Throughout LeBron James’ career, teams have built around him with one thing in mind: Shooting. Everything else matters, obviously, but not to the same extent that spacing the floor so that he has as much room to work as possible has. The Los Angeles Lakers, per Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst of ESPN, are attacking building a roster around James from a different angle.
Shooting, schmooting, essentially:
The Cavs were a team of specialists -- many of them shooters -- who were placed around the league’s ultimate Swiss Army knife. But at times, especially during the playoffs, it did feel like James was playing 1-on-5 and needing to play 48 minutes because he was the team’s only true creator and playmaker.
Cleveland also prioritized shooters and offense-minded players ahead of defenders and steadily sunk in the defensive rankings over the past three seasons, bottoming out as the No. 29 defensive efficiency team last season. This became a liability at times, particularly against the juggernaut Warriors.
What Johnson pitched to James was a team stocked with tough-minded playmakers like Stephenson and Rondo who could free up James to finish in the lanes and from the post, rather than having to create the lion’s share of the offense himself. Rondo and Stephenson are also defensively versatile, as their length enables them to be effective defenders in switches. That also follows with the talents of the 6-foot-6 Ball, who showed the ability to be an elite rebounder and defender for a guard in his rookie year.
Now, the numbers don’t really support the thinking on either Stephenson or Rondo. Lance hasn’t boated a positive DBPM since 2012-’13 (though he’s come close a couple times) and Rondo is coming off a negative DBPM season, himself — though for the majority of his career, he has had a positive impact on that side of the ball according to this measurement.
Lonzo was a good defender last year and, as mentioned above, his ability to switch onto most players makes him an ideal fit for the modern style of defense in the NBA.
Typically, casual fans who know a player by name but aren’t really sure what they’re actually good at will mention toughness and defensive abilities but really, Stephenson isn’t good anymore. Wayne Ellington would’ve made exponentially more sense with that money.
James has, on multiple occasions, been reportedly interested in playing off the ball. Personally, I’m a little iffy on whether that will hold true if the team is struggling with him playing more of a passive role. LeBron being the screener in any kind of pick-and-roll would be something to see, though, that’s for sure.
Regarding shooting, the Lakers aren’t exactly completely devoid of shooters, either. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was a capable shooter last season when he wasn’t dealing with his legal issues. Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart were pretty to very good as rookies. The Lakers drafted shooters in Moritz Wagner and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. Maybe Ball’s shot comes around (though I’m of the “we’ll see” opinion on that) and Rondo and Brandon Ingram were better than you’d think last season in limited attempts. If the Lakers are able to retain Brook Lopez, they might actually be able to get by.
We’ll see how this looks when it’s actually put on the court, but it is a semi-wild theory to roll with as of now.