The Los Angeles Lakers enter November with a 3-1 record. After a humbling season-opening “road” loss against the LA Clippers, the Lakers bounced back with decisive home wins against the Utah Jazz, Charlotte Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies.
As Los Angeles takes its show on the road for a Friday night matchup against the Dallas Mavericks (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), it appears that Anthony Davis and LeBron James have the team on the right track. So what is real (or not) with the Lakers?
The Lakers’ defense will continue to resemble rejection row
Blocking 15.1% of opponent 2-point attempts, the league’s best rate
Dave McMenamin: Real. The swats that got the most attention might have been James’ chase-down blocks on Landry Shamet and Solomon Hill, but the Lakers’ defensive schemes are slightly more responsible than just relying on one of the best athletes in the sport’s history. L.A. has three proven shot-blockers in Davis, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard to rotate in the middle, and coach Frank Vogel has instructed them not to switch, which keeps those bigs protecting the rim and the guards up pressuring. “The league’s modern-day offenses are designed to invert your defense to get switches and 7-footers guarding point guards and point guards guarding bigs down low,” Vogel said. “We want to resist that temptation.”
The primary Lakers starting lineup will continue to get heavy minutes
Ohm Youngmisuk: Not real. This probably will change as Kyle Kuzma nears his season debut. With Kuzma’s imminent return coupled with Rajon Rondo’s eventual health, the starting lineup Vogel has used also could be in flux on certain nights. But Vogel has already hinted at tinkering with different lineups and the potential to move a resurgent Howard into the starting five. Starting Kuzma would also allow Vogel to open with Davis at center — one of the many combinations the Lakers have looked at.
Everything is funneling to Anthony Davis offensively
Career-high 34.6% usage rate, previously 32.6% in 2016-17
Ramona Shelburne: Not real. This should dip as Kuzma and Rondo return and the Lakers find more balance offensively. Yes, James wants Davis to carry more of the load this season, but it’s a bit overdone right now due to injuries.
The other night I asked Vogel about Davis bringing the ball up the court and initiating the offense. He’s doing that more this season than ever (6.25 times a game; his previous high was last season at 4.4 times a game).
Vogel said they want him to “rebound and push,” and Davis is comfortable doing that. But the Lakers would much rather have a point guard pushing the pace and initiating the offense and Davis to finish those chances.
The Lakers’ defense is stifling opponent 3-point shooting
Allowing 28.8% from 3, the league’s fourth-lowest mark
Kevin Pelton: Not real. Poor opponent 3-point shooting is one reason the Lakers have a top-five defensive rating through four games. Unfortunately for the Lakers, that doesn’t really tell us anything about how teams are likely to continue shooting. Opponent 3-point percentage through four games has almost no relationship with opponent 3-point percentage the rest of the season. Teams such as the Lakers whose opponents made between 28% and 30% of their 3s over the first four games between 2014-15 and 2017-18 ended up seeing them shoot an average of 36% on 3s the rest of the season — slightly higher than league average.
Dwight Howard’s rebirth as a role player is something that can be relied upon
Baxter Holmes: Real. He is a fallen star, humbled by a string of failed “fresh starts,” now teetering along the razor’s edge of destroying his last “last chance.” He’s blocking a career-high 10.2% of opponent attempts. In 2009-10, Howard blocked 6% and won Defensive Player of the Year. All Howard needs to do now is provide energy and interior presence. The sample size is as small as his role — but all that is better and simpler for Howard. There is no pressure. Anything he provides is a blessing. And if all his shot-blocking does is show that he is engaged, mightily, for the sake of his own survival, then that is enough.
Kyle Kuzma will unlock the Lakers’ best lineup
Kirk Goldsberry: Real. Kuzma is a Swiss Army knife that should make the Lakers’ best lineup more dangerous on both ends of the floor: more switchability on defense, better spacing on offense. But Kuzma’s offensive utility hinges on his ability to improve beyond the arc. Last season, he made only 30.3% of his 3s — and that’s not good enough. It’s fair to expect that number to increase this season for a few reasons.
Opponents will have to devote major defensive resources to containing James and Davis, which means less attention for Kuzma. James is arguably the best in the league at creating open catch-and-shoot looks for his teammates — after all, he leads the NBA in 3-point assists this decade.
Over his past two seasons, Kuzma’s 3-point accuracy has depended a lot on his shooting conditions. He has made just 32.8% of his contested attempts and drained 36.8% of his uncontested tries. And when he’s out there with James, he should get more of the juicy looks than he does the tough ones. If Kuzma can make 3s at decent rates, he’ll be a key piece of this team’s best lineups.