What the Los Angeles Lakers gained in star power by trading Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma for Russell Westbrook, they lost in perimeter defense and 3-point shooting.
While Caldwell-Pope and Kuzma weren’t defensive stalwarts or lights out 3-point shooters by any stretch of the imagination, on most nights, they were good enough to be impactful playing off of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Westbrook is a lot of things, including the NBA’s all-time leader in triple-doubles, but a “3-and-D” player isn’t one of them.
Over the course of Westrbook’s 13-year career, he’s never shot above 35% from behind the arc. His most successful season from 3-point range was the 2016-17 season, the same year he was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. Through 81 games that season, Westbrook shot 34.3% from deep while averaging 7.7 3-point attempts per game. Since then, he’s shot 21.9% on 1,223 total attempts — that’s not great.
Defensively, Westbrook has always been a bit of a disruptor, but there’s value in having players that are more disciplined on that end around him, starting in the back court. The problem is that finding a player that can both shoot and defend at a respectable level is hard, especially when you’re a team as strapped for cash as the Lakers are — it’s a big part of the reason why it’s so important for them to bring Alex Caruso and Wesley Matthews back.
That being said, there are a few players that could feasibly help the Lakers fill that need in open market. Here are three of them.
Plan A: Danny Green
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “why would the Lakers bring back a player they traded with a first-round pick just last year?” It’s a fair question, but a better question is: “would Green take a discount to come back and compete for another championship alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis?”
Hopefully, the answer to the second question is yes.
If there’s anything that Green proved last season, it’s that his lone year with the Lakers was the exception, not the norm, when it comes to his 3-point shooting. In 69 regular season games with the Philadelphia 76ers, Green shot 40.5% from behind the arc on a career-high 6.3 attempts per game.
Green’s defensive metrics slipped a bit, but he still had the third-highest defensive box plus-minus (+1.2) on the team behind Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle, both of whom made All-Defensive teams last season. In layman’s terms, he’s still really good.
Unfortunately, for all of the aforementioned reasons, he won’t come cheap, and the 76ers are in a prime position to retain him for a fair number. But maybe — just maybe — Green enjoyed his time in Los Angeles enough to run it back for the taxpayer mid-level exception of $5.9 million.
Well, probably not, but we can dream.
Plan B: Rudy Gay
This is the one I feel the most confident about, if for no other reason than there has already been some noise about him having interest in joining the Lakers.
Gay will be 35 years old by the time the 2021-22 season starts, and he showed some signs of physical decline with the San Antonio Spurs last season, but he’s still an effective player. In 63 games off of the bench last season, Gay averaged 11.4 points per game on 42% shooting from the field and 38.1% from behind the arc. He also contributed 4.8 rebounds per game.
In a sense, Gay is the actualized version of what Lakers fans were hoping Kuzma would be on offense next to James and Davis, which is to say that he’d be perfect as a third or fourth option in the first unit and as a first or second option in the second unit.
On defense, Gay could be better, but he has good length and rotates well, which is all the Lakers would need to rely on him for, especially if he plays at the 4 alongside Davis in small-ball lineups. The fit is perfect, and his market is probably close to the taxpayer mid-level exception.
Plan C: Otto Porter
Teams that have traded for Otto Porter in recent years have been waiting for him to return to the form he had when he was with the Washington Wizards. While the Lakers certainly wouldn’t complain if he was a starter-level player, they don’t need him to be; what they need is his defense and 3-point shooting.
Porter is a career 40.2% 3-point shooter and has the size to check 3s and 4s. He also moves well in transition, which would fit the theoretical identity of the Lakers under Westbrook.
The reason he’s a Plan C and not a Plan B or A is because he’s struggled to stay healthy in recent years. Over the last three seasons, Porter has just played 98 games. It’s also why he’s projected to get just slightly more than the veteran’s minimum despite the fact that he’s 28 years old.
If that projection holds true, the Lakers should try and sell him on an opportunity to play a meaningful role on a championship-contending team. After all, if Rondo raised his value after one good season with the Lakers, Porter likely can too.
Which 3-and-D wing should the Lakers prioritize in free agency?
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