While trades can certainly happen anytime in the NBA, basketball fans across the globe first really start booting up their trade machines on Dec. 15. Need proof? Try avoiding the flood of befuddling user-created multiteam proposals on your timelines from here on out.
Forget a ringing bell, an angel truly gets their wings whenever a 5-for-1 deal is “successful” on ESPN’s website.
Historically, Dec. 15th has been earmarked as the unofficial start of trade season because it is the first day that players who signed in the offseason become eligible to be moved. It is also when teams typically pass the first quarter mark of their schedules and can begin assessing their roster needs.
The date is especially notable for busy teams over the summer like the Lakers. After filling out the majority of their roster in July, the likes of Gabe Vincent, D’Angelo Russell, Taurean Prince, Christian Wood, Jaxson Hayes, and Cam Reddish are now all eligible to be traded without restrictions.
Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura will also soon be able to be moved but not until January 15th as they re-signed at numbers that were 20% or greater than their previous deals and the Lakers were over the cap.
This is all to say the Lakers can theoretically start being active, which they arguably should be between now and February’s trade deadline. While they’ve been on an upswing and still need a bigger sample of the roster at full strength, there remain holes that need addressing.
What follows are not specific trade targets the Lakers should pursue, but rather, skillsets that could help shore up their weaknesses to propel them further.
Non-Anthony Davis rim protection
There was a lot of hoopla revolving around the Lakers and Anthony Davis’ decision to scale back his minutes at center before the season after playing a career-high 99% of his possessions there last year.
To accommodate this, the team signed Jaxson Hayes and Christian Wood over the summer to provide Davis extra support in the interior. While both bigs have each had their moments this season, they have not done enough to prevent Davis from having to do, well, everything.
According to Cleaning the Glass, Davis has played 100% of his minutes this year at the five-spot and has arguably been taxed with more defensive responsibility than ever before.
As the team’s recent 129-115 loss to the lowly San Antonio Spurs demonstrated, the Lakers sorely have been dependent on Davis’ otherworldy defense to not only patch up the cracks in the foundation but also prevent new ones from emerging. The most major coming in minimizing the opposition’s chances at the rim.
Whenever Davis has missed time or caught his breath on the bench, there has been continued volatility in the Lakers’ other front-court options in sealing off the paint.
As the chart above illustrates, while lineups that have featured Hayes or Wood at center have allowed slightly fewer shots at the rim this season compared to Davis-led groups, there has been a major drop-off in terms of deterring teams when they get there.
With teams shooting a staggering 9-11% better within four feet when Davis is off the floor, it continues to be apparent that the Lakers still need a more consistent stopgap option.
There is likely not going to be a single big on the market in the upcoming months that will finally take some of the defensive burden off of Davis’ shoulders, but finding one who can be enough of a proxy in the minutes he sits could go a long way.
The Lakers have been fortunate that Davis has been as available as he has been this season because there should be a genuine fear of the bottom falling out if and when he’s not able to be in ten places at once.
For as much skill and craft that was injected into the Lakers’ backcourt with the addition of D’Angelo Russell and the emergence of Austin Reaves, there has equally been a subtraction of speed and athleticism.
To be clear, both guards have been and continue to be key cogs in the team’s offense. But there remain occasions where their collective deficiencies are striking, especially against more physical and agile players.
While a lot of the conversation of this has appropriately revolved around how this impacts their defense viability. In reality, their limitations are twofold as they have seeped into the Lakers’ offense as well.
Although Los Angeles has been dominant in the paint this year with the 2nd-highest percentage of shots at the rim and 4th-best efficiency in the league, they lack downhill threats. That may sound contradictory given their aforementioned strength in creating looks at the rim, but how those chances are generated is more a result of their stars.
Outside of post-ups or pick-and-rolls with LeBron James and Anthony Davis involved, the Lakers see little action going toward the rim from their perimeter players.
At 38, James leads the team with 10.6 drives per game this season. For context, this ranks only 43rd among all players who have appeared in at least 15 games. Reaves and Russell, in comparison, average just 7.9 and 7.2 drives per game, respectively.
It is worth noting that drives are not entirely indicative of a good or bad offense. As a team, the Lakers rank 27th in the league with only 41.2 drives per game, but the teams who sit behind them include the Warriors, Celtics, and Nuggets.
What their lack of oomph from the guard spot does illustrate, however, is a missing wrinkle to their offensive attack. James still being able to collapse the defense and generate momentum to the cup is a blessing. It’s up to the Lakers to find out ways to make it so it shouldn’t have to be a necessity.
If this sounds like a broken record, it’s because it is. The Lakers are not a good perimeter shooting team. And in some areas, they’re downright horrid.
Despite optimism heading into the year, the Lakers’ 36.1% shooting from behind the arc ranks 21st in the league. It’s a bad number that has been a big factor as to why they are 19th in offense, but it’s also not crippling. Yet, when zooming in closer, it reveals the aspects that have hindered their growth.
For one, the team ranks 29th in their catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage and corner opportunities. They also are 27th on their wide-open (defender at least 6 feet away) chances from three. All the looks that should be on the “easier” end have instead been as difficult as rocket science.
What may be more harmful than their cold shooting, however, is the fact that they simply are not attempting enough. While their aforementioned paint-heavy attack has helped make up ground, there is an ongoing battle against the math that could cap their ceiling.
As of this article, the Lakers average the third-least 3-point attempts per game and make the second-fewest. To rub just a little more salt in the wound, only the (2-24) Detroit Pistons make fewer threes a contest.
The Lakers have fortunately done enough nearly everywhere else to offset the numbers disadvantages, but they will eventually need more volume and better efficiency if they hope to close the gap.
Trading for a more traditional shooter will help, but from a long-term outlook, that shooter must also have dimensions to their game to offer playoff impact.
In-house progression then could have more lasting benefits, but at this point, finding any players who can consistently be a threat from deep should be at the top of the team’s wishlist in the upcoming weeks.
You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.