What did loss to Bucks teach Lakers?
What were the lessons the Lakers should learn and what are the moves they should make after their 7-point road loss to the Bucks last night?
The biggest lesson the Los Angeles Lakers should take away from their loss to the Milwaukee Bucks is the NBA is a matchup league and right now the best team in the West doesn’t matchup well with the best team in the East.
That doesn’t mean the Lakers couldn’t beat the Bucks in a 7-game series or should panic and make a series of major trades to upgrade their roster to better matchup with Milwaukee and risk undermining team chemistry. There’s a persuasive argument to be made Giannis is not going to shoot 5 for 8 and LeBron and AD 3 from 13 from three again, nor is the Bucks’ bench going to outscore the Lakers’ bench 34 to 4 when they meet again.
What the loss does mean is the Lakers, as presently constructed, don’t have the edge over the Bucks they have over most of the teams in the league, which should motivate Rob Pelinka to make moves to improve the roster. With just two guaranteed years left on LeBron’s contract and AD’s free agency looming, the Lakers cannot afford to waste the opportunity they have this season to win their 17th NBA championship by standing pat.
The 7-point loss to the Bucks exposed major weaknesses in the Lakers’ supporting cast that prevented them from coming back and defeating Milwaukee like they’ve been able to do all season against lessor teams. Specifically, the Lakers need a better point guard and playmaker in the lineup when LeBron James is not in the game and a more explosive and prolific scorer who can come off the bench when Anthony Davis rests.
The Lakers definitely need to upgrade their bench, which ranks 22nd in points, 16th in rebounds, and 14th in assists per game compared with the starters who ranked 9th in points, 11th in rebounds, and 6th in assists. Solving those problems is not going to be easy because of the Lakers’ lack of trading chips in the form of tradable contracts and available picks so Pelinka is going to have to get creative to find ways to upgrade the roster.
While it may be difficult for the Lakers to trade for a starter or third star, they might be able to upgrade their bench scoring and playmaking by giving second draft pick Talen Horton-Tucker more opportunity to play. While 19-year old Horton-Tucker is still raw, he’s been tearing up the G-League and has the package of elite physical attributes and versatile skill sets that could be exactly what the Lakers need to turbo charge their bench.
The 6' 4" 234 pound Horton-Tucker could be the scoring and playmaking dynamo the Lakers’ bench needs. He’s averaging 13.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.8 assists in 17.5 minutes per game now for the South Bay Lakers. With a 7' 1" wingspan and hands the same size as Kawhi, Talen has the raw energy and athletic physicality to be an elite two-way player off the bench. The Lakers would be wise to give him minutes to see what he can do.
While the Lakers are unlikely to pursue a major trade for a star like Jrue Holiday, there are still available players out there who could give the Lakers’ bench the instant scoring punch Lou Williams gives the Clippers. One player Pelinka should target is the Washington Wizards’ sharp shooter Davis Bertans, a career 41.7% three-point shooter who’s currently averaging 15.8 points while shooting 46.2% on 8.6 threes per game.
The rebuilding Wizards are expected to trade Bertans rather than paying him starter money as a free agent this summer to come off the bench. Bertans would be perfect as an instant bench scoring threat for the Lakers. At 6' 10" 225 pounds, he has the size and athleticism to play both forward positions and give the Lakers the Kyle Korver type of deep threat to spread the defense and stretch the floor for LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
To acquire an elite bench scoring threat like the 27-year old Davis Bertans, the Lakers would have to give up a budding young star like 24-year old Kyle Kuzma plus another player like 26-year old Quinn Cook to match salaries. Fortunately, the Wizards have had great success trading for young players whom the Lakers drafted and developed. Kyle Kuzma would join former Lakers Moritz Wagner, Thomas Bryant, and Isaac Bonga on the Wizards.
Right now, the Lakers starting lineup is one of the best in the NBA. While there’s been talk about reinserting Avery Bradley into the starting lineup, Frank Vogel should opt to leave KCP and Green as the starting guards. KCP’s playing outstanding basketball and has always been better when starting while Bradley is struggling with his three-point shooting. Better to leave the starting lineup alone and focus on improving the bench.
Giving Talen Horton-Tucker a chance to play and trading for Davis Bertans should give the Lakers’ bench the scoring and playmaking boost they need and allow Frank Vogel to settle on a stable ten-man rotation going forward. That would give the Lakers a depth chart that would have Rajon Rondo backing up the one, Avery Bradley and Alex Caruso the two, Talen Horton-Tucker the three, Davis Bertans the four, and Dwight Howard the five.
The Lakers would have a bench with more defensive energy and offensive firepower that could increase rather than lose leads and enable the Lakers to close the gap team bench power with the Bucks and Clippers.
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