The start of a new year is often met with a vast range of emotions. Feelings of joy for the loved ones in your life, regret for all the things you might have failed to accomplish and optimism that with the turn of the calendar something better is still waiting right around the corner.
For the Lakers, the tail-end of 2019 has been overwhelmingly positive. After reeling in one of the most prized big men in the league in Anthony Davis, the team’s 24-6 start to the season has restored previously dormant buzz back into the Staples Center’s hallowed halls. And for good reason.
The team has looked every bit of the contender the most bullish fans envisioned when dreamily imagining lobs from LeBron James to Davis lobs back and forth in their minds this past summer. That vision has been realized on the hardwood, with an array of new players, coaches and the front office seemingly falling perfectly into place beside them.
But as much has gone right for the club, there are still several areas they could stand to improve to help them reach their eventual destination in June. So like many people will do when the clock hits midnight, let’s come up with three New Year’s Resolutions that the team should both make and keep in 2020.
Improved 3-Point Shooting
By simply looking at team percentages, the Lakers have actually been an average 3-point shooting team this year. As of this article, the team is 15th in the league in 3-point percentage (35.6%), and when comparing this number to last year’s woeful 33.3% shooting, this season has definitely seen an upgrade.
Still, when considering the context — more specifically the players the team targeted in the offseason and the added gravity of not one, but two superstars — it certainly feels the team has underperformed thus far. Especially when it comes to their easy looks.
When glancing at 3-point shots classified as “wide open” by the NBA’s tracking data, Los Angeles currently ranks 22nd in the league. Again, an upgrade from their last place position a season ago, but also not great, or even good.
One reason for that sub-par shooting is that spacing issues continue to be present — even with the additions of multiple recognized dead-eyes — due to some roster building choices.
The team employs a traditional non-spacing five at nearly all times, almost always ensuring a body in the paint. Also, even with Rajon Rondo shooting out of his mind, defenses have yet to scheme for him as such, often sagging off the guard to offer help on James or Davis. And during the minutes Rondo shares the floor with the midrange-happy Avery Bradley, things get downright suffocating.
But even with those factors in mind, players are also simply missing shots.
As the chart displays, multiple of the team’s prominent shooters have underperformed on their wide open chances compared to a season ago. Danny Green in particular has been one of the main culprits, making significantly less open shots than he did as part of the Raptors’ title run.
On the bright side, these numbers could also suggest that positive regression might be coming. And if coupled with tinkering with lineups, that could mean the team looks and performs even better than they are now.
Consistent Bench Play
One of the few downsides when building a team around two superstars is an inability to flesh out the rest of the roster to the fullest capacity.
The Lakers obviously did enough this past summer with their free-agent pick ups given their impressive record, but in terms of their overall production, the club is still devoid of consistent bench scoring.
On the season, the Lakers’ reserves rank 22nd in the league in terms of points per game. Absent of a pure bucket getter like Lou Williams, the team’s bench has struggled to consistently find ways to put points on the board. Right now, they’re mostly scoring directly off of the playmaking of LeBron James, who Frank Vogel often staggers to make sure the bench has at least James or Davis to work off of at all times. Still, the team’s lack of self and team creation has been readily made apparent when James isn’t on the floor.
While bench play in actuality becomes diluted a bit in the playoffs once rotations shrink, having to rely so heavily on two players over the course of an 82-game-season could prove costly. It’s important both individually and team-wide for the Lakers not named James or Davis to help shoulder some of the burden.
Beside the restrictions that come with having to shill out minimum type deals, injuries have also played a role in the bench’s low scoring output as the likes of Rondo, Bradley and Kyle Kuzma have missed time this season.
Kuzma’s absence and play in particular, has likely had the biggest impact on the team. Which brings us to our final resolution...
Get Kyle Kuzma Comfortable
Two things could be true when it comes to how Kuzma’s season has played out thus far.
First, he has dealt with multiple external factors that have more likely than not impacted how he has performed. Factors, that Frank Vogel detailed and pointed to reporters prior to the team’s loss to Denver.
“He’s not comfortable right now. It’s impossible for him to be comfortable, or for anyone (who has) missed the whole training camp and battled three different injuries this early into a season,” Vogel said, but he’s still optimistic that Kuzma is going to eventually find his groove.
“He hasn’t played in a week or two, and now we start the process again of getting him back involved and getting him comfortable as a young player with a new cast of teammates, (and) a new coaching staff and new system,” Vogel continued. “With younger guys it takes a little time sometimes, but he’s going to be a huge factor for us this year.”
Vogel is right. Kuzma missing out on training camp as well as experiencing other bumps in the road to start his season has definitely created somewhat of a stop-and-go effect. This, and also having to find his footing within an entirely new ecosphere has likely played a role in his awkwardness on the floor.
With that said, he has also simply not made a consistently prominent impact when he’s been active this year. While the aforementioned factors likely play a part in that, there will come a point where the team must decide how patient they can be with him, as there is no mistaking the win-now approach that is now affirmed. Luckily, Kuzma said after his return against the Nuggets that he’s feeling healthier than he has all year.
“This is probably the healthiest I’ve been all season,” Kuzma told reporters. “From just a health standpoint, probably the best I’ve felt... Tonight I felt like me.”
It would benefit both parties if Kuzma has a smoother incorporation into the team’s rotation in the new year. Especially because, besides James and Davis, he may very well be the only other player currently on the roster who can create their own shot, a vital skill that — especially once the playoffs roll around — the Lakers will need to have in their back pocket to count on.
Above all else, remaining healthy could prove to be the most important resolution the Lakers will need to keep in the new year.
Up until now, the team has fortunately not had to be without either James or Davis for an extended period of time. This is obviously a good thing, especially when considering that in the instances when either have had to sit, their absence on the floor magnified the warts currently present but shrouded due to their record.
There are other aspects that the team must work to address as their season continues, but they have up until now impressively surmounted them all en route to their current standing on top of the Western Conference. Maintaining good health and working on the other ailing issues under the team’s hood will likely be a solid start to continuing their strong play in 2020, as well as getting them one step closer to the ultimate prize they’re seeking.
All stats and video per NBA.com unless otherwise noted. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts.