Sometimes a picture’s clearly worth a thousand words. That smug smile on LeBron James’ face says it all as he eyes what could grow and develop into the deepest and most diverse supporting cast in his 20-year NBA career.
Slowly but surely, the rest of the basketball world is suddenly realizing the extreme roster makeover Rob Pelinka engineered at the trade deadline just might have transformed the Los Angeles Lakers into a championship team. Davis taking the torch from James, the emergence of Reaves, Schroder, and Walker, and trades for Hachimura, Russell, Vanderbilt, Beasley, and Bamba have morphed the Lakers from lottery team to legitimate title contender.
Even scarier for the rest of the NBA are the reports that the Lakers are so confident they have the key components to another championship that their plan from the start is to re-sign everybody for whom they traded. Watching how quickly this team has come together and how well they are playing has given the Lakers ownership and front office a sense of trust and confidence to invest heavily in the franchise’s next dynasty.
What makes this surrounding cast maybe the best LeBron James has ever had starts with Anthony Davis elevating his game and taking the torch from LeBron James as the team’s alpha superstar and its future franchise face.
With Davis ascending and an elite backcourt that includes Russell, Reaves, Schroder, and Walker, and front court with Vanderbilt and Hachimura, the Lakers no longer have to rely on LeBron for scoring and playmaking.
The Lakers have 7 players who could score 20 points on any given night in Davis, James, Russell, Reaves, Schroder, Hachimura, and Walker plus 3 players James trusts to run the offense in Russell, Reaves, and Schroder. That has freed LeBron for a role he’s never had the luxury to fill before, which is as the team’s ‘wild card’ that Lakers’ head coach Darvin Ham can play when he needs more scoring, playmaking, rebounding, or defense.
One of the things paramount in the Lakers’ decision to undergo an extreme makeover at the trade deadline was to finally surround LeBron James with a roster that could free him from primary scoring and playmaking duties. LeBron’s always been a genius managing his team’s playoff runs and not having to primary scoring or playmaking duties has freed him to focus specifically on defense, where he’s become the Director of Defense.
The Lakers still believe LeBron James will be able to play at a high level for several more seasons and the major moves at the trade deadline were designed to smooth his transition into as the Lakers ‘wild card’ superstar.
The Lakers have been playing ‘must win’ games for almost 3 months as they struggled to overcome a 2–10 start and fought their way to the play-in tournament and then to a 3–1 lead in the second round over the Warriors.
While the Lakers’ makeover was inspired, it was their revitalized defense powered by Anthony Davis protecting the rim like Bill Russell and Jarred Vanderbilt shutting down shooters like Michael Cooper that dominated. The ascension of Davis and addition of Vanderbilt were game changers. The Lakers’ 105.3 defensive rating, 47.7 rebounds per game, 7.5 blocks per game, and 14.8 stocks per game are all ranked #1 among playoff teams.
Lakers coach Darvin Ham has narrowed his playoff rotation to 8 players, including an elite starting lineup of Russell, Reaves, James, Vanderbilt, and Davis backed by a new 3-player bench of Schroder, Hachimura, and Walker. The return of Lonnie Walker IV was the latest savvy move by the Lakers’ rookie head coach, who’s been pushing all the right buttons. Walker not only saved the Lakers in Game 4 but gives them another difference maker.
The Lakers’ starting lineup has posted a +10 net rating and the team is the #1 ranked defense in the playoffs. Every one of the 8 Lakers players in Ham’s rotation has posted a positive net rating so far in these playoffs.
Unlike the other NBA teams left in the playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers are an unfinished product that has only been together as a team since the trade deadline and desperately needs time to get better every game and series.
Darvin Ham and his staff deserve high praise for the job they did during a difficult and tumultuous regular season and for seamlessly changing direction saving the season and fighting their way into these playoffs. Darvin Ham may have started the season as a rookie NBA head coach but he’s learned on the fly how to build winning lineups and rotations and to make important offensive and defensive adjustments in the playoffs.
After dispatching the tough Memphis Grizzlies in 6 games, the Lakers now have the champion Golden State Warriors in a 3–1 hole in their critical second round series Game 5 scheduled tomorrow night in San Francisco. While the Warriors have the shooting to come back from a 3–1 hole, the Lakers continue to grow, develop, and get better as the series progresses. The true test will be whether L.A. can eliminate Golden State in Game 5.
Closing out the current NBA champion Golden State Warriors in a 5-game Gentleman’s Sweep is not going to be easy and should be an excellent test of just how far the new-look Los Angeles Lakers have come this season.