The Los Angeles Lakers opened up a roster spot when they waived Troy Daniels, instantly creating speculation regarding who they would bring in to replace him.
Dion Waiters and JR Smith are two names that have been linked to the Lakers for the past few weeks — and sure enough — both had workouts with them.
While the Lakers will do their due diligence and search for the right fit, Waiters and Smith are two of the players on the market despite the latter not playing at all during the 2019-20 NBA season and the former only appearing in three games.
To be sure, neither player — nor anyone else available currently — represents a home-run move for the Lakers. However, with the race to the 2020 NBA Finals looking like it’s going to be a nail biter, any kind of an edge — even a minor one off the bench — can make a big difference.
With that said, both Waiters and Smith bring different skill sets to the table. The 28-year-old Waiters is younger and closer to his physical prime than the 34-year-old Smith, though it’s possible that the latter’s experience playing alongside LeBron James balances things out there.
Additionally, at 6’6”, Smith at least fits the physical profile of someone who could switch defensively onto the bigger wing players that have given the Lakers trouble this season. Waiters may objectively be the better defender at this stage (though neither are great) but at 6’4”, he presents the same size problems as when the Lakers have unsuccessfully attempted to use Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso to defend stronger wings like Kawhi Leonard.
In terms of floor spacing, Smith has to get the nod, having shot 41 percent on open looks (no defender near him) from deep during the 2017-18 season, which was his last full season and one which he spent draining open looks created by James with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Waiters comes in right on Smith’s heels at 39 percent on open threes in his last full season with the Miami Heat, so he’s certainly capable of spacing the floor as well.
However, what truly differentiates Waiters is his ability to put the ball on the floor and attack the basket. He generated almost 25 percent of his shot attempts on drives, compared to Smith who saw just nine percent of his attempts from attacking the basket. On a Lakers team that currently ranks dead last in drives per game, Waiters’ ability to get to the rim could give them a different look than the primarily spot-up shooters they currently employ.
Unfortunately, Waiters is only an average finisher when he gets into the paint, but he’s at least a threat to attack and can give defenses a different dynamic to worry about, particularly since he has some ability to find open shooters when he does drive.
Smith, on the other hand, is a known bad shot-maker who can bail a team out when the clock is winding down and has a reputation as a sniper. If floor spacing is the goal, he may be the better choice simply because of the respect defenses will give him on the perimeter.
Of course, all of the stats in the world don’t mean much if a player’s head isn’t in the game. The Lakers have had excellent team chemistry all season and both Waiters and Smith would have reputations coming with them to Los Angeles. However, after having helped Dwight Howard resurrect his career this season, don’t expect the Lakers to be scared off by past transgressions as long as they believe whoever they sign is committed to playing team ball.
Both Waiters and Smith offer intriguing fits and the Lakers will consider their options carefully.
This is likely their last chance to tweak their roster prior to the 2020 NBA playoffs so whatever they do, they have to get it right.