With Lebron joining LA, and a random assortment of players following him on one-year deals ( McGee, Rondo, Stephenson and even resigning of KCP), on paper it looks like the Lakers are phoning in the upcoming season and banking on cap space again. Well not exactly. The Lakers seem to be taking the anti-Rockets approach to taking down GoldenState, by not outshooting them but by attacking them in different ways.
At first glance, the Lakers recent signings are definite head-scratchers, but it makes a lot more sense when you break down what exactly they are trying to do. Let’s take a look:
Rajon Rondo-. The most important aspect of his game that will be used against GSW is his BBIQ. Rondo studies film just as much as any player to ever play, and understands how to adjust the pace of the game depending on how things are flowing. So if Golden State is going on a patented 3rd quarter run, Rondo will easily be able to pick up on the momentum shift and slow the pace down to settle things in. Or if he senses them in a slump, getting lackluster or on edge, he will speed things up to keep the pressure on. These are little things that change possession by possession and are very hard to pick up for the average player at game speed.
These two factors allow Lebron to relax a little, knowing he won’t have to dictate the pace every second he is out there or create a shot for himself or a teammate every time down the court. This also keeps the defense on their toes, because Rondo can use his BBIQ to make ridiculous passes to any other Laker on the floor. While yes the spacing might not be ideal with his inconsistent jump shot, his ability to create with a variety of lineups almost negates that deficiency.
Lance Stephenson- Lance definitely lacks the BBIQ that Rondo does, but at his best, he can bring shotmaking abilities that can make everyone’s life easier with very effective defense. During peak Lance years he was a nightly triple-double threat, annoyance on defense and crowd electrified. While some of that has faded with age, he has shown flashes of those abilities this past season with Indiana. Lance has also always shined brightest on the biggest stages, so the bright lights of LA might give him a jumpstart. Not to mention it is a 1-year deal, and given his age, if he can put up a solid year might be able to rake in a 3 or 4-year deal and cash in before his career takes a nosedive.
His creativity on offense and playmaking can give the Lakers a much-needed boost off the bench, which is where GoldenState has always been the weakest. Even when they stagger minutes and have two all-stars on the court, things can get stale because of the steep drop off in talent they put in. If Lance can come in, hit a couple threes, toss a lob to McGee or Kuzma and maybe annoy Draymond or KD enough to force T, then he is doing everything he was signed to do. Again, this isn’t a player you can rely on to outshoot GoldenState, but you can count on him to come in and do SOMETHING. Most nights that is good, but some nights he can be ” the other team’s best player,” but when things fall into place he can definitely be a huge factor into beating GoldenState without outshooting them.
Kontavious Caldwell-Pope- This one kind of counts, since he did play with us last year, it did seem like he was on his way out until Lebron announced his plans. KCP does not really have elite playmaking abilities and is a very inconsistent shooter, but his defense and athleticism make him very valuable in the quest to dethrone the Warriors. I think the biggest problem he had last year was that he was relied on to make plays for others, mainly when Lonzo was out and with Ingram learning the PG position on the fly. But this year surrounded by playmakers, he can focus on what he is best at, slashing, playing intense defense and knocking down a few wide open jumpers per game.
Against GSW, KCP can switch on to anyone and at the very least hold his own without any help. This is huge with the GSW motion offense, which requires either constant switching from defenses or otherworldly communication to navigate all the motion and screens while helping as little as possible to minimalize wide open looks. If he can use his athleticism to get to the rim, maybe pick up a foul or two and hit a few spots up jumpers then he will 100% be a + on the court because of the versatility he provides on defense.
Javalle McGee – This one is still a little confusing, considering he can’t play starter minutes consistently. Mcgee is really just an energy guy good for around 20 MPG, not much more than that. He will give you hustle, rebounds, a few blocks, and some head-scratching ” What the hell was that ” plays per game. While a good rim protector, he struggles with the lateral quickness when switched onto the perimeter, which is a big problem against GS. A one-year minimum deal so not the end of the world, but can’t really provide much against GSW aside from being an energy guy because of his lack of shot creating abilities and perimeter defense.
Lonzo Ball- He has shown that he can be an elite defender, rebounder and passer for the point guard position, and playing with a more well-rounded roster will allow him to utilize his natural skills more, he needs to be able to hit open shots. Currently, he is essentially a younger and less intense Rondo, so if you are in a tight game with GSW down the stretch, it makes sense to go with the proven veteran who does all the things Lonzo can but probably a little better at this point in his career.
But let’s pretend Lonzo tweaks his shot and is able to hit close to 40% consistently, that means you can throw out a line up with Lonzo, Rondo, and Lebron and not worry about much lapse in scoring, which is ridiculous perimeter defense with three elite playmakers. With Lonzo hitting shots, you could even do extra small with Ingram at the 3, Lebron at 4 and Kuzma at 5, which sounds very sexy. But if Lonzo cannot figure out his shot, it will be tough for him to play with Lebron or Rondo because A. the spacing with Rondo would be pretty bad B. whoever is guarding Lonzo can worry more about helping on Lebron.
Brandon Ingram- Easily the most significant factor of how good the Lakers can be next year. Being only 20 years old, Ingram has progressed every season he has been in the league, and will no longer get the opposing team’s primary defender, while also having more room to operate given the attention Lebron draws. His playmaking has dramatically improved, especially since Luke started having him run the point while Lonzo was out.
Ingram’s playmaking will definitely be a huge boost next to Lebron, with his long stride slashing, consistently improving jump shot and underrated passing. This allows Lebron to work less on offense and possibly defense as well, with Ingram being able to take the primary scoring option on defense when needed. He will get all the open looks he can handle with Rondo, Lebron, and Ball, so if his shot can continue to develop, he will easily be a 22-24ppg scorer. Even if he struggles with his shooting, his defense and playmaking are enough to keep GSW honest, even while on the court with Rondo and Lebron
Kyle Kuzma- What a find he turned out to be last year! Kuzma came out the gates hot by flashing an arsenal of moves rookies very rarely have, running skyhooks and all. While he did hit a little wall middle of the year, he never shied away from the big moments and continued to shoot. He plays with high energy and is a solid rebound, although there is room to improve in that department.
His biggest flaw would be his defense. He struggled with rotations consistently and with staying in front of guards when switched on to them. Kuzma is too slow to play the 3 full time and needs to be a little bigger to be an all-star caliber 4. Kuzma doesn’t have the playmaking abilities has some of his teammates, but the way he can create his own shot in a variety of ways, and hit the spot up jumpers consistently, make that something easy to hide. His polished post game will allow him to take advantage of the GSW ” Switch Everything ” defense and do some damage to Curry/Thompson when they are switched on him, which tires them out and makes Lebron’s life that much easier on offense.
Josh Hart- Josh has been another colossal sleeper pick in the draft that has turned out to be amazing. Even as a rookie he was one of the better rebounding 2’s in the league and can hit open shots consistently. His on-ball defense is also adamant, although his help defense and rotations need to improve, he is the perfect 6th man energy guy.
Even without much playmaking abilities, his defense, rebounding, and shooting is enough to cause problems for GSW. He can keep curry or Klay in front of him while also being big enough to contest their shots, but not big enough to bother KD one bit. If he can improve his ballhandling and learn to create for himself and others a little more, the sky is the limit for him.
Coach Walton- Luke has to be able to control the team for any of this to work. He is going from dealing with a bunch of young kids to young kids and a bunch of smart but hard-headed players who he played against in his days. BUT, if Luke is able to get everyone to buy into his motion offense and use the “LeBron high pick and roll switch then ISO ” offense less, then this team could be scary to play against.
Even without elite shooting on the court, if you always have two guys out there who can make smart passes, penetrate consistently and create good shots for others, the defense will still have to be on alert. With Lebron locked in at least 3 years ( player option for the 4th year ) and enthusiastic support from management that Luke is their guy, if you’re at this point in your career Lebron why not try something different and buy into a motion offense which will only make your life easier?
Granted, a lot has to go right for the Lakers, and a lot to go wrong for the Warriors for us to even stand a chance in a 7 game series. But by surrounding Lebron with young, hungry and super talented players, 4 solid/elite playmakers and ballhandlers, outstanding perimeter defense and a player-coach with a new age system in place, the Lakers have laid down a brand new blueprint to test for beating GoldenState.
Since outshooting them is borderline impossible, outworking and outsmarting them might be the best option. San Antonio is the only team that really tries to do this on a consistent basis, but lacked the talent to sustain it 48 minutes 4 times in a 7 game series. The Lakers will need a miracle to pull the plan off, but it is our only chance, so why not go all in on it?