to be the unstoppable pairing most NBA analysts believed they would be.

Their collective skill-sets have lent perfectly to each other’s strengths and weaknesses. LeBron being the elite play-maker and leader, and Anthony Davis being the elite defender and pick-and-roll monster.

While LeBron and Anthony Davis have rightfully garnered most of the plaudits, several significant role players have stood up and been counted. The likes of Avery Bradley, Alex Caruso, Danny Green, and to a lesser extent JaVale McGee, have all been important pieces to the Lakers’ early-season exploit.

However, one former superstar, who was thought to be on his way out of the league has been one of the key ingredients to the Lakers’ success. None other than the former “Dwightmare” himself, Dwight Howard. I think we as Lakers’ fans can now put to rest that difficult period in Lakers’ history and move on to the next chapter.

Howard has been providing valuable minutes for the purple and gold so far this season. His ability to set bone-crushing screens and slam down some perfectly timed lobs have been greatly appreciated by Lakers Nation and he seems to be doing everything he can as a teammate to get rid of the memory of the “Dwightmare”.

While Howard’s incredibly efficient offensive ability has been in full view and has been great, it is his work on the defensive end that has fans of the purple and gold raving.

Let’s start with his blocking exploits. To start the season, he was 5th in NBA in blocked shots, averaging 2.33. What made this statistic even more remarkable is that he was and still is doing this while coming off of the bench. Howard is currently splitting minutes with JaVale McGee, and with McGee as the starting center.

While Howard’s block numbers have gone down to 1.5, he is still providing a huge amount on the defensive end in turns of staying in-front of his man and his ability to stay in-front of guards to effect their shot. While the blocking stats are incredible, it is the overall contribution in help defense that has endeared him to Lakers Nation.

If he isn’t swatting shots at the rim, he is sliding over to help his teammates as a weakside defender. He has proven to be a nuisance to opposing players and long may it continue.

Alongside superstar Anthony Davis, Howard has formed one of the most formidable big men pairing in the league, which got me thinking about some of the best big men pairings in NBA history.

McHale and Parrish, Kareem and Worthy, Sampson and Olajuwon, some of the greatest frontcourt pairings in NBA history, but the first, and in my opinion best pairing, was David Robinson and Tim Duncan.

Robinson is one of the best and in my opinion the most underappreciated centers in NBA history. His name is often forgotten among the likes of Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon as one of the true great centers of the post-Kareem era.

While Dwight Howard was considered the best big man in the league during his prime, he is far from his prime now, but that’s ok.

Comparing his numbers at aged 34 to that of Robinson’s, and the admiral has him beat in pretty much every category, however a few things need to be taken into account.

Howard is playing 12 fewer minutes per game then Robinson was, and is not the first, second, third and sometimes not even the fourth option when it comes to scoring the ball.

To start the season Howard was averaging similar numbers when it came to blocks, averaging 2.3, this has since gone down to 1.5 and so far he has been an ultra-efficient scorer.

Pete Zayas of Laker Film Room masterfully outlines Howard’s contribution on the defensive end.

Again, he is not a better center than Robinson but at the same age, they have potentially similar stat lines. Granted Howard has been poor the last number of years, while Robinson was the height of consistency throughout his storied career.

With Howard as a defensive-minded veteran like Robinson, you need someone who has similarities to Tim Duncan. Look no further than Anthony Davis.

Duncan is understandably considered the gold standard when it comes to power forwards. To me, he unquestionably the greatest power forward in NBA history.

The greatest compliment that can be bestowed upon Anthony Davis is being compared to this Spurs legend. Davis in a rapid period has gotten into the conversation as one of the greats at the power forward position. Yes, Davis has a ways to go yet to catch the “Big Fundamental”, but he is on the right track and has the potential to reach the mountain top.

With Davis’ abilities on both ends of the floor, it is hard not to see similarities to Duncan and Davis’ game. Both beasts on the offensive end, Duncan would beat you with his razor-sharp fundamentals and IQ.

Davis while also a savant on the floor can beat you with his array of post moves and if that doesn’t work Davis is going to use his superior physical build to beat you up in the post.

On the defensive end, both Davis and Duncan were/are juggernauts. Each man among the league leaders in blocked and contested shots. It was truly a marvel to watch Duncan on the defensive end of the floor and I can easily say the same about Davis right now.

So Davis and Howard, are they the next Robinson and Duncan at the same stages of their career? I’m going to say this. The potential is there.

If Dwight Howard can get more minutes and continue to be ultra-effective on the offensive end whilst still wreaking havoc on the defensive end then yes, Howard and AD have the chance to be a special pairing.

It is extremely early days and it would be blasphemous to put them in the same league in terms of achievements throughout Duncan and Robinson’s career. But with Howard and Robinson at 33 and Davis and Duncan at 26 years of age, there is a chance that the Lakers duo could have a similar output to Duncan and Robinson, if even only on the defensive end.

If Davis and Howard can keep this level of play up, stay healthy and learn to play together even better then the rest of the NBA better be on notice. With their defensive abilities, they can be special.

With Davis and LeBron James the main focal point (rightfully so), Howard can continue to grind on defense and maybe just maybe the Lakers can bring the Larry O’Brien trophy back to Staples Center.

The Lost Decade – Part 2 (2016-Present)

With the signing of Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng, the Lakers were being led down an unfamiliar path named mediocrity. Something needed to change.

Jeanie Takes Control

Cruelly, the 2016-2017 season began with a hopeful aspect. In spite of widespread criticism of the front office over the Deng and Mozgov contracts, Ingram and Russell were considered smart choices with high level picks and the scouting department was using lower-level picks to hit on solid bench players like Nance and Ivica Zubac. Walton was highly regarded as a prospective coach, and an attitude of youthful optimism took over the early season.

The team had started well above expectations at an even 10-10 before a tougher stretch of schedule and the injury bug conspired to derail the season. The Lakers were a putrid 7-24 in December and January, and then seemingly out of nowhere a dramatic ownership battle erupted.

Jeanie Buss, who had been left the controlling owner of the Lakers by her father before he passed, had her primary expertise and focus on the business end of the franchise. Her brother Jim, who worked in the front office, had largely been left to deal with basketball matters, along with General Manager Mitch Kupchak.

Seeing the team continue to underperform in spite of her brother’s pledges to return to title contention, Jeanie had grown impatient. When Jim failed to meet a self-imposed deadline to return to the playoffs by 2017 – the Lakers finished an improved 26-56 but were eliminated from contention in February – Jeanie promptly fired him, Kupchak, and most of the rest of the front office. She replaced them with longtime friend and Laker legend Magic Johnson as President of Basketball Operations and former Kobe Bryant agent Rob Pelinka as General Manager.

(Image/Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Shortly thereafter, as the season unceremoniously wound down, Jeanie was forced to put down an attempt by her scorned brother to take control of the team by taking him to court. The failure to make the playoffs again after a promising start combined with the ugliness of the conflict at the ownership level did not project the look of an organization ready to contend for a title.

Still, Jeanie Buss, Johnson, and Pelinka made some bold moves in the 2017 off-season with a clear objective in mind: restore the Lakers’ status as the premier destination for elite talent in the NBA. To rid themselves of Mozgov’s massive contract, they agreed to trade Russell with him to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Brook Lopez and a draft pick swap. Doing so permitted the Lakers to guarantee they would have max-level salary space the following summer when several big names such as LeBron James and Paul George would be free agents.

They had been aided by the luck of the draw when the NBA Draft Lottery delivered them the second overall pick yet again, a high enough spot for them to retain it. They used it on the college point guard phenomenon Lonzo Ball, who drew comparisons to Johnson for his combination of size, speed, and court vision at that position.

They were also able to use two late first-round picks previously acquired to draft Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart, who along with Ball impressed in Summer League. Also, they signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was a client of LeBron James’ agent and close business partner Rich Paul, to a conspicuously generous contract.

In spite of these changes, the 2017-2018 season started poorly, with injuries and uncertainty about roles again to blame. Yet after an atrocious December, the team played better than .500 basketball, with each of the youngsters impressing in turn, to finish at 35-47. In February, the Lakers traded Clarkson and Nance to Cleveland in a deal that took on only contracts in their last year, increasing potential cap space for the coming free agency period.

With several huge names available and the Lakers openly clearing as much salary cap space as possible to court them, the summer of 2018 was set up to be pivotal in the plan Jeanie Buss, Johnson, and Pelinka had made when they took over the organization the previous season. The circumstances were unlikely to ever be more favorable. They had the money, they had a cast of promising young players on cheap contracts, and they had the best salesman in basketball.


Star Chasing

The name most widely connected to the Lakers near the beginning of free agency in 2018 was Paul George. He had requested a trade to the Lakers from Indiana before being dealt to join Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City instead. Yet as midnight approached on day one of the 2018 free agency period, the announcement (complete with a three-part ESPN special that made The Decision seem comparatively modest) came that George would be signing a four-year contract to remain with the Thunder.

Yet again, the Lakers had missed out on a major free agent and it was a body blow to their plan. Given George’s vocal request to be moved to the Lakers, the team had been widely expected to be very competitive in the market for his services. As it was, George was so taken with the lavish recruitment campaign Westbrook and the Thunder mounted that he decided without even granting the Lakers a meeting.

Yet even as the Laker fan base was stunned to the point of despair by George’s decision, Magic Johnson had been quietly invited to a meeting at the Los Angeles home of LeBron James. James was thinking about his future, and the potential attractions of both playing near his family and the media production opportunities available in LA were too strong to ignore.

The one thing James needed to know before making the move was whether he could trust the organization and front office to build winning teams around him. He may have had one eye on life after basketball, but he was not interested in spending his last years in the league trapped on bad teams as Bryant had.

Throughout their conversation, Johnson detailed the Lakers’ long term plans and sold James on a partnership with the organization. The message was particularly powerful coming from Johnson, who was so beloved by Dr. Buss both as a player and an individual that he was given a small ownership stake in the team. James was convinced.

Less than a day later, the Klutch Sports Twitter account tweeted a press release.

(Image/Klutch Sports)

Pelinka would later say that he found out in similarly low-key fashion when James’ agent Rich Paul texted him a simple “congratulations”, adorned for good measure with a balloon emoji.

But James was not the herald of a return to elite basketball, at least not immediately. Ball, Ingram, Kuzma, and Hart all had a long way to go, and the Lakers lost sharpshooting center Brook Lopez in free agency to the Bucks. Yet the addition of James was enough to have the Lakers in solid early position at 19-14 entering a Christmas confrontation with the twice defending champion Warriors.

The Lakers played a marvelous game, even closing it out effectively after James left in the third quarter with an apparent groin injury. But 20-14 was as good as the Lakers’ record would be. James’ recovery timeline stretched from weeks to months. Losses mounted as the supporting cast proved maddeningly unable to finish games without him.

The drama escalated when 25-year old superstar Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans went public with a request to be traded to the Lakers. To emphasize the point, he changed his representation to Klutch Sports and Rich Paul. The message was unmistakable: I want to be a Laker and LeBron James wants me to be one too.

The young players spent weeks in the lead-up to the trade deadline reading their names in press reports about trade discussions. Their play and team chemistry suffered. Worst of all, the deadline passed without a deal, meaning that the team and players they had openly been discussing trading were stuck with one another through the end of the year.

When James finally returned after three months, he seemed a step slower. A promised push to sneak into the playoffs never materialized. The team ended the season 37-45, out of the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year. Media personalities began to question whether, at age 34 and having just incurred the first significant injury of his career, James would be himself again even with a long summer to recover.

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(Image/Los Angeles Times)

LeBron James’ first season, even accounting for injuries, was a disappointment. People expected more of Ball and Ingram than they delivered, even when they showed flashes of their potential. James himself hadn’t failed to make the playoffs since his second year in the league. The failure to secure a trade for Davis during the year made the off-season all the more consequential. Some even said that without another star, the Lakers could be compelled to trade James and start over.

Adding to the Lakers’ misfortunes, Johnson unexpectedly resigned after the season, alluding to contention within the organization at the management level. Head Coach Luke Walton was fired. To replace him, the team had a high profile flirtation with former Laker and former James coach Tyronn Lue, only to see that negotiation fall through when the Lakers refused to meet Lue’s price.

Johnson then went to the media to express his frustration with Pelinka, who he claimed had been commenting loudly on the amount of time he spent working with the Lakers as opposed to his other business commitments. Talk of organizational dysfunction was revived.

It was at this point, when the Lakers’ long term plan seemed in serious danger of collapse, that they finally managed to trade for Anthony Davis. Davis’ insistence that the Lakers were his chosen destination scared off other potential suitors and the Lakers’ offer was clearly the best available. When another fortuitous draft lottery made the first-round pick they had been offering the fourth overall, their trade package became too good for New Orleans to refuse indefinitely.

It cost them Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and a combination of draft picks and optional-swaps sufficient to make the move somewhat risky, but the Lakers finally secured their second superstar. Additionally, the team brought in a coaching staff headed by former Pacers coach Frank Vogel, and with highly regarded names in Jason Kidd and Lionel Hollins as his assistants.

Seeking to build a dynasty, they immediately pivoted to Kawhi Leonard‘s free agency and pitched him heavily on playing with two more of the world’s best players in his home town. Leonard had plans of his own and leveraged the temptation of the Lakers to force the Los Angeles Clippers to trade for Paul George to secure his services.

The 2019 off-season came to a close with mixed reviews. On one hand, it is difficult to criticize anything about the acquisition of Anthony Davis, who is a generational player. Yet, seeing the Lakers lose out on a free agent of Leonard’s caliber to the Clippers of all teams – taking with him another star long linked to the Lakers – only reminded fans of a dozen recent failures in free agency, and continued mistrust of the front office remained.

The Rise

Starting immediately after Leonard’s signing with the Clippers, the Lakers filled out their roster around their newly minted star duo. Danny Green, Avery Bradley, DeMarcus Cousins, and astonishingly – after Cousins suffered an ACL tear during an off-season workout – Dwight Howard was added to returning players Kuzma, Alex Caruso, Rajon Rondo, and JaVale McGee.

Several prominent commentators who shall remain nameless sneered at the roster. But 34 games into the season the Lakers are 26-7 and first in the highly competitive Western Conference. For the first time since late 2012, the Lakers are playing with championship expectations.

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James has come out in MVP form after his long off-season and he and Davis have shown early chemistry both on and off the court that few dared expect. With Davis sending signals of his intent to re-sign with the Lakers in his free agency after this season and the Lakers playing at a championship level, the intermediate future of this team seems – for now – to be secure.

In the last ten years, the Lakers fell farther and harder than they ever had. They had missed the playoffs only four times in 53 years from the time they moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, then they missed them six years running. They whiffed on more than half a dozen high-profile attempts to sign any max-contract caliber player, all while looking at the retired numbers and wondering where they went wrong. They were, over that span, the worst team in the league by the record.

Finally, though, fans have every reason to be hopeful. The two players they have leading their team are both going to be first-ballot Hall of Famers. Even should they fail, for whatever reason, to deliver a championship, they will not fail to be in the conversation every year they play together.

They are playing the sort of crowd-pleasing basketball that made this team the most followed in the world. The front office – following Johnson’s departure – has chosen to remain silent and let the results speak for themselves. They are speaking so loudly no one seems to notice the conspicuous silence at the top of the Lakers organization.

No one really knows if the tandem of James and Davis will win a Finals. There are, as always at the highest levels of athletic competition, dozens of things that could derail their efforts. Yet, for the first time in years, it feels as though the Lakers are making the correct moves and seeing the fruits of their labor. Whatever the next ten years look like for this team, it will not look like the last.

For part 1, click here.

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