Many Los Angeles Lakers fans have been quick to panic over the state of their 8-7 team. However, the Lakers are actually right on track with how most successful super teams start.
Take a deeper dive into why there’s no need to get down on the original championship expectations set for the 2021-2022 Lakers with the top three reasons they are doing better than you think.
1. The Miami Heat Started 9-8 When LeBron James Joined in 2010
Historically speaking, NBA super teams often get off to a rocky start. The most recent example of this comes from the summer where LeBron James singlehandedly helped NBA free agency become an annual spectacle of star movement and player empowerment in 2010.
That team was widely considered to be unfair because of how high expectations were for, “The Heatles.” Fans were burning James’ jersey in Cleveland, however, when the new Big Three of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces the result was underwhelming at the start and everyone was looking to rejoice that the Meami Heat wouldn’t work after all.
People began to question whether it was a good idea for James to leave Cleveland, but low and behold, the Heat went on to make the NBA Finals that year, eventually winning two championships along with four Finals appearances in four years. The primary difference between this Lakers team and that Heat team is experience.
James was 26, Wade was 28 and Bosh was 26 on the 2010-2011 Heat. James is 37, Anthony Davis is 28 and Russell Westbrook just celebrated his 33rd birthday as the Lakers experience will be their edge in the playoffs.
Fans have already panicked about the 2021-2022 iteration of the Lakers, but with an 8-7 record, there’s no need when given this context. Newly formed Big 3s like the Lakers are supposed to have ups and downs at the start with veterans generally thriving later in the season as they fully get their legs under them and are in a more consistent playing routine.
2. The Whole Team Hasn’t Even Played Together Yet
Another reason for Lakers fans to remain optimistic is that the whole roster hasn’t even played together yet. Look what happened in their first game back with Talen Horton-Tucker. He was dynamite and the Lakers pulled out the win against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday as he scored 17 points and assimilated back into the roster without an issue.
In fact, the entire Lakers Big 3, who essentially represent the main reason this squad came together, has only played together in six of the Lakers’ 14 games while also not playing together much in the preseason. Considering that Trevor Ariza, who was originally rumored to be in the starting lineup, hasn’t played, nor has Kendrick Nunn, who was a spark plug in the NBA Finals against the Lakers for the Heat in the 2020 NBA Disney World Bubble, we haven’t even seen this roster at their full strength.
In the meantime, Carmelo Anthony has been an early Sixth Man of the Year Candidate averaging 16 points, his highest total since his All-Star days with the New York Knicks, to go along with 47% shooting from the field, his highest mark since 2008. He’s also shooting a career-high 47% from the field, a career-high 47% from 3-point land and averaging a career-high 0.9 blocks as the 19-year veteran is even getting it done on the defensive end.
One thing to note is that Anthony scored 28 points while shooting 10-of-15 from the field 6-of-8 from deep, 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field and 6-of-12 from deep, 23 points shooting 8-of-14 from the field and 5-of-8 from deep, and 15 points shooting 6-of-9 from the field and 3-of-5 from deep in his four Lakers wins where both he and his 2003 draft class buddy LeBron have played.
This effect should be common for all the Lakers as there will be more spacing when the Big 3 plays together and the entire team is back as both Ariza and Nunn are a threat from distance while also providing a defensive boost for the Lakers. Let’s not forget Ariza won the 2009 championship with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and the Lakers, which makes him the last active player in the NBA to win a championship with the Black Mamba.
3. Lessons Learned From the 2013 Lakers
Some might cringe at the thought of comparing any team to the 2013 Lakers, but it’s clear there are some similarities between the veteran-ridden 2021 squad and that squad nine years later… especially with Dwight Howard back for his third go-round with the Lakers (which would have seemed unfathomable at the conclusion of the 2013 season). However, this comparison has a lot of great lessons and memories as it’s important to remember the 2013 Lakers were the NBA’s best team in the second half of the 2012-2013 regular season and would have had a strong chance in the playoffs with a surging Bryant if it weren’t for a tragic Achilles tear.
Bryant was having arguably the best stretch of his career, even referring to it as such himself nicknaming himself, “Vino,” as he aged like a fine wine. He singlehandedly led the injury-riddled Lakers to the playoffs.
From January 25, 2013 to February 12, 2013, he once again dispelled the notion of him being selfish by averaging 8.3 assists per game over an 8-3 stretch. The greatest player in Lakers history also scored over 30 points in 13 straight games while averaging 34.2 points per game at 34 years old.
The only problem was that Bryant was 34 years old in his 17th season and played through injury his entire career. Load management wasn’t even in the dictionary for the Black Mamba. He always considered the fans who had saved up to see him play just once so he played every night, even if that meant taking IV’s at halftime, as revealed by Vanessa Bryant in her emotionally impactful Hall of Fame speech on Kobe’s behalf.
After the All-Star break, Charles Barkley guaranteed the Lakers wouldn’t make the playoffs, which would lead Kobe to guarantee they would. From this point on, Kobe averaged 35.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 6.9 assists over eight games; all of this on 55.6 percent shooting from the field and 47.8 percent shooting from behind the 3-point line. Bryant had some epic performances down the stretch of the season too, including a 41-point masterpiece on March 8, 2013 where he hit three clutch 3-pointers in a row to lead a comeback victory against the Toronto Raptors before sealing his individualistic, heroic comeback with a game-winning overtime dunk.
Eerily, Kobe had his best game of the season, and one of the best of his career, when he scored 47 points on 51.9% shooting with five assists, eight rebounds, three steals and four blocks on April 10 before tragedy struck. On April 12, Bryant played the final game of his illustrious, seemingly unstoppable prime as he scored 34 points against the Golden State Warriors to lead the Lakers to a must-win victory that would get them into the playoffs and fulfill his guarantee.
Kobe tore his Achilles that night though, putting a sudden end to the Lakers’ surging championship hopes.
I tell this tale in full because this is where the difference in mentality between Lebron James and Kobe Bryant will actually help the Lakers this season. LeBron has always participated in load management and even took a vacation in the middle of the season once during his younger days.
Kobe would play at all costs, but LeBron’s willingness to engage in load management will help the Lakers in the long run because instead of riding him all year in his 19th season, James is rehabbing minor injuries and is more likely to be healthy at the end of the season so the Lakers can make a deep playoff run.
All this being said the Lakers are exactly where they should be to make the playoffs. In fact, they have a better shot at making a top seed than the 2013 Lakers and winning their 18th championship in franchise history.