The 2022 NBA All-Star Game is this weekend, meaning nearly all of the league’s players get a break lasting around a week before getting ready for the final quarter of the season. The Los Angeles Lakers will have 24 games remaining after the break, and it’s a gross understatement to say that they’ve fallen short of their preseason expectations.
It was championship-or-bust for the Lakers this season after their blockbuster deal to acquire Russell Westbrook, and with a current 27-31 record and no changes to the team at the trade deadline, “bust” is looking like the most likely outcome.
With this break serving as a chance for the Lakers’ organization to reflect on what has gone right as well as what has gone wrong, we here at Silver Screen & Roll decided to take that same opportunity to assess where we got things right, and where we got things very, very wrong.
I’ll be using the official SB Nation NBA season preview filled out by our editor-in-chief Harrison Faigen as a jumping-off point for my thoughts below. So although all of your “old takes exposed” jokes should go directly to him, keep in mind that I (as well as many others) shared Harrison’s preseason optimism. I just didn’t share the same level of bravery (or foolishness depending on who you ask) as he did to put these predictions out onto the internet to live forever.
With that being said, let’s re-examine those preseason hopes, worries, and predictions before the Lakers enter their final leg of the season.
The “best case”, “worst case”, and “most likely” scenarios
In the preseason preview, Harrison started with the “best case” scenario for the team before moving on to the “worst case” scenario. After that, he tried to figure out where exactly the team would land in between those with his “most likely” scenario for the season.
But let’s go a little out of order and
laugh at examine his thoughts of what would be “most likely” for this team.
Their speed, athleticism and size should make them a bear to deal with in a seven-game series — provided they figure out ways to get enough spacing around their Big 3 — and has a good shot to take them to the Finals (and potentially win the whole thing).
Now, yes, before we even lay out the “best” and “worst” scenarios, you can already tell that Harrison leaned towards the “best” side of things. But before you start to pat yourself on the back on being smarter than the editor-in-chief of this website, I’d ask you to do a little introspection on what your preseason expectations were for the Lakers, as Harrison was far from alone with this type of rosy take.
(Editor’s Note: Yes, that’s right Donny, defend my genius)
Before the season started, ESPN had the Lakers third in their power rankings behind the Bucks and Nets. In The Athletic’s first power rankings of the season, Zach Harper had the Lakers first. In an SB Nation Reacts poll before the season, the Lakers were the top choice by fans to win the Western Conference Finals, earning 29% of the votes compared to 17% for the second place Jazz and Suns.
I shared Harrison’s optimism for the team, as every stated worry for the Lakers caused me to think “LeBron James — one of the smartest basketball minds ever — thought this was a great idea. He’s surely considered all of these possible problems for the Lakers. Who am I to question his vision?”
Well, apparently I would have been smart to question his vision. Especially if the reports surrounding his and Anthony Davis’ desire to trade for Westbrook are true.
Getting back to what went wrong with Harrison’s “most likely” scenario, his main worry was the team’s spacing surrounding its Big 3. Spacing for the Lakers’ offense has not been there for most of the season due to defenses refusing to respect Westbrook out on the perimeter, along with the decision to start DeAndre Jordan through the first quarter of the season.
But even with poor spacing, the likes of LeBron, Davis, and Westbrook were always going to get a ton of looks at the rim, as they are second in the league attempts per game in the restricted area. Sadly, the rough spacing has seemingly had an effect on their ability to convert around walls of arms in the paint, as they make 65.8% of those looks, which ranks 10th in the league. Comparatively, in the 2019-20 championship season the Lakers ranked fourth in field-goal attempts in the restricted area. However, they made 69% of those attempts in the regular season, and 69.9% of them in the playoffs, with both marks ranking 1st in the NBA.
Still, those numbers aren’t drastically bad. So what really went wrong? Well, let’s take a look at Harrison’s “worst case” scenario. And yes, he wrote this back before the season started, even if it reads like something written yesterday.
Westbrook never attacks doing the little things (like cutting off-ball) with the verve he has for triple-doubles, gumming up the works for the Lakers offensively. LeBron James sustains another injury as he clearly starts to lose his long battle with father time, and Anthony Davis rebels against playing center after a few weeks, leading to an even more clogged floor for the Lakers offensively. The three stars never get healthy and fit at the same time, and Frank Vogel never finds the right mix of role players around them. They lose in the first round, leading to Westbrook getting traded and Vogel being fired.
Westbrook has found some success cutting off-ball, but he has definitely made a mess of things for the team offensively. LeBron did end up with not only one injury, but two, as he is currently still dealing with knee issues after an abdominal strain kept him out of a decent chunk of games earlier in the season. And who knows whose decision this ultimately was, but Anthony Davis only regularly started games at center in the 2022 calendar year after Jordan spent nearly all of the time there in the early parts of the season.
Westbrook has only missed one game, but Davis spent even more time than LeBron in street clothes as he missed 17 straight games with an MCL sprain, with more on the horizon. All-in-all, the combination of injuries to the Lakers’ two best players have caused the trio to have played in only 20 of the 58 games they’ve played so far.
We haven’t even reached the final sentence of Harrison’s “worst case” yet, but those three events sure do seem like they have a strong chance of happening, with all other aspects of the scenario playing out in front of our eyes.
To round out our look back on these three scenarios, below is the “best case” scenario. I have no further comments on it, only maniacal laughter through cascading tears.
Russell Westbrook makes LeBron James’ load lighter than ever and keeps him fresh for the playoffs, Anthony Davis channels the energy he saves by constantly having a superstar playmaker on the floor with him into a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber season, and Westbrook embraces doing the little things to help make what is an at-best-iffy on-court fit between the Lakers’ new Big 3 run smoothly. Together, they raise the team’s 18th banner.
Why I am (or why I am not) excited for the rest of the season
Look, I could try to find a positive spin as to why I’m excited for the rest of the season. That fake excitement would primarily revolve around watching Austin Reaves and Talen Horton-Tucker continuing to blossom.
THT has played decently well lately after a largely rough early portion of the season, and Reaves has continued to blow everyone’s expectations out of the water. With both likely to be on the team next season, it should be fun to continue watching them play. In addition, we still have the other-worldly talent of LeBron James to watch. With him on your favorite team, there’s still always some fun to be had.
I would have included Anthony Davis along with LeBron’s name above, but the hits just keep coming with this season as Davis is set to miss at least four weeks with a mid-foot sprain he suffered on Wednesday.
With that news combined with the fact that the Lakers still have the same roster that has caused them to be four games below .500 heading into the All-Star break, things are looking pretty bleak.
The new “best case” scenario is they get out of the play-in tournament and lose to a much better Warriors or Suns team in the first round.
Given the above preseason expectations, there’s nothing to be excited about.
Reviewing seeding and record predictions
Ha, sure. Let’s do it.
Harrison predicted a 57-25 record and the No. 1 overall seed in the Western Conference. Those predicted 57 wins were over DraftKings’ preseason line of 52.5 wins.
Even if the Lakers went 24-0 to end the season, they’d fall short of Harrison’s predictions and the over/under with a 50-32 record.
New seeding and record prediction
Like I said, the Lakers will win 24 straight games to end the season 50-32.
I’m joking, of course.
Of the Lakers’ 24 remaining games, they have the toughest strength of schedule in the entire NBA, per Positive Residual. This includes two games against the Warriors, two against the Suns, one against the Jazz, and one against the 76ers with only 10 of the 24 coming at home.
I do think that the team will have more energy and focus now that the trade deadline has passed and rumors are done circling the team. However, I still think all of the team’s glaring issues — such as their poor defense — still exist, and that their strength of schedule will cause them to lose a lot of very close games even if they’re playing well.
I’ll say they go 13-11 to close, ending with a 40-42 record and the 9th-seed in the Western Conference.
DraftKings betting prediction
On DraftKings, the Lakers have the 13th-best odds in the NBA to win the 2022 championship at +4000. If you bet $100, you’d win $4,000 if the Lakers were to win it all.
You might as well just throw a Benjamin Franklin into the trash instead of making that bet, but I just wanted to highlight it because odds are based around what the public is betting. The Lakers definitely are not the 13th best team in the NBA, but they have the largest fanbase, and I’m guessing that fanbase continues to pump up their odds. A much better use of your money around that area of odds would be to throw money on the +5500 Cleveland Cavaliers.
Yes, the 4th-seeded, 35-23 Cavs have far worse odds than the Lakers. Again, you’d be better off throwing a $100 bill into the trash than betting on this group to win it all. No matter how misguidedly optimistic some of us were going into the year, the time for that belief is clearly over.
Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Donny on Twitter at @donny_mchenry.