Coming into the 2019-20 NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers were considered one of the favorites to win the 2020 NBA Finals, but very few could have predicted the level at which they have played so far this season.
Now at the halfway point of the season, Los Angeles is on pace to win 66 games with the duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis being better than advertised and head coach Frank Vogel turning this team into a beast on both ends of the floor.
James’ switch over to point guard full-time has been seamless as he is leading the league in assists by a sizable margin and is one of the leading candidates for the 2019-20 NBA Most Valuable Player award. On that same token, Davis is the team’s leading scorer and clearly atop the 2019-20 NBA Defensive Player of the Year race. Their chemistry has been outstanding as the two have been on the same page since Day 1 and practically unstoppable.
Health will obviously be the big key as Davis has already been dealing with a couple of minor nagging injuries. Nothing has kept him out for any serious length of time, but that has been the M.O. of Davis in his career. Additionally, with James in his 17th season, his minutes will be closely watched as anything other than 100 percent for these two during the 2020 NBA playoffs would be highly unfortunate.
Of course, everyone assumed James and Davis would be outstanding, but the supporting cast of the Lakers was under a massive microscope.
Dwight Howard‘s ascent back into the good graces of Lakers fans has been one of the best stories of the NBA this season. Alex Caruso has proven he belongs in the NBA, establishing himself to be one of the team’s best defenders and quite possibly the most popular Lakers role player since Metta World Peace in his prime.
Likewise, Danny Green has provided his expected timely shooting and solid defense, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has become arguably the team’s most reliable two-way wing rising above the early-season criticism from fans. Avery Bradley has been the team’s tone setter on defense and JaVale McGee has been great as a rim-protector and finisher.
And despite all of this, even with many proclaiming general manager Rob Pelinka the 2019-20 NBA Executive of the Year, questions still remain about this team’s ability to finish off this season hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Injuries forced Kuzma to start the season on the sideline and he has struggled to gain traction since returning. While he has had some encouraging recent performances, Kuzma has remained incredibly inconsistent leading to trade rumblings involving the team’s brightest young player. The chances of acquiring someone in Kuzma’s price range who can contribute as much as he can seems highly unlikely however, so the best bet is for him to keep improving and hopefully stay injury free so he can get into a rhythm.
Rondo has also dealt with some minor injuries including a recent finger fracture, but his play has simply not been up to par, especially with what the Lakers need from him. The Lakers rely on him to ease the playmaking burden of James, but the team has suffered with him in that role as the lead facilitator.
Of course, any team would get worse when James hits the bench but Rondo was expected to help mitigate that and he has not gotten the job done.
This is why many view the team’s biggest need as another playmaker as an upgrade to Rondo. Whether that could be signing a returning Darren Collison or a buyout player who has yet be named, it should be the first priority for Pelinka as is another big wing defender.
If the Lakers are going to win the championship, they will likely have to go through the Los Angeles Clippers and containing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will be key in that. Danny Green has done a fine job, but the likes of Bradley, Caruso, and Caldwell-Pope are too small to guard those kinds of players in key situations. The chances of acquiring Andre Iguodala are slim to none, but the Lakers need someone of that ilk to help get them over the top against the NBA’s elite.
And that is the most important thing heading into April. The fact the Lakers have only lost once to a team under .500 shows they are not taking anyone lightly, but they also have some bad losses to the teams they need to beat in May and June.
The Lakers are 0-2 against the Clippers while also splitting their pair of games with Denver Nuggets. Also, they were beaten pretty handily by three of the Eastern Conference’s top teams in the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, and Indiana Pacers.
At this stage, no one cares about the Lakers beating up on bad teams and it will be their games against the championship contenders that people will be watching. The Clippers, Bucks, Nuggets, Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets, Raptors, Utah Jazz, and Miami Heat are the games that will have everyone’s attention down the stretch and if the Lakers struggle against them, it will call into question just how far this team can go in the playoffs.
The Lakers have been elite on both ends of the floor so far this season and keeping that up against the NBA’s elite will show whether or not this team is the real championship contender they seem to be.