Welcome to Lakers Lair Three-Man Weave, a subjective Lakers-related column where our resident Lakers fans answer a series of questions regarding the Purple & Gold. For this edition of TMW, we discuss the Lakers’ current state at the quarter mark of the season, as well as Anthony Davis’s Defensive Player of the Year candidacy. Our participants for this edition are:
1. How would you assess the Lakers’ play through roughly the first quarter of the season?
Boyer: I’m just going to say that the Lakers’ play so far this season has been both exhilarating and refreshing. After being mired in mediocrity for the majority of this decade, Los Angeles has been able to reassert themselves as one of the elite teams in the West thanks to the duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who currently have the Purple & Gold perched on top of the Western Conference standings. This level of early-season success is something fans haven’t experienced since Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were leading the championship charge at Staples Center about a decade ago.
Allen: If I’m giving it a grade, I would give it an A. They’ve handled their business on both sides of the ball. Most importantly, they’ve beaten the teams they’re supposed to beat. A lot of the games that they’ve won so far were losses on the schedule last year. Are there aspects of their play that they can improve? Absolutely, but they’ve gotten the job done thus far this season.
King: Stellar. Much of the talk coming into the season was going to be how long it would take for the pairing of Anthony Davis and LeBron James to mesh. I think it is safe to say, while there are still improvements to be made, that these two are playing at the highest of levels right now.
The rejuvenation of Dwight Howard has given Los Angeles much-needed depth at the center position. Lastly, I am liking the play of longtime Lakers scapegoat Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who is shooting a career-best 40.4% from three
2. True or False: The month of December will let us know how “real” the Lakers are as title contenders.
Boyer: False, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t eager to see how the Lakers fare during the month of December, where they’ll find themselves scrapping with upper-echelon teams from both conferences. A soft early-season schedule spared Los Angeles from having to wage war against the likes of the Denver Nuggets, Milwaukee Bucks and Portland Trail Blazers, but those contests, along with additional showdowns against the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers should reveal a good bit about the current makeup of this Lakers squad.
Allen: False. One month doesn’t make or break a team. I’m looking forward to seeing them against better teams but I’m not going to say that one month is going to prove if they’re real or not. The NBA regular season is long and a lot can change whether for the better or worse after December.
King: True. While I do agree with DJ that games in December do not dictate how the rest of the season shakes out, I will say that the teams that the Lakers face in December could very well be in the fold come playoff time. December features games against teams like the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks. There a lot of “measuring stick” games for this Lakers team that will take place in the next 30 days.
3. What has been the Lakers’ most glaring weakness as a team so far?
Boyer: Their offense in non-LeBron minutes. According to NBA.com/stats, the Lakers have an Offensive Rating of 112.8 with LeBron James on the floor, but they see that number plummet to 99 once James parks on the bench for a rest. There’s expected to be some dropoff when arguably the best player in the league heads to the sidelines, but it’s concerning that the offense craters to such an extreme extent when there’s another top-five player still on the floor.
Allen: The outside shooting. It has been an Achilles heel for the Lakers for the past few years now. While they signed Danny Green and guys like Troy Daniels to address the lack of shooting, their numbers don’t reflect these signings. The Lakers are amongst the league’s bottom when it comes to three-pointers made and attempted. While the defense has propelled their wins, the lack of shooting still scares me going forward.
King: Transition defense. The Lakers are giving up the second most fast-break points per game at 16.6. Luckily, that is a thing that can be fixed. With the quickness and size of LeBron, AD and JaVale McGee this should not be a problem. We saw LeBron yelling at Danny Green in the huddle in the loss to the Mavs about jogging. It could be an effort problem or a matter of getting more guys back on defense when a shot goes up. Rest assured it is something that needs to be rectified as the season progresses to help Los Angeles maintain its current dominant defensive standing.
4. The Lakers’ third-best player so far this season has been…?
Boyer: Truthfully, the Lakers’ role players have collectively qualified as the team’s third star so far this season. At the beginning of the 2019-20 campaign, fans were applauding Dwight Howard for his infectious energy off the bench, as he found himself tilting games for Los Angeles by doing the little things in a reduced, yet vital role. Danny Green is shooting close to 40% from downtown while still playing top-tier defense and Kyle Kuzma has shown flashes of lethality from the perimeter that fans hope he can sustain throughout the year. Los Angeles’ title hopes may hinge on Kuzma taking a considerable lunge forward as a reliable third scorer, but the sum of the Lakers’ parts have been getting the job done so far.
Allen: It has to be the stifling defense of the Lakers in my opinion. Top-five in defensive rating, leading the league in blocks, sixth in steals while allowing the seventh-best shooting percentage; the numbers speak for itself. There has been no particular standout on this team. Kyle Kuzma was granted the third star early on but he’s still finding his way on this newly constructed team. Individual players have had standout games here and there but none consistently enough to be labeled the third star.
King: Kyle Kuzma. Being the lone survivor in the Lakers trade package to the Pelicans for Davis, Kuzma has proven why it was essential to keep him aboard. Looking to improve his percentage from three this season, he appears to have the same level of confidence we saw from him his rookie season.
5. Is Anthony Davis currently leading the Defensive Player of the Year race?
Boyer: 100%. Davis’ impact, versatility, and effort defensively are almost unmatched leaguewide, and he’s one of the main reasons the Lakers have been able to establish themselves as one of the stingiest defense’s in the NBA this season. There’s a diminutive crop of big men in the league today that can contain guards/wings on switches, retreat back to the paint to protect the rim and finish off the possession with a strong defensive rebound. Anthony Davis is one of them.
Allen: No question. He is the anchor to one of the best defenses in the league. He’s rejecting everything at the rim. Averaging 2.8 blocks per game, Davis is 2nd in the league in blocks and the Lakers are leading the league with 7.3 blocks per game. If the Lakers can do better with running teams off of the three-point line and funneling drives toward the rim, this number could possibly go up going forward.
Anthony Davis' defense in crunch time >>> pic.twitter.com/YJDKztsFIb
— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) November 16, 2019
King: Absolutely. It is clear to see that a big reason the Lakers have gone from a good defensive unit last season to an elite defensive team due to Davis’ arrival.
His ability to protect the rim, guard wings, be an on-ball defender, all at an elite level, that is makes him the most versatile defensive player and worthy of the award.