Who Will Be the Lakers’ Backup Playmaker?

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With the last stretch of the season to go, the Los Angeles Lakers need a secondary playmaker to emerge from their roster that can be relied on to carry the load when LeBron James is off the floor.  

To be able to analyse who can fill the role it’s important to understand how impressive LeBron James is at creating plays and buckets for the team.

James is within the top 15 players in the NBA when it comes to usage rate, with 30.8%. Hence why he has such a strong presence on the court. With this high usage, he also contributes to a league leading (when looking at players who have played over 5 games) 54.4% of the Lakers’ assists.

The 35-year-old is sitting at the top of the assist leaderboard by a distance, with a sensational 10.7 assists per game. Just to put that into context, All-Star Trae Young is second with 9.3 per game. Not only is James producing a huge number of assists, but he’s doing this whilst maintaining a career-high assist to turnover ratio of 2.65.

Along with these stats and eye test, it’s clear to see that LeBron James is an elite playmaker.

Rajon Rondo, who was tipped to be the secondary playmaker, isn’t at the level he used to be. He can still create assists (averaging 5 per game), however he’s not efficient as he has been in the past and his offensive game has progressively gotten worse.

While on the floor, the Lakers’ offensive rating drops by 8.2, which is a huge amount. Compare this to Alex Caruso, who has a sensational +7.5 when on the court. The purple and gold can’t afford to play Rondo on excessive minutes because the impact is detrimental to the team hence why the playmaking role needs to be assigned to someone like Alex Caruso or even newly acquired guard Dion Waiters

Alex Caruso is a fan favourite in the City of Angels. Caruso has a great all-round game and is especially impactful when on defense. Caruso has an impressive +1.6 in Goldstein’s Defensive Player Impact Plus-Minus score. So when on the court, he isn’t a liability on that end unlike Rondo.

Caruso has already showcased some of his playmaking abilities and is currently averaging 1.8 assists per game whilst producing an efficient 2.3 assists per turnover. His passing isn’t near the level of LeBron James, but it’s at a decent level that the team can take advantage of.

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Caruso has proven that he can be relied on when carrying some of the playmaking duties whilst playing more minutes. During last year he was averaging 3.1 assists per game, whilst playing only 3 more minutes per game than he is this season. Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel should increase Caruso’s minutes and let him flourish into the secondary playmaker role. 

If the Lakers don’t want to go down the Caruso route then they can slot Dion Waiters into the role of the backup playmaker. This season is a very small sample size when looking at Waiters passing stats; Miami were not using Waiters as a playmaker and so he was only contributing one assist per game. 

Taking a look back at the 2018-19 season, Waiters was averaging 2.8 assists per game with 1.8 assists per turnover. Waiters isn’t as strong or efficient of a passer compared to Caruso but he can still manage within the role.  

What the Lakers decide could be situational because if there is more of a focus on a 3-point shooter then Dion Waiter is a great choice. However, if there is more of a focus on defense then Caruso is the better option. 

Frank Vogel has a good dilemma in his hands as both guards can be competent in the role. There are over 20 games left to go so there’s still time to experiment with both in the role and analyse who’s more beneficial. 

All stats up-to-date as of March 6.

Lakers Sign Waiters, How Will the Bench Step up in the Playoffs?

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In the aftermath of the Los Angeles Lakers’ new signing of Dion Waiters, we look into what his skill-set brings, and what that means for players like Quinn Cook.

Does this spell the end of any potential minutes for Cook? Does this make the Lakers a more potent team? What’s the difference between them? All will be explained momentarily.

Dion Waiters

Waiters vs. Cook

Waiters and Cook are shooters through and through, but what is concerning is the playoffs. Looking at the relatively small sample size as well as what these players have done this year, there isn’t much to say.

Behind the arc that is supposed to be the great equalizer, both players have shot well throughout their careers. Cook at 41.2% and Waiters at 34.8%. Waiters has no rings, Cook has one, and Waiters has played about half the playoff games that Cook has.

In addition, Waiters holds 2 inches over Cook in height, as well as about 30 pounds in weight.

The question here is who do you trust with the ball in their hands come crunch time?

The Bench

This is where players like Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Alex Caruso all come into play. While Rondo has been inconsistent, there is the phenomenon known as “Playoff Rondo”. Who, a few years ago, was able to help Anthony Davis run right over and sweep the Portland Trail Blazers in the postseason.

Is that something the Lakers can expect for a whole playoff run? Time will tell.

Alex Caruso has become a fan favorite and holds a +23 rating playing besides LeBron James. That holds a lot of weight. Plus, the savviness and toughness he brings both offensively and defensively does make up for his average of 5 points per game.

But will he be able to up his offensive production and hold it all together when the lights come on and the dial is turned up 100 levels in the playoffs? With this being the first time he will play in the postseason, all that’s available is hope and speculation. However, if this season is anything of an indicator, it is more likely than not going to be the exact same Alex Caruso.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the long name may sound odd off the tongue, but quietly he has been an integral piece of the Lakers’ rotation. His 10 points per game and nearly 40% shooting from behind the arc is essential.

You could make the case that he deserves to start. But it is working at the moment with him coming off the bench, receiving staggered minutes between units. Although his 1 steal per game is measly, he is 9 out of 10 times playing good man defense and more often than not in the right place at the right time.

Kyle Kuzma and Markieff Morris are the last bench pieces that jump into consideration also. They both do different things but the eye test is most important.

While both are still trying to really get their roles set on solid ground, they definitely do some good things. Morris a 6-foot-9, “3 and D” type of player. Whereas Kuzma is a scorer at heart, with inconsistent defense.

Kuzma is averaging career lows but the defensive effort has been acceptable. Morris can rebound just as good. if not better, than Kuzma and can hit the 3 more consistently.

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(Image/Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

Back to Waiters, What Version of Do the Lakers Get?

The Lakers are in need of a competent scorer and a consistent defensive player. Not great but good enough to make people uncomfortable leaving him open and/or exploiting defensively.

Dion Waiters, on paper, checks all the boxes. He’s a guard, can shoot, from within and beyond the 3-point line, and can convert broken players. Some important additions include that he can ball-handle and create for others too. All of this is good, again on paper, but his behaviour of the court has lacked for quite some time now.

Waiters presents a lot of offensive potential should he keep his head in the game. Will the Lakers’ culture prevail and keep him in check? or will the Los Angeles culture have him relapse into bad habits?

While all is yet to be seen, the playoffs are just around the corner. The organisation, as well as Laker Nation, are hoping to receive the lights out walking bucket that Waiters is, with the defensive effort to assist the Lakers bring home championship number 17. Thus, tying the Boston Celtics‘ record in the process.

Cross your fingers, the postseason is almost upon us.

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.

(Image/Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports)

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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(Image/ABS CBN Sports)

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.

Harkless to Remain With Knicks, Lakers Have Eyes on Waiters

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Ever since Moe Harkless‘ trade from the Los Angeles Clippers to the New York Knicks, the Los Angeles Lakers have been linked with a move for the 26-year-old via buyout.

Harkless was one of those included in the Marcus Morris deal. Strong indications were that he would request a buyout from the lowly Knicks, to join a contender. A request that multiple reports suggested would be granted if presented to New York’s front office.

The Lakers were in dire need of a defensive wing, and even with the recent acquisition of forward Markieff Morris, Harkless would have still been a desirable acquisition for the purple and gold.

Well, it appears that the New York native is staying put for the remainder of the campaign, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

It appears that all eyes in the Lakers front office are now diverted at free-agent guard, Dion Waiters. Who was bought-out from the Memphis Grizzlies, following his trade from the Miami Heat in the Andre Iguodala trade.

March 1 marks the final day for waived players to be playoff eligible for other teams. Waiters and the Lakers reportedly have a meeting set for March 2, as per Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports. This suggests that Rob Pelinka and Co are exploring the full market before speaking to the 28-year-old, for the second time.

Could the Lakers be closing in on Dion Waiters? It appears so. Especially with recent surprising news that free-agent guard, JR Smith, hasn’t been contacted by the Lakers yet. This was via Smith’s Instagram stores, in a Q&A session.

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