When a team suffers a bunch of injuries, their misfortune is also a source of opportunity for a few players on the roster to step up and show what they’re capable of. In the Lakers’ case, their two best players (LeBron James and Anthony Davis) are hurt, so the team as a whole needs to step up. A moment like this allows players to show their coach that they deserve more playing time or a bigger role. However, the flip side of that opportunity is that these situations can also show a coach that maybe a player isn’t as good when they’re not alongside their stars.
The Lakers have had players who’ve shined during the superstars’ absence, players who’ve done a decent job, and players who’ve not really lived up to the moment. Let’s break down which players fall where in those tiers.
Players that have stepped up in LeBron and AD’s absence
Averages with LeBron and/or AD: 14.8 ppg, 4.7 apg, 1.0 spg
Averages without them: 16.2 ppg, 8.0 apg, 2.0 spg
Schröder has stepped up and tried to be the leader of the team in their two superstars’ absence. Since the two superstars have been out, Schröder leads the Lakers in points per game, assists per game and steals per game. He’s had much more ball handling/facilitating duties without LeBron, and he’s performed decently in the area, although he has struggled at times, throwing a few sloppy passes and mishandling the basketball, and that was on full display in the game vs. Miami, when his quest to carry the team led to 7 turnovers, and he hasn’t shied away from criticism for it.
Dennis Schröder, on what he attributes the Lakers' turnovers to.— TV's Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) April 9, 2021
"I was careless with passes... I just got to do better there for sure." pic.twitter.com/DVKaQVEaI3
Schröder said that his turnovers were "stupid decisions" and a big issue for the Lakers tonight.— TV's Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) April 9, 2021
"I take that on me for not taking care of the ball."
He’s averaging 3.9 turnovers per game since LeBron and AD went down. You can tell that in moments when the Lakers are confused on offense or don’t have anything going for them, they look to Schröder to score on an iso or pick and roll, and he’s saved them in numerous late-clock moments. He’s also improved his 3-point shooting in these 10 games. With LeBron and AD, he shot 30.8% from three, but in these 10 games without them, he’s shot 39.4% on 3.3 attempts per game. He’s been a pest on the defensive end and his full court pressure continues to give opposing point guard issues.
Schröder has gotten some criticism for his play, but his main role on the team wasn’t supposed to be as a number one option. He’s not a playmaker by any means:
Schröder’s rating in our Passing Efficiency metric at @The_BBall_Index last season was lower than 99% of players in our 2013-21 database.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) April 9, 2021
This season it’s up slightly to be lower than only 96% of players. https://t.co/6TScnoujzT
Without him, the Lakers would be in a much worse position. He’s been a fantastic No. 3 option on this team, and that’s the role where he’s thrived. The Lakers don’t have many other ballhandlers right now, though, and he’s stepping up and playing this outsized role as best as he can.
Averages with LeBron and/or AD: 14.5 ppg, 3.5 fta, 6.5 rpg
Averages without them: 17.3 ppg, 6.8 fta, 8.3 rpg (excluding his ejection vs the Toronto Raptors)
Harrell was a player that could’ve seen a regression without the two superstars alongside him on both ends of the floor, but he’s been performing incredibly well without them. He has only dipped about three percent in field goal percentage, which shows his ability to score on his own. He’s brought energy onto the court and has given life to this team at times when it’s seemed like they often have none. They wouldn’t have had a shot in quite a few of these games without his intensity and scoring punch.
Averages with LeBron and/or AD: 5.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg
Averages without them: 11.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg
Morris has provided a scoring punch the Lakers have needed in their starting lineup. Frank Vogel even said after the game against the Toronto Raptors that he’s the Lakers “unsung hero of this stretch.” He’s scored in double figures in seven of their ten games, and is shooting 45.5% from the field and 36.5% from three.
However, Morris does have the lowest net rating on the team in these ten games and has had moments where he’s struggled to guard opposing bigs. He has stepped up in some areas, but also shown why he’d be better served in a more limited role alongside stars in others. The good news is, the Lakers didn’t sign him to play this big a role, and their stars should be back at some point soon. If he can keep this rhythm at that point, then this stretch could have a silver lining for L.A.
Players that have played decently in LeBron & AD’s absence
Averages with LeBron and/or AD: 7.9 ppg, 25.4% 3P%, 0.8 spg
Averages without them: 10.6 ppg, 31.6% 3P%, 1.3 spg
THT really struggled in his first couple of games without the Lakers’ stars, but in his last three games he’s averaged 16 ppg, shot 51.4% from the field and 57.1% from three. He seems to be a lot more comfortable with the ball, and has figured out when to attack, and when to set up his teammates. The first few games without James and Davis, it seemed like he was trying to do too much and forcing his attacks to the basket, whereas now he’s a lot more patient.
He also has the second highest net rating on the team in these nine games with +3.6 per game. In his last 9 games, he’s held his opponents to a defensive field goal percentage of 26.7% from three. The 20-year-old isn’t perfect, but he is learning and coming into his own, and it’s been one of the few positives to take away from this stretch.
Averages with LeBron and/or AD: 12.0 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.2 apg
Averages without them: 15.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 3.6 apg
Kuzma has continued to keep a high level of energy without the Lakers’ stars, but he has struggled to score the ball efficiently, shooting only 39.0% from the field and 28.4% from three overall.
On the other end of the floor, Kuzma has done an amazing job of defending opposing 3-point attempts. He’s had a defensive 3-point field goal percentage of 29.8% all season, but in his last 9 games he’s held opponents to 22.0%.
He’s also had a couple games where he’s been the Lakers’ leading scorer, including two games where he’s scored 25 points or more. But when the two stars are out, the Lakers need Kuzma to remain consistent on the offensive end, and that hasn’t been the case in every game, which is why he’s placed on the middle tier.
Players that have not played as well without LeBron and AD
Averages with LeBron and/or AD: 8.5 ppg, 43.3 fg%
Averages without them: 10.4 ppg, 40.0 fg%
Averages with LeBron and/or AD: 4.3 ppg, 36.0 fg%
Averages without them: 6.8 ppg, 33.3 fg%
Both of the Lakers’ shooters have struggled quite a bit, mainly on the offensive end, without their two stars. However, as of these last few games, they’ve been showing signs of life, and leaving the door open for this take to look pretty dumb in a week or two. All but one of Wesley Matthews’ 3-point attempts have been open or wide-open according to NBA.com. Off of at least one dribble, Matthews’ has shot 3-19 from the field, and 0-8 being from three. He’s had much more success on his catch and shoot attempts, shooting 14-34 (41.2%) from three. He has had the highest net rating on the team with +4.0. His defense has been there for the Lakers, but his offense has been too poor to have included him in the middle tier.
KCP has been incredibly inconsistent on the offensive end, especially in their first few games after the trade deadline. To be fair, having your name thrown around in trade rumors can be frustrating, but the Lakers really needed his offensive scoring many times and he wasn’t able to show up. Like Wes, KCP has struggled mightily on his shots off of the dribble, shooting 12-38 (31.6%) on those attempts. KCP has been looking like he’s been getting his shot back though in the month of April, as he’s shot 53.8% from three. In his last two games he’s also shot 8-13 from behind the arc.
KCP has been looking like his early season self in April— pickuphoop (@pickuphoop) April 9, 2021
Dec/Jan: 47.8% from 3 (3.9 attempts per)
Feb/Mar: 33% from 3 (3.5 attempts per)
Apr: 53.8% from 3 (6.5 attempts per)
There hasn’t been any player that has been consistent throughout the last ten games, but many players have stepped up at times when needed. But it’s also important to remember that these players are currently playing much bigger roles than they normally do. Some are bound to struggle at times during this stretch as a result.
Hopefully the Lakers are only a few weeks away from getting LeBron and AD back, and that when they are, these games will have not only allowed the two stars to rest up after their short offseason, but also let the rest of the team build up their confidence and rhythm heading into the playoffs. If that’s how things go, then maybe there can be a silver lining to all this.