When the Lakers take the floor on opening night this upcoming season, they will not only look different, they will feel different.
Behind a flurry of offseason moves that saw eight new players added (so far) and headlined by the acquisition of Russell Westbrook, the team not only reconstructed their roster but also their identity. Amongst the new — and familiar — faces the team signed, a distinct skew toward offense is something simply out of the ordinary for the franchise.
Only a year removed from winning the championship, it was the Lakers’ defense that was ultimately their backbone and security blanket. All the while, their offense continued to be a disconcerting wart that reappeared annually, most recently again this past season.
This could be exemplified no further than the fact that the club has finished in the top-10 in offensive rating only twice in the last decade according to Cleaning the Glass. And when compounding matters, they have not finished better than 23rd in seven of their last eight seasons. The sole exception being their most recent championship-winning campaign.
Yet, when looking at the names and skillsets Rob Pelinka and the rest of the front office added this summer, it is abundantly clear that the process of turning that wart into a beauty mark was their chief priority.
In terms of where the improvements on offense will be felt most, shooting and playmaking will likely be the areas with the most room for refinement.
Beyond external factors like injuries, acclimating to a new roster and a shortened offseason, one of the most hindering on-court ailments for the Lakers this past year was once again their perimeter shooting.
The team not only finished 20th in terms of their 3-point conversion rate this season but maintained what is now a seven-year trend of finishing in the bottom 10 of the league, a dire mark given this era’s gravitational pull outward.
Fortunately for fans who dread the “Laker curse” that is often cast on their shooters, there should be optimism that the hex may finally be broken by the hands of their recent free-agent signees.
With the additions of established shooters like Wayne Ellington and Carmelo Anthony, accompanied by up-and-coming marksmen in Kendrick Nunn and Malik Monk, the Lakers will have a total of seven players on their upcoming roster that ranked in the 80th percentile or better in Bball-Index’s 3-point shot-making database. Last season, the team only had four.
It should be noted that it is not only the fact that the Lakers added more shooting to the roster, but bolstering a much-needed versatility in their shooters overall.
The required catch-and-shooting aspect will likely be addressed, but also, an upgrade in shots coming off the dribble — via pull-up and off screens — will infuse a new dimension that the team has lacked in recent years.
This course correction by the team also could not have come at a better time given Westbrook’s notable shooting struggles in the past, and what many have already criticized the move as being a clunky fit.
Now that the roster has evolved however, the potential of improved spacing for the point guard and LeBron James should make it easier for the duo to leverage both their stellar playmaking and ability to collapse the defense at exciting heights.
There were multiple instances last season where James or Anthony Davis got into the teeth of the defense only to kick it out to a player who was hesitant or ice cold. This year, the inclusion of not only having knockdown shooters, but also individuals who have more expansive repertoires, could open lanes as well as lessen the offensive burden on the stars.
While Westbrook will be the key contributor in giving the team their much sought-after additional playmaker alongside James, the squad also features supplementary players who offer more to the offense than simply sitting in a corner with their hands in the ready position.
The Lakers have NINE players on their 2021-22 roster that have A grades in our Passing Creation Quality metric!— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) August 8, 2021
Oh and also 2 Bs.
What this means is when they playmake for teammates, they're generating easy shots.
The next closest team has 6 A grades.https://t.co/d5UxZrtDtT pic.twitter.com/ZbJ8k7jySa
Although this roster blueprint may feel unique for the franchise, it is one that has proven to be successful in the past for James in particular, dating back to his most recent tenure in Cleveland.
With a slew of shooters, a dynamo of a guard in Kyrie Irving and perimeter-oriented big in Kevin Love, those Cavaliers’ teams finished in the top five in offense every year during James’ stay, a formula this Lakers’ team may be trying to simulate.
While there are still moves to be made around the margins and a few final roster spots left to be filled, the offense is in prime position to take a leap next season thanks to their inclusions this summer.
The state of their defense — and their backbone — however, is still very much in the air.
There is an argument to be had that a team should never sway too far into one direction when it comes to offense and defense, which the Lakers have tightroped previously and potentially now.
And while there is still optimism that the team’s cornerstones on that end in Davis and James could still hold down the fort, it will be interesting to see how comfortable Frank Vogel will be with this new direction.
For a defensive-minded head coach like Vogel, he will likely have his work cut out for him this year not only instilling a new system into a set of new players, but also creating buy-in once again.
Eight of his last 10 teams have ranked in the top 10 in defensive rating, an impressive feat for any coach. On the other spectrum, however, he’s only coached two top-10 offenses. That should change this year.
The ingredients are firmly in place for this iteration of the Lakers to be an absolute terror on offense, and if they are not, something likely went very wrong.
There is no exact science when it comes to winning basketball games, but there should be a healthy balance in place and is encouraged. Defense is ultimately critical to success — the Lakers’ most recent championship as proof of that concept — but there is also the sheer value that comes with being able to score more than your opponents.
Based on everything that has transpired this summer, it seems the Lakers are finally ready to do just that. A lot of it.