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Heading into the 2022 offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers had a lot of work to do after their disastrous year. Injuries played a role in their lost season, with Anthony Davis playing just 40 games and LeBron James suiting up for 56.
But the Lakers’ issues ran deeper than health. Their defense was brutal. Their offense wasn’t much better. Russell Westbrook never found a way to fit with Davis and James, and Los Angeles had a net rating of minus-3.5 when the trio was on the court.
The Lakers have been mentioned as having a heavy interest in Kyrie Irving, but as of this writing, there is no trade forthcoming.
Being over the cap, Los Angeles was never going to be a big player in free agency. That is what cost the Lakers Malik Monk. Being limited, they had to look for some deals of the bargain variety, and those rarely completely change a team’s destiny.
So far this offseason, the Lakers have signed Lonnie Walker IV, Troy Brown Jr., Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damian Jones and Thomas Bryant. They also drafted Max Christie 35th overall.
With it looking more and more likely that Westbrook—not Irving—will be on the Lakers roster on opening night, will these new additions fix their biggest issues?
One of the biggest problems for the offense last season was a lack of spacing. Defenses would pack the paint and could live with outside shots from Westbrook and Davis, as the Lakers ranked 22nd league-wide in three-point shooting percentage.
L.A.’s best shooter, who attempted more than four threes per night, was Monk, who is gone for Sacramento. After that, it was Wayne Ellington and Carmelo Anthony.
The Lakers losing their best shooter from last season means it is critical that they replace that.
Narrator: They did not.
Brown is the best shooter of the new additions, coming in at 35.3 percent from three on just two attempts per game. That was the best three-point percentage over his four-year career, as he is a 33.7 career three-point shooter on low volume. Getting Brown after his best shooting season, the Lakers are betting on that trajectory to continue going up.
After Brown, Anderson came in second, shooting 32.2 percent last season. His three-point shooting has been up and down during his three-year career. As a rookie, he shot 34.8 percent from deep and made a big leap his sophomore season at 40.2 percent. However, he also never has attempted more than 1.8 such shots per game.
The Lakers might be better served using Anderson more as a playmaker than a spot shooter, which would make it difficult to play him with Westbrook. He could be used more as a sub for Westbrook than in the same lineups with him.
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The next wing the Lakers brought in has an interesting shooting history. In his first two years in the NBA, Walker shot 38.5 and 40.6 percent from three on low volume. In the last two seasons, he has become a more high-volume shooter, averaging 4.7 and 5.0 attempts, but his efficiency went down.
He shot 35.5 percent two seasons ago, but last year he shot a career-low 31.4 percent.
Prior to tearing his ACL, another new pickup, Bryant, was on track for a career shooting percentage from three. He was shooting 42.9 percent in the 10 games during the 2020-21 season, which was following up his 40.7 percent the previous season. Unfortunately, all of that fell apart last season as he worked his way back from the injury, and he shot 28.6 percent.
There are hopes he can revive his shooting in L.A. and become a stretch big. It is all dependent on a small sample size, but the idea of him stretching the floor could open up some space.
The Lakers needed to add shooting to their roster even before losing Monk. Los Angeles added some young athletic wings, but none of them have consistently shot well on a high enough volume for Los Angeles to believe they can spread the floor.
But at least if these guys can’t shoot, they’ll be able to improve the defense. Right?
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Besides the poor offense, L.A. needed to improve its perimeter defense. The team was undersized on the perimeter and was not a defensive-focused unit. Nobody paired well with Westbrook, who often gambled and missed rotations last season.
Walker, Anderson and Brown are all 6’6″, athletic wings who should improve the perimeter defense and allow them to cover for Westbrook. Walker and Anderson are the better defenders over Brown.
This past season with Anderson on the court, the Warriors had a defensive rating of 106.9. He has a good understanding of when to rotate and will make the winning plays like diving on the floor. He might be overmatched on most nights as a primary perimeter defender, but he will give the Lakers his full effort.
Walker has all the tools to be a good one-on-one defender. He has the size and length to go with the athleticism; he just needs to put it all together. He is a better on-ball defender than an off-ball one. Walker can stay with guards such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander but can also lose sight of his man off the ball and get beat on a back cut.
He has promise, but it’ll be up to the Lakers to develop him in one season.
Brown is the weakest of the wings defensively the Lakers signed. He was coming from the Bulls, who were loaded with defensive talent with former Lakers Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball and rookie Ayo Dosunmu. He has yet to have to be relied upon defensively. This season he will be, and with his size, he should be able to at least slow up guards and use his length to contest.
Damian Jones does not bring much offensive firepower, but he is a serviceable backup big. His per-36 numbers from last season would have him average 8.7 rebounds. He is an upgrade over Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan, who played the role of Davis’ backup.
The 2019-20 Bryant would be a great fit defensively for the Lakers. That season in 24.9 minutes he averaged 1.1 blocks and 7.2 rebounds. It is unlikely Los Angeles is getting that Bryant post-ACL tear. He has played just 37 games since then, and it is tough to expect him to be that player.
Assuming good health for Davis (which is a big if), both Jones and Bryant will play more of a supporting role—especially in close games when the Lakers will likely play small.
The Lakers needed to get better this offseason. The good news is they have gotten younger and added more athleticism. The defense should improve just by having bigger wings to defend on the perimeter. They probably are not a top-10 defensive team, but improving to the middle of the pack from 22nd in defensive rating could be enough to get the Lakers back in the playoffs.
Unfortunately, they have not added enough shooting. If Westbrook remains a Laker on opening night, it is likely he will start alongside Davis and James. Of the wings they brought in, only one shot above 35 percent from three last season.
As long as James and Davis can stay healthy, the Lakers will be good enough. But these moves will not vault them into contender status.
Mo Dakhil spent six years with the Los Angeles Clippers and two years with the San Antonio Spurs as a video coordinator, as well as three years with the Australian men’s national team. Follow him on Twitter, @MoDakhil_NBA.
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