3 reasons Lakers fans don’t need to hit the panic button…yet

Peter Dewey
8 Min Read

The Los Angeles Lakers haven’t gotten out to the start that fans would have hoped for in the 2021-22 season, but there’s no reason to panic just yet.

Los Angeles is still finding its footing with a completely new roster, and it hasn’t helped that LeBron James has missed time this season with an ankle ailment as well as an abdominal strain.

The Lakers’ title in the Orlando, Fla. bubble seems extremely far away, and with so many new faces in the building, there needs to be some patience from both the team and the fans if they want to see the Lakers hit their stride when it matters most.

Los Angeles tried to solve its lack of offense last season when LeBron James and Anthony Davis were out by trading for Russell Westbrook, and while it did hurt the team’s depth, it’s worth noting the Lakers haven’t seen their entire team healthy yet this season.

Last year’s finish in the playoffs, a first-round exit at the hand of the Phoenix Suns, won’t be this team’s ceiling in the 2021-22 campaign even though it has gotten off to a slow start.

Let’s break down a few reasons why:

1. Nowhere near full strength

LeBron James

We haven’t seen the Lakers at full strength this season, and it’s going to be some time before we do.

Kendrick Nunn and Trevor Ariza have yet to make their debuts for the team, and Talen Horton-Tucker, Wayne Ellington and James have all missed significant time this season.

The Lakers are 4-7 in the 11 games that James has been forced to sit out, but they have shown that they can win with him, going 7-4 when he is in the lineup.

Now, with James expected to miss time after entering the NBA’s health and safety protocols, it is even more imperative that the rest of the Lakers roster remains intact if they want to stay afloat early in the season.

James is the most important piece to this puzzle, but it’s hard to forget that Nunn and Ariza will bring things to the table that this team desperately needs. The Lakers have turned to Avery Bradley in the starting lineup to replace their defensive and 3-point shooting needs, but Bradley isn’t nearly as good a scorer as Nunn is.

In two seasons with the Miami Heat, Nunn averaged 15.0 points per game while shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from beyond the arc. He has the ability to create for others, but his best quality may be his ability to force the action on offense.

When Westbrook and James aren’t in the game, or even when they are, Nunn can act as another primary ball-handler to help run the offense. The Lakers certainly would benefit from throwing teams different looks, and Nunn is a better 3-point shooter than Westbrook is at this point in his career.

Nunn and Ariza will also improve the Lakers’ perimeter defense, which will help limit opposing shooters from getting hot from deep.

The additions matter, but James and Davis staying on the floor is important too.

It’s hard to ask this team to be consistent when James is in and out of the lineup, and the only way Westbrook is going to mesh with the other members of the Lakers’ Big 3 is if he has time to play with them.

As much as a slow start seems like a bad sign, fans had to expect that it was going to take time for the Lakers to find their rhythm. Plus, if you knew James was going to miss half of the Lakers’ first 22 games, wouldn’t you expect them to be a little worse off than 11-11 through that stretch?

There’s no guarantee that everyone will stay healthy, but as more pieces are added, the better and deeper Los Angeles will be.

2. Law of averages

Anthony Davis and Chimezie Metu

Over the past week, some stats have surfaced that show just how much Davis is struggling with his jumper in the 2021-22 season.

It’s a brutal start, but history tells us that Davis is going to be able to turn things around. The eight-time All-Star is shooting just 20.5 percent from beyond the arc this season, which is way off of his career average of 30.7 percent.

When healthy in the 2019-20 season, Davis shot 33.0 percent from beyond the arc and his jumper was a huge reason why the Lakers were successful in the NBA’s bubble.

If Davis were a role player coming off a career year, there would be some concern around his struggles. However, he is an All-NBA caliber player that has proven he can shoot the ball at a high rate.

His first two seasons with the Lakers, Davis shot 41.2 percent and 41.5 percent on field goals from 10-16 feet away from the basket. This year, that number has dipped all the way down to 33.3 percent, yet he is still averaging 24.2 points per game and shooting 51.7 percent from the field.

It’s only a matter of time before Davis gets back to shooting the ball better on jump shots, and the Lakers’ offense will see a major boost as his production improves.

3. Big win streak incoming

LeBron James and Russell Westbrook

The Phoenix Suns have rattled off 16 straight wins this season after a 1-3 start. The Milwaukee Bucks have won seven straight games since Khris Middleton returned to the lineup against the Lakers.

The Atlanta Hawks won seven straight games (before losing to the New York Knicks) after starting this season with a 4-9 record.

All three of those teams have playoff aspirations and expectations, and they all were able to change a slow start in an instant with a winning streak.

Who says the Lakers can’t do the same?

Los Angeles is talented enough to win many games in a row. There’s a chance they will have to wait until James returns, but they could rattle off several wins in a row at some point over the next month or two to make a move in the standings.

Just because a team starts slow, it doesn’t mean it has to play that way all year. The Lakers are going to be contenders as long as Davis and James are healthy. Don’t hit the panic button on their season just yet.

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Peter is a graduate of Quinnipiac University where he covered the MAAC and college basketball for three years. He has worked for NBC Sports, the Connecticut Sun and the Meriden Record-Journal covering basketball and other major sports. Follow him on Twitter @peterdewey2.