The Los Angeles Lakers always have the bright lights on them and not just because they play in Hollywood. The most storied organization in all of basketball with the most finals appearances, tied with the Celtics for the most championships, and fielding a lot of the greatest players of all time on their rosters, the Lakers always have a microscope on them. Even in the midst of a tumultuous season that featured only 33 wins for a LeBron James and Anthony Davis-led team, the Lakers seemed to be discussed daily on national television more so than any team in the NBA. As you can guess most of this press was not about how great the Lakers were doing.
Everyone had high expectations for them and they fell way short, there is no sugarcoating that. However, after parting ways with Frank Vogel and hiring Darvin Ham, a motivated young coach that has the respect of the locker room, the Lakers should undoubtedly improve in many facets, including defense.
Yes, Vogel was a defensive coach who was given offensive players in free agency last summer, but this time around Rob Pelinka and the Lakers front office prioritized defense, athleticism, and age. It sounds like a joke to prioritize age, but the Lakers looked gassed in the fourth quarter of many games and it cost them a multitude of wins. Getting younger was a must and there weren’t a lot of coveted young players in the Lakers’ price range (because of Russell Westbrook’s 47 million dollar contract). With only a Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception of 6.48 million and some veteran minimum contract openings, Rob Pelinka, Darvin Ham, and the whole Lakers organization hit a home run in free agency regardless of which Twitter troll who doesn’t watch basketball tells you otherwise.
The Lakers signed Lonnie Walker IV with their Taxpayer MLE and that is going to prove to be an underpay for the productive season Walker will have. Walker IV is a 23-year-old 6-4 guard/wing with a 6-11 wingspan who is known for playing above the rim and providing good on-ball defense. Another plus is that Walker averaged 12 points per game with a TS% of 51.2 at 22 years old for a Spurs team that utilized Dejounte Murray, Jakob Poeltl, and Keldon Johnson way more.
People look at his 3PT% of 31.7 and think its concerning, but we have to remember that Walker IV is very young and will now be working with one of the best shooting coaches in the NBA in Chris Jent (helped Trae Young, Deandre Hunter, Cam Reddish, and Kevin Huerter take their jump shots to another level). Walker’s defense will also improve under Darvin Ham. The Lakers also signed Troy Brown Jr. for the league minimum, who is another guy that is young, athletic, and plays defense.
However, like Walker IV but to a lesser extent, Brown Jr. struggled from 3PT range with a 35.7% clip in many fewer attempts per game than Walker. Brown Jr. also is expected to play big minutes with the Lakers, but he barely touched the floor for the Bulls last season.
Speculation has ensued that Brown Jr. will be an integral part of this Lakers team, and although he is young, he isn’t close to being as polished as Walker IV and can’t be depended upon to get big minutes on a championship team. If I were Darvin Ham, unless Brown Jr. makes strides in every facet of his game, he would be the last man off the bench.
Then the Lakers signed Damian Jones and Juan Toscano-Anderson. Jones flourished with the Lakers in big minutes just a couple of years ago and was a pivotal piece on the bench for the Sacramento Kings last season. He will be relied upon to protect the rim and rebound at a high rate, both of which he is extremely capable of.
Toscano-Anderson is the prototypical Darvin Ham type of player; a hard-nosed gritty defender who dives for loose balls, is a sparkplug off of the bench and just does all of the little things right. A through and through grinder who wants to prove himself even more for the Lakers, Toscano-Anderson will have the largest role of his career on a team with title aspirations.
Thomas Bryant was a later signing, but perhaps the most pivotal move the Lakers have made this offseason. Seen as one of the premier stretch 5’s in the NBA (over 40% from 3 in his last full season for the Wizards per Statmuse. Bryant can stretch the floor, score inside, and switch defensively, none of which the Lakers had last season with a 4 or 5 besides Anthony Davis. The Lakers also picked up Max Christie with the 34th overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, and although he was far from perfect in the NBA Summer League, he showed well above average defense and a high basketball IQ.
His college FT% of 82 shows that his shot will transfer to the next level, but he is still just 19 years old and may not be able to play big minutes for the 2022-2023 Lakers. Both Scotty Pippen Jr. and Cole Swider were signed as undrafted free agents to NBA two-way contracts and neither of them disappointed in the NBA Summer League.
Pippen Jr. showed off his great playmaking skills and shiftiness with the ball, especially in transition, while Cole Swider shot 54%, yes 54% from 3PT range, and was the most talked about player on the Lakers roster. In fact, Swider was only open on 1 of his 28 3-pointers made at the NBA Summer League and showed off above-average defense for a 6-9 wing as well.
I will be surprised if Cole Swider not only isn’t on the NBA roster to start the season but if he’s also not playing 15-20 minutes at least per game. He is the perfect fit alongside LeBron James and is already the best shooter on the Lakers roster.
Moving on to the returning names on this 2022-2023 Lakers roster, Austin Reaves is poised for a huge year after his 31-point triple-double to end the season in a win against the Denver Nuggets. Reaves was arguably the best perimeter defender on the Lakers last season, and although his 3PT shot didn’t fall as many would have hoped (only 32%), Reaves made all of the right plays on both ends of the floor and when given the opportunity flourished in all types of situations.
If Russell Westbrook is still on the roster opening night, Austin Reaves should start at point guard, not Westbrook. Westbrook is erratic and can’t shoot, while Austin Reaves can space the floor with his shooting and is already a better decision-maker than Westbrook.
Obviously, LeBron James will be handling the ball even if he is playing the small forward or power forward position, but better defense and shooting are needed alongside James and Davis, and Reaves is the perfect fit to go along with those two. Kendrick Nunn is another huge addition to this team as he missed all of last season nursing a knee injury. People are quick to forget Nunn’s impact on the Miami Heat as he averaged 14.6 points per game and shot 38.1% from 3 with a TS% of 59.6 in his last full season.
Perhaps pairing Reaves and Nunn in the backcourt would be the best option with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and whoever rounds out the starting 5. Getting a healthy Kendrick Nunn immediately translates to more wins next season for the Lakers even if Russell Westbrook is on the roster. Talen Horton-Tucker was the biggest wild card for this team as his development didn’t go as planned last season.
After signing a 3-year, 30.7 million dollar contract following a breakout sophomore season, Horton-Tucker only averaged 10 points per game with an atrocious 3PT% of 26.9 and a mediocre TS% of 50 (because he is a good free throw shooter and TS% takes into account that metric).
His defense was also spotty most of the time failing to stay in front of defenders and getting beat off of their first step more times than you can count. Horton-Tucker was traded alongside Stanley Johnson to the Utah Jazz for veteran Patrick Beverley two weeks ago. Beverley voiced his insistence on playing with LeBron James before he retires and got his wish.
This was a huge win for the Lakers as Horton-Tucker was a liability on the floor and wasn’t going to get much playing time this season, while Beverley is a tenacious defender who sparkplugs his teams into the playoffs everywhere he goes (as indicated with the Timberwolves last season and even the Clippers before they got Kawhi Leonard and Paul George). For a team that desperately needed to improve its defense, Beverley is the perfect guy to turn this team around on the defensive side of the floor, which will undoubtedly raise the outlook of a Lakers team that ranked 21st in defensive rating last season.
LeBron James is coming off of the most efficient shooting season of his career (30.3 points per game with a TS% of 61.9 and a 3PT% of 36) and will continue to. be a dominant force on the offensive end of the floor. In fact, according to “BBall Index”, a service dedicated to providing basketball’s advanced stats and data, James was the best player in the NBA last season against the top five defenses, averaging over 32 points per game with a TS% of 67.
On the contrary, Giannis Antetokounmpo, seen by many as the league’s best player, only averaged around 25 points per game with a TS% of 57 (10 percent less than James and a much lower point per game average). James will start the season at 38 years old and cannot continue to command this kind of usage. Anthony Davis needs to step up and become the team’s #1 option and take some stress off of LeBron James.
Of course, Davis needs to stay healthy to do so, but also needs to be much more assertive offensively (a lot of times last season Davis was passive in the post and took low percentage fadeaway jumpers and 3PT field goals). As Davis has worked with NBA shooting coach Lethal Shooter all summer, perhaps not only Davis’ workload can increase without injury, but his jumper will improve as well. All Davis needs to do is be able to shoot the 3-ball over 31% to open up the floor and keep defenses honest so Davis can then attack them in the paint and in the mid-range game.
With all of the hate that Russell Westbrook gets, the biggest reason the Lakers were disappointing last season was that Anthony Davis missed too many games. As the great Arash Markazi says, a healthy Anthony Davis is the best addition the Lakers can have. Sure getting Buddy Hield and Myles Turner would bolster the team’s championship outlook, but there is no way the 2022-2023 Lakers are worse than last year’s team if Davis stays healthy, nowhere close.
Now onto Westbrook, if he stays on the roster I would be surprised if he is largely implemented into the offense Nothing against Westbrook as a player, but he can’t play with LeBron James since he is a ball-dominant player (like James) and cannot shoot or play defense (the two things needed most to play alongside James). Something that goes noticed is that Westbrook was actually pretty good with just Anthony Davis (because Westbrook could be his ball-dominant self and create open looks for both him and Davis off of pick and rolls).
Nonetheless, Westbrook isn’t going to magically change his style of play; he is erratic, takes bad shots that he can’t make (long mid-range 2’s and of course wide open 3’s), and is the most inefficient high usage player in the NBA (29.8 3PT%, 51.2 TS%, and 47.6 eFG%). However, it is also important to note that Westbrook did a lot of things well too, finishing at the rim and getting his teammates open being the two that most stood out. Westbrook could become the same player he was in Washington if traded somewhere else where he can be the #1 option and the ball-dominant guard, but his tenure with the Lakers will only continue to be grim and he is the worst possible fit alongside LeBron James.
The Lakers roster is much different than last year’s roster already, and recent reports suggest that this roster may not be the final product on the court come season. The Lakers are still actively trying to move Russell Westbrook but are not opposed to the idea of bringing him back and then possibly moving him at the deadline if it doesn’t work out.
After meeting with LeBron James regarding a contract extension, Pelinka promised to do whatever it takes to have the resources necessary to provide James with a championship roster filled with stars. Even with Pelinka’s willingness to give up two first-round picks in a Westbrook deal, the Pacers have yet to make progress with the Lakers on a Myles Turner and Buddy Hield trade. There is always the Jazz option with the Lakers picking up Bogdan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson, or Mike Conley, but that isn’t going to dramatically raise their championship outlook.
Nonetheless, this Lakers roster as it stands is already five times better than last year’s roster, and if you don’t believe me go look at the remaining NBA free agents that played in the NBA last season. A large amount of them are guys that got big minutes for the Lakers last season, D.J. Augustin, Wayne Ellington, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Avery Bradley, and Trevor Ariza all don’t have a job right now.
The guys the Lakers signed actually played in the NBA last season, what a low bar right? In all seriousness, the only problem with this Lakers team is that they can’t really shoot right now. However, even though that sounds bad, that will likely be fixed with a trade and the biggest problem from last year was defense, not shooting.
The Lakers ranked 21st in defensive rating last season and in the two previous seasons they ranked top 5 in defensive rating (3rd in their title year and 1st in 2021) so the main problem to address this offseason was defense. The Lakers did just that with limited resources getting young, athletic, defensive-minded players such as Damian Jones, Lonnie Walker IV, Troy Brown Jr., and Juan Toscano-Anderson. The team also kept two of their main defensive anchors in Wenyen Gabriel and Austin Reaves.
If the Lakers were to go into next season with this roster they would win around 43-45 games without Cole Swider and 46-48 with him on the roster. That is how important adding a picture-perfect shooter alongside LeBron James is to go along with defense. If they get Myles Turner and Buddy Hield the team will likely win around 50+ games because of the raw talent, Turner’s elite interior defense, and Hield’s ability to shoot, unlike Westbrook.
Either way here is the roster as it stands below with each player’s salary for next season. Underneath that will be my offseason grade for the team and my grade for the roster as of right now. I will be coming out with another article closer to the season that predicts every single Lakers game so stay tuned for that!
Lakers 2022-2023 NBA Roster as of right now:
PG: Russell Westbrook, Salary: $47,063,478
PG/SF/PF: LeBron James, Salary: $44,474,988
PF/C: Anthony Davis, Salary: $37,980,720
PG/SG: Patrick Beverley, Salary: $13,000,000
SG: Lonnie Walker IV, Salary: $6,479,000
PG/SG: Kendrick Nunn, Salary: $5,250,000
C: Damian Jones, Salary: $2,298,385
SF/PF: Wenyen Gabriel, Salary: $1,878,720
C: Thomas Bryant, Salary: $1,836,090
SG/SF: Troy Brown Jr., Salary: $1,968,175
SF: Juan Toscano-Anderson, Salary: $1,836,090
SG: Austin Reaves, Salary: $1,563,518
SG: Max Christie, Salary: $1,017,781
Exhibit 10 contracts/training camp invites (salary only if they make the roster)
C: Jay Huff
PF: Fabian White Jr.
SG: Javante McCoy
Two Way Contracts (can be brought up on full team roster whenever)
PG: Scotty Pippen Jr. (salary unknown)
SF: Cole Swider (salary unknown)
Overall offseason grade for the Lakers: A+
The Lakers not only got Lonnie Walker, a 10+ million dollar player with their Taxpayer MLE, but also picked up another 10 million dollar player in Thomas Bryant with the league’s minimum contract. That right there already establishes an A grade, but adding in two, young gritty players in Troy Brown Jr. and Juan Toscano-Anderson, and also adding a rim-protecting center in Damian Jones, the Lakers accomplished so much with so little. Then they swapped the disappointing and overpaid Talen Horton-Tucker and bench player Stanley Johnson for the elite defender and sparkplug Patrick Beverley. They will be way better defensively, and they won’t be gassed in the 4th quarter of games because of their age. Three huge positives. A+
Roster grade as it compares to other teams: B
LeBron James and Anthony Davis alone make the roster a B, but there are still obvious holes with this team preventing it from competing with the juggernauts like the Clippers, Warriors, and Grizzlies. The main issue is shooting, and unless they bring up Cole Swider full-time and trade for another high-end player or shooter, the team will have to rely on its defense. On the bright side, the 2020 championship team lacked high-end shooting and prioritized defense, and look where that got them. Pulling off a Myles Turner and Buddy Hield trade will get this roster to an A-. Overall, a good roster but one that still isn’t a finished product that desperately needs shooting.