It’s Thanksgiving, which means it’s time to count our blessings for what the basketball gods have graced us with this year. And for Laker fans, we have quite a bit.
Setting aside the fact that LeBron James plays in Los Angeles, because I think we’ve made our feelings about that pretty clear at Silver Screen & Roll, here are some other things I’m thankful for this Lakers season.
The return of purple
In between the black city jerseys and the Minneapolis alternates, along with the semi-regular white “Sunday best” uniforms, there was a noticeable absence of purple jerseys in the Lakers’ repertoire last season. As one of the two signature Los Angeles colors, it was a deficit that needed to be addressed, and the Lakers took care of business. Not only are the regular road purple jerseys a more significant part of the team’s rotation, the new city jerseys — whatever you may think of the overall look — are exploding with purple. It pops off the screen. The Lakers have obviously made substantial improvements to their on-court product, and the adjustment to the visual palette has been an underrated part of that.
Josh Hart’s positional versatility
Hart ended last year as the least-heralded of the Lakers’ young core, but he has had arguably the best season among the four. On offense, Hart has the second best effective field goal percentage (which adds an extra point for threes) on the team, behind only JaVale McGee. He has been the team’s best floor spacer around LeBron James, shooting 43 percent from threes, which make up 59 percent of all his shot attempts, and he runs the floor hard in direct accordance with the team’s offensive philosophy.
That’s not even accounting for the other end of the floor, where shooting guard Josh Hart morphs into power forward Josh Hart, post-stopper extraordinaire. Hart’s capable interior defense has allowed Luke Walton to try some creative lineup combinations and introduce greater overall flexibility into his rotations, which has been necessary for what was originally an oddly-constructed roster. In general, when Hart steps on the floor, good things happen.
The absence of LaVar Ball
I will admit to being entertained by Lonzo’s dad in the not-so-distant past, and there’s a certain amount of “speak it into existence” leeway he earned after his L.A.-bred, UCLA-attending son was drafted by the Lakers. It is honestly a great story. But his shtick wore out last season, and with the amount of drama that invariably always exists in Los Angeles anyway, it has been a welcome respite to finally be free of LaVar.
Lonzo had the best stretch of his rookie year when his family was in Lithuania, and the dimmer spotlight seems to have had a similarly positive effect on him this season. He still suffers from bouts of low energy — inexplicable considering who he descends from — but I am very thankful for Lonzo’s production and growth this year. His court vision and nose for the ball are near unparalleled on this team, and will be critical for the Lakers to realize their full potential.
I am more surprised than anyone that Lance Stephenson is ending up on this list, but in small doses, I have enjoyed the Lance experience. He has generally played within the flow of the offense, making quick swing passes whie taking — and hitting — open threes when they’re available. His random isolation forays have been limited, and when he drives, it’s mostly to apply extra pressure on the defense rather than throw up circus shots (although he does shoot those sometimes too).
There’s no denying Lance’s comedic appeal. The guitar strum after hitting threes is wonderful, and his herky-jerky hop step as he dribbles up the court in transition cracks me up every time. He seems to genuinely cherish the opportunity to play alongside LeBron, for the Lakers. It’s the kind of joy Nick Young used to have when he put on a Laker jersey, and it makes me really happy to see.
The greatest closer in the game
There are many reasons to be grateful for LeBron James. He is the best player in the world and has vaulted the Lakers back into the playoff picture and national relevance after years of flying somewhat under the radar. But on the heels of another stressful win, it seems appropriate to highlight LeBron’s clutch gene. He may not have activated it for the first three games of the year, but it has certainly come in handy ever since. Having a player who can bulldoze his way into foul calls at will and also hit stepback threes without abandon may be the greatest gift the Lakers have received this year.
It has already been a roller coaster of a season, and the Lakers will undoubtedly test my nerves again, probably multiple times, but this is already the best season the team has had in six years. Now is as good a time as any to appreciate what we have, and what is still to come.