The Lakers season has been full of streaks- mainly losing ones. The Lakers started the season 0- 5, won 2 games against the Pelicans and Nuggets. That 2 game win streak was then overshadowed by a devastating five loss streak again. November 13th the Lakers bounced back by beating the Nets, followed by another two wins against the Pistons and Spurs giving them their best win streak since January 7th, 2021 when they went on a four game win streak before a crushing loss to Ja Morant and the Grizzlies.
The Lakers had one of their worst starts to the season in program history, but Coach Darvin Ham is starting to figure out what pieces work best to turn this team around. We saw the offense execute in the second 3 game win streak in the first week of December when the Lakers beat the Wizards, Trailblazers, and most surprising, the Bucks. With that in mind here are 5 takeaways from the Lakers so far.
Russell Westbrook should remain the 6th Man
Russell Westbrook was named a starter at the beginning of the season, but that would be short lived. After the fourth game Westbrook was moved to coming off the bench, and Coach Ham’s decision has shown that he is now getting the most out of Westbrook. As a starter Westbrook was only putting up 10 points a game, with a 36% TS%, but as a player in the reserve Westbrook is putting up 15 points per game, with an 14% increase in his true shot percentage sitting at 50%. He has gotten his shooting up, and is playing better team ball overall.
This is most likely due to the change of his game when Lebron James isn’t alongside him. When Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook are in they show great results and act as the point guard-center duo that we have been waiting all season to see, but when all 3 of these all-stars are in there is a power struggle and the team does notably worse. Westbrook is a player who succeeds when he can make plays with the ball, but Lebron takes that momentum away from him. As a reserve player his usage has gone up 6% as well and this makes sense since he has gone from 4 assists per game to 7 assists per game. He’s attacking the rack, getting other players open, and most importantly hitting his shots- something we didn’t see from him at the beginning of the season.
Leave Austin Reeves in as a starter
Austin Reves is in his 2nd year as an NBA player, but he is doing exactly what the Lakers need him to do. In attempts to find the best lineup, Coach Ham has moved him around from starting to coming off the bench all season long. Reves deserves a starting position, and multiple categories show that he is more efficient in the starting role. Reves shows more confidence when he is a starter. He is better in the three major statistical categories (Points, Rebounds, and Assists). Coming off the bench he averaged 8.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.7 assists, whereas starting he has 13.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists. His offensive rating has seen the biggest jump going from 120 to 138.
He is a complimentary piece for Westbrook, James, and Davis as they are the primary guys getting to the rim. He’s the guy that they rely on to hit some outside shots when they get stopped on the inside. With a 40% 3pt percentage and a 52% FG percentage he is filling those shoes. He even handles the ball better as a starter with only 5 compared to his 22 as a bench player. Reves is a young player at 24 years old, but he is a great piece to the offense and has earned his role as a starter.
The Lakers have found the solution in getting the most out of Anthony Davis
The Lakers have changed their offensive play book and have shifted the load from 37 year old Lebron James to Anthony Davis. Instead of running their typical 5 out, Darvin Ham has made the decision to switch to a 4 out. The Lakers were having trouble getting to the basket in their 5 out because defenders could easily guard them and force them to take the 3 pointer. Let’s face it, the Lakers are currently the last ranked team in 3pt%. The shift in the 4 out features Anthony Davis at the wing position with either Lebron James or Westbrook as the other wing. This allows Anthony Davis the option to penetrate the basket and have scoring opportunities. He also has been seen to make plays off the ball by setting a screen for the other wing and scoring off of the screen and role option. This switch is inspired by the Bucks change from the 5 out to the 4 out which proved successful for Giannis and Middleton.
The results of this switch have been great not just for the team but for Davis as well. Davis has six 30+ point games, 4 of which have been in a row, and 3/4 of those have led to a Lakers win. He also had an explosive performance against the Wizards dropping 55 points, getting 17 boards, and having a good defensive game with 3 blocks. He also put the team on his back when they played the Bucks and had a 40 piece in that game against the fierce 19-6 Bucks. He has made the jump in averaging 23.5 points in October, to now averaging 32.8 points. The switch to the 4 out has also allowed Davis’ usage go up. His usage was only 25% early in the season and the team lost a majority of those games, but now that he is averaging a 31.6% usage rate the team has been able to capitalize and win some games. If they can keep getting this out of Anthony Davis, it is possible that this team can reach the playoffs.
Lebron James isn’t the reason for the Lakers success
I know what you’re thinking. How can one of the best players ever to step foot on a basketball court not be the reason for this team’s success. The answer to that would lie in the combos we see with Lebron per 100 possessions. You would think that Lebron James and Anthony Davis would have one of the best duo’s, however they only have a +0.6 in points per 100 possessions and Lebron isn’t even in the top 5 players with Davis. Anthony Davis’ best duo is when he is alongside Austin Reves (+8.8pts), followed by Troy Brown (+3.7pts), and Russell Westbrook (+2.3). This may not say much, but the trend stays true with Russell Westbrook as well. Lebron and Westbrook are not compatible together. Per 100 possessions they have -5.4pts. The most successful lineup this season doesn’t feature Lebron James, and the Lakers have proven they can win without him, as they went on a 3 game win streak without him and had their largest margin of victory (+31 pts against the spurs).
Lebron also needs to shift his game if he wants the team to succeed this year. Lebron is a player that is used to penetrating the basket, but with Davis and Westbrook in to do that we need to see Lebron shift to a shooting role. Lebron James has 11 games under 30% in 3’s resulting in 8 losses. This means that in all the games Lebron shoots under 30%, the team has a 72% chance of losing. With 5 games over 30% Lebron has won 3 of those games, and when he is shooting over 30% the Lakers chances drop drastically to only a 40% chance of losing. Lebron James has been very inconsistent on his 3’s this year and this is hurting the team. Even Austin Reves is filling that shooter role better with only 2 years of experience. In an offense that features the Point guard-center duo from Westbrook and Davis, Lebron could be the icing on the cake if he can shift his game from a power forward to being the shooting guard. If he can make this switch the Lakers could be unstoppable, and Lebron would fit in better with the 4 out option that they run.
The Lakers are and will continue making big strides in their offense
One big factor of the offense that has been hurting the team has been their 3 point percentage. Overall in the season they are 30th in 3 point percentage, however in the last 10 games they have put up numbers to be ranked 21st in 3’s, which has helped them capture wins. This is important in changing their momentum to reach the playoffs. The switch to the 4 out has allowed the Lakers to have better shot selection as well. Austin Reeves and Westbrook both being big factors in the 3 point game. With both their 3 point percentage, and Field Goal being the best it has been over the last 10 games. In the last 10 games they have put up numbers to be 4th in FG percentage vs their 12th ranking on the season.
They are also finding roles for the players. They have built their offense around Davis leading him to explosive games, moved Westbrook in reserve to have the ball in his hands more when Lebron is off of the court, and Darvin Ham has changed the starting lineup throughout the season. When everyone is healthy, I think Coach Ham has found his starting lineup for the remainder of the season. This lineup would include centerpiece Anthony Davis, 4x NBA Champion Lebron James, Austin Reves, Patrick Beverly, and Dennis Schroder. With this lineup, the Lakers have great efficiency. They have a +15.7 pts per 100 possessions. With that group in as the starting lineup, and Westbrook and Walker coming off the bench, this offense will be a scary force in the games to come.