2020-21 Kia Season Preview
2020-21 Season Preview: Los Angeles Lakers
The reigning NBA champions quickly retooled for their title defense. Can L.A. recapture the magic with new faces in key roles?
Do offseason additions make the Lakers even stronger this season?
When last seen, the Lakers were … dancing around the floor under a rain of purple and gold confetti in the bubble. The celebration of the franchise’s 17th championship took place inside a sealed-off arena in Orlando because of the coronavirus pandemic, but that was the only surprising part of the title run. Otherwise, the Lakers had too much LeBron James and Anthony Davis for anyone to handle in the revamped playoffs. The two superstars stayed healthy, first and foremost, and delivered the high-level performances expected of them. Along with a solid supporting cast and the defense-first philosophy demanded by coach Frank Vogel, the Lakers enjoyed a triumphant return to glory months after the tragic death of Kobe Bryant.
What’s new? Well, plenty. Championship teams rarely change much from one year to the next because there’s a tendency in sports to run it back. But the Lakers roster was always built on flexibility and the club offered only short-term contracts to the supporting cast to enable L.A. to upgrade if necessary. And so out goes JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard and Danny Green and in comes Montrezl Harrell, Dennis Schroder, Marc Gasol and Wesley Matthews. By almost every metric, the Lakers improved their shooting (Matthews), creativity (Schroder), floor spacing (Gasol) and pick-and-roll presence (Harrell). This is win-win for the team coming off the season’s biggest win.
What’s missing: Other than Davis, who’s the interior defender? Sure, Gasol was a premier player in that regard once upon a time, but he’s showing some age and losing some speed. And maybe the Lakers will miss Rondo’s passing because Schroder is a scoring point guard. Seriously, though, this is nit-picking. LeBron and Davis are good enough to mask plenty of flaws on both ends, and the Lakers as constructed simply don’t have any glaring weaknesses.
POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE:
LeBron James | 25.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 10.2 apg
The game’s greatest active player defies age while building a GOAT case.
Anthony Davis | 26.1 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.3 bpg
His impact at both ends is steep and unreachable by anyone except Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Dennis Schroder | 18.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.0 apg
An elite finisher at the rim and solid creator will reduce LeBron’s ball dependency.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope | 9.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.6 apg
Aggressive combo guard had big moments under pressure in the NBA Finals.
Marc Gasol | 7.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.3 apg
Coming off his worst season but can still space the floor, pass from the high post and defend bigs.
Montrezl Harrell | 18.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.1 bpg
The reigning Kia Sixth Man Award winner brings energy and fire yet lags defensively.
Kyle Kuzma | 12.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.3 apg
Struggled through a disappointing year and needs a bounce-back, or else.
Wesley Matthews | 7.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.4 apg
Catch-and-shooter hopes to feast on open looks with two stars on the floor.
L.A. Lakers, last 5 seasons
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
The Lakers have a new supporting cast and in these situations there’s usually a call for patience. That’s understandable in most cases. The difference here is LeBron’s passing will accelerate that process with new teammates and Davis is prepared to take the lead role on most nights. Because their offseason was so short, expect some nights off for Davis and LeBron. Still, the Lakers should return to the role of title favorite because the quality of their depth is superior than a year ago.
Predicted finish: 54-18.
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