The Los Angeles Lakers believe they are a couple players away from being a championship team, according to a report. The Lakers are 5-2 in their last seven games prior to Monday night’s heartbreaking, buzzer-beater (116-115) loss to the Indiana Pacers and are no longer the worst team in the NBA. But a couple of players away? Unless those players are Stephen Curry and Nikola Jokic, this team is fooling itself if they believe that.
Are Lakers A Couple of Players Away From Being Championship Contenders?
REPORT: The Lakers' locker room believes they are just "a couple players away" from being a legitimate championship team.
— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) November 28, 2022
Entering Monday night, the Lakers were 25th in aNET rating, dragged down by their putrid 28th ranked offense. Their defense is a respectable eighth, so that’s a positive.
LeBron James And Anthony Davis Not Clicking
But looking deeper at the Lakers they have to be concerned with the chemistry between LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Last night, the tandem shot a combined 3-for-10 and scored just seven points in a crucial fourth quarter.
“LeBron went 2-for-8 during that stretch and missed some very easy shots,” said ESPN hoops analyst Tim Legler.
The fact that Davis only took two shots in the fourth considering the way he’s been dominating lately prompted First Take host Stephen A. Smith to ask how AD “only takes two shots in the fourth.”
Co-host Keyshawn Johnson responds,“Because LeBron James is on the floor.”
Therein lies a potential larger problem.
Monday’s fourth quarter collapse aside, Anthony Davis is averaging 26 points and 12.8 rebounds per game. The latter stat leads the league. He is 10th in EPM and shooting 58 eFG% and 64 TS% efficiency splits.
LeBron James On The Decline?
LeBron James is the 44th most productive player in the NBA, according to EPM. That’s slightly behind Kyrie Irving and Dillon Brooks, almost identical to Jerami Grant, and nowhere close to Anthony Davis. He’s shooting 51 eFG% and 55 TS%.
On defense he barely makes the NBA’s top 100 defenders, a list that includes rookies like Paolo Banchero and Andrew Nembhard.
LeBron is still a productive player, but we are starting to see slippage. When the Lakers won the title in 2020, he was fifth in EPM, in the 98th percentile.
EPM isn’t the gospel, though it is the best all-in-one metric. But it captures what your team does when you are on the floor taking into account your teammates and the opponent.
What makes LeBron arguably the greatest player of all time was his ability to play with average players and elevate the team to championship level status. In 2015 when he was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals that season he was without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love and nearly beat the Warriors by himself. Matthew Dellavedova was his starting point guard.
In his first trip to the NBA Finals in 2007 the second-best player on his team was Drew Gooden.
Would Adding Myles Turner And Buddy Hield Make Lakers Championship Contenders?
The recipe for years has been surrounding LeBron with shooters and a rebounding big who could protect the paint and you’d advance to the Finals. LeBron is no longer that caliber of player. Still good. But no longer the single most dominant force on a basketball court.
That’s not to say that if the Lakers didn’t upgrade in a couple spots, they wouldn’t be better. Myles Turner and Buddy Hield would help tremendously. Davis could play the four while Turner protects the rim and stretches the floor. Hield would add a very good uninhibited shooter.
But good enough to win the West? Not with LeBron playing at his current level. Turner and Hield aren’t good enough and don’t do enough of the other things the team would need.
If Steph Curry and Joker were available, then yes. Book this team a spot in the Finals. But that’s a pipe dream. They are on teams that have their own title hopes. The Lakers mortgaged away their entire future to secure Davis to pair him with LeBron and win a title. They did that in 2020. That might be the only one they win.