Los Angeles has made up some ground in the Western Conference since the trade deadline, and it is just one game behind the New Orleans Pelicans for the No. 10 seed. However, it won’t have its best player for several games, putting some pressure on other players to step up.
James, who had been playing through his foot injury to keep the Lakers alive in the standings, is averaging 29.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game while shooting 50.1 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from beyond the arc this season.
There isn’t a single player that is going to be able to replace that production, but the Lakers did make moves at the trade deadline that should allow them to weather the storm with James out.
Adding players such as Rui Hachimura, Malik Beasley and D’Angelo Russell gave the Lakers more wing and guard options in the rotation to score the basketball.
L.A. played a few games in a row earlier this season without James, but it now has to do it with much less time as there are just 19 games remaining in the regular season.
Here are three players that need to step up for the Lakers until the four-time NBA champion can return:
1. Anthony Davis
It goes without saying that Davis is the No. 1 option for the Lakers until James returns.
In 10 games without James this season, Davis has averaged 27.8 points, 16.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. Prior to suffering a foot injury of his own this season, Davis was having one of the best seasons of his career.
He’s started to find that same form since the All-Star break, but the Lakers need him to take it to the next level over these next two weeks and beyond.
Every game is crucial for the Lakers with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans all hanging around for play-in tournament spots.
When healthy, Davis is an All-NBA caliber player that can carry an offense. If the Lakers want to make a run without James, Davis is going to have to take it upon himself to lead the offense every night and allow his teammates to get easy looks off of him.
During the 2020 playoffs in the Orlando, Fla. bubble, Davis carried the Lakers plenty of times with his scoring prowess. Lakers fans should hope he can find that level again down the stretch of this season.
2. D’Angelo Russell
Russell is dealing with an ankle issue at the moment, but he is the Lakers’ most proven scorer after Davis.
A one-time All-Star, Russell averaged 21.1 points per game in the 2018-19 season and 23.1 points per game in the 2019-20 season. He hasn’t put up those scoring numbers since, partially due to a reduced role in Minnesota, but he should have a green light for Los Angeles with James out.
Russell is quietly having the most efficient season of his career, shooting 46.4 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from 3-point range (both career-highs).
That should give the Lakers confidence in letting him run the offense, and the team clearly preferred the combination of Russell, Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt over simply having Russell Westbrook for this stretch run.
Davis is going to be the No. 1 option to pick up the slack on offense, but Russell is going to be a close second while also taking the lead playmaking duties from the point guard position.
3. Rui Hachimura
Hachimura gives Los Angeles more size defensively alongside Vanderbilt and Davis, and he can still stretch the floor from the small forward position.
Since coming to Los Angeles, the former lottery pick is averaging 10.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game across 15 appearances (eight starts).
Hachimura is in a contract year, and the Lakers are going to get a long look at him now to see if he can be a piece for this team in the future. While the former Washington Wizards forward isn’t going to pick up all of the scoring slack for James, he’s going to be called upon defensively and to play extra minutes.
Plus, Hachimura has shown that in a bigger role he can be a better scorer, averaging 13.7 points per game in his first two NBA seasons while playing 30.9 minutes per night.