Have The Lakers Surrounded LeBron With His Best Supporting Cast Ever?
The Lakers may have found the formula for optimizing LeBron James at this point in his career by surrounding him with an army of smart, young, talented, team-first players who could be his best supporting cast ever.
The Lakers making the conference finals stunned the basketball world and left the late-to-the-party pundits and need-to-see-it-to-believe-it doubters eating their false words but not realizing they haven’t seen anything yet. What Lakers’ critics and haters don’t see is Pelinka not only put together a roster than could help LeBron James win a ring at 38. He’s also assembled an army of young talent that perfectly complements today’s LeBron James.
The new-look roster Rob created was not a short-term cobbled-together shot to win LeBron one last championship at 38. It was a masterclass move to build a roster that could end James time as a Laker with a dynasty.
In what should be the twilight of his career, LeBron James is still a top-10 player capable of carrying his team to a championship, especially when surrounded on the Lakers by the best supporting cast ever in his career.
The Los Angeles Lakers surround superstar LeBron James with 7 players, who can be broken down into four tiers, starting with the Second Superstar, the Starting Guards, the Starting Forwards, and the Backup Guards.
1. The Second Superstar
Heading that army of talent surrounding LeBron is 30-year old superstar Anthony Davis, who‘s finally taken the torch from James as the team’s most valuable player and reclaimed his standing as the league’s best defender.
Finally healthy and arguably playing even better than during the Lakers’ 2020 Bubble Championship run, Davis is #1 in the playoffs in defensive and total rebounds and blocked shots while anchoring the Lakers #1 defense. Davis is averaging 21.2/14.1/2.7 in 36.9 mpg shooting 53.0/27.3/83.8% with +7.5 plus/minus. Meanwhile, LeBron has been able to coast, averaging 23.4/10.0/5.3 in 37.4 mpg shooting 49.1/26.3/76.2% with +1.7 plus/minus.
While LeBron James is likely just a top-10 rather than top-5 NBA superstar, the new rim-and-paint focused Anthony Davis is healthy, engaged, and dominating as the best center and defensive player in the entire league.
2. The Starting Guards
After trading Westbrook and Beverley, the Lakers’ new starting backcourt has been 27-year old D’Angelo Russell and 25-year old Austin Reaves, a pair of young, do-everything combo guards who can shoot, pass, and defend.
The Russell and Reaves duo has not only given the Lakers two young lead guards who have size, length, and talent to score at all three levels, rebound at both ends of the court, and make plays for themselves and teammates. In the playoffs, Russell is averaging 15.7/3.3/5.0 in 31.6 mpg shooting 44.5/34.7/77.3% with +4.6 plus/minus while Austin Reaves is averaging 15.4/4.8/4.3 in 35.1 mpg shooting 43.4/38.7/85/7% with +6.8 plus/minus.
Two superstars and two legitimate stars almost guarantees the Los Angeles Lakers will have at least four players with double digit points every game. The Lakers hope Russell and Reaves will be their backcourt of the future.
3. The Starting Forwards
By trading for pair of 6' 8" power forwards in 24-year old Jarred Vanderbilt and 25-year old Rui Hachimura, the Los Angeles Lakers were able to finally fill their long-time need for taller defenders to guard bigger wing scorers.
Vanderbilt and Hachimura have given the Lakers a pair of ‘starting’ quality forwards with totally different skill sets. Vanderbilt is an legitimate elite wing defender while Hachimura has great potential as a 2-way 3&D wing. Vanderbilt is averaging 5.3/3.7/0.9 in 17.2 mpg shooting 40.7/25.0/66.7% with -0.3 plus/minus as a starter while Hachimura is averaging 11.3/3.6/0.6 in 21.2 mpg shooting 57.0/53.3/8.3% with +1.3 plus/minus off the bench.
Heading into Denver, there’s a possibility Darvin Ham may once again make a change to the starting lineup. Going big and playing Hachimura instead of Schroder would make great sense against the Denver Nuggets.
4. The Backup Guards
One of the Lakers’ greatest strengths in the playoffs so far has been the depth and versatility of their bench, especially their backcourt where a duo of ‘starting’ quality backup guards have empowered the team’s bench.
Steady contributions from Dennis Schroder and the re-emergence of Lonnie Walker after losing his starting job due to injury have given the Lakers consistent defensive chops and offensive firepower off the bench. Schroder is averaging 7.5/1.7/2.9 in 24.3 mpg shooting 41.1/30.8/84.6% with +4.5 plus/minus while Walker is averaging 6.8/0.9/0.9 in 13.4 mpg shooting 52.3/39.1/75.0% with +1.0 plus/minus. Walker was Memphis Game 4 hero.
The Lakers’ backcourt depth and diversity due to Dennis Schroder and Lonnie Walker IV was a big factor in their beating the second seed Grizzlies and defending champion Warriors in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The Los Angeles Lakers remain slight underdogs to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals, which start tomorrow night in Denver. L.A. will be looking to finish this road series in six games like rounds 1 and 2.
That means the Lakers must somehow steal one of the first two games in Denver. They flew to Denver last night to get a jump on getting acclimated to the altitude. The Nuggets are surely the best team the Lakers have faced. The Nuggets not only have 2-time MVP Nikola Jokic but also boast a lethal offensive team that shoots 3’s at 37.9%, 2nd best among all playoff teams. This series will undoubtedly come down to Anthony Davis vs. Nikola Jokic.
Should the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Denver Nuggets, they would then likely meet the Boston Celtics in what could be the greatest Finals in NBA history as both franchises are currently tied with 17 championships each. The Lakers have already pulled off the best comeback in NBA history, going from winning a Play-In game to taking down the favored #2 Grizzlies and defending champ Warriors is six games and making the conference finals.
Should the Los Angeles Lakers stretch their string of playoff series wins on the road to four and beat their rival Boston Celtics for the franchise’s 18th NBA championship, LeBron would likely consider this his best roster ever.