Through the first 11 games of the 2020-21 NBA season, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers are 8-3, which is good enough for the best record in the NBA.
At first glance, it may seem like a very solid start to the campaign, but a closer look would show that the team is lacking in some areas.
The Lakers’ overall intensity and aggressiveness have come and gone, and they’ve struggled to pull out several of their most recent wins.
When one compares their current roster to last season’s roster, it’s evident that they could really use two more players who would truly solidify their chances of winning back-to-back NBA titles.
Pass-First Point Guard
In late November, the Lakers traded inconsistent and aging swingman Danny Green to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a deal for young point guard Dennis Schroder.
It was believed that Schroder would not only give the team a legit third scoring option but also relieve LeBron James of some of his ball-handling duties, therefore allowing James to conserve his energy at age 36.
Although Schroder has played well at times, it’s clear he’s not a pass-first player, unlike Rajon Rondo, who was a key member of last year’s squad.
Rondo rarely shot the ball, but his outstanding passing skills and overall instinctive feel for the game made a noticeable impact.
This season’s Lakers lack such a player. Alex Caruso, the only other player who plays meaningful minutes at the point, is a nice role player and spark plug, but he’s neither an elite passer nor floor general.
Adding a pass-first point guard, even if he only gets spot duty during the regular season, would help stabilize the team offensively when L.A. is experiencing a drought.
Athletic Rim-Protecting Big
Last season, centers Javale McGee and Dwight Howard helped the Lakers succeed by blocking shots, deterring dribble penetration and getting easy baskets both in transition and off second-chance opportunities.
Neither is on the roster this season, as the team opted to go with veteran center Marc Gasol.
At 6-foot-11 and 255 pounds, it was presumed that Gasol would give L.A. the ability to physically match up with premier centers such as Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic and Joel Embiid. It was also presumed that Gasol’s ability to hit 3-pointers, a skill set that McGee and Howard lacked, would also open things up for teammates.
So far, however, the Spaniard’s impact has seemed lackluster.
McGee’s ability to run the floor and be a nice target for lob passes helped spark L.A.’s offense. At times this season, the Lakers’ offense has bogged down, due to a lack of transition buckets and easy options in the half court.
Adding a rim-protecting big who can also run the floor well would help jump-start the team by anchoring the defense and acting as a pressure-release valve on the other end.
Perhaps the Lakers could find such a center, as well as a pass-first point guard by executing a trade in the coming weeks, or by perusing the buy-out market later on.