It Ain’t the Three Point Shot: Lakers Fail to Repeat Due to Poor Off-Season Moves

Suns eliminate Lakers in game 6

The Phoenix Suns are in a position to take their first ever championship. The path to the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy went through the current champion Los Angeles Lakers who were unceremoniously bounced out of the first round. After holding a 2-1 series lead with homecourt advantage regained, Anthony Davis went down with an injury. AD was clearly the biggest threat to the Suns, as they had no answer for him offensively or defensively. Once AD was gone, it was layup lines to the paint and the Lakers offense became stagnant and dependent on a gimpy LeBron James and scared shooters.

But was this team ever really championship ready? That is the question. Following the Lakers’ championship in the bubble, the undoing of the championship formula ensued. Wiley vets who provided grit and basketball IQ such as Rondo and Green were let go and traded. Howard took a deal with the Sixers. Lakers traded JaVale McGee. Green was traded for Dennis Schroder. Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol were signed as the Lakers new centers. In the blink of an eye, the Lakers team was nothing like the team that steamrolled to it’s 17th ring. The prevailing thought was that the Lakers got younger, quicker and better, but did they?

The Lakers champion team we all came to love possessed a special formula. This team had hungry vets who were desperate for a championship and all bought in. This was replaced with new faces who knew nothing of this hunger, save for Marc Gasol. The championship team had two of the most athletic bigs whose specialties were blocking shots, eating glass and being lob threats. This was replaced by shorter, slower bigs who couldn’t keep up with pick and rolls and were substantially less of a paint threat. Before the season began, I felt as though this team had a completely different feel. This new team was something that even Vogel and staff were not prepared for. Questions came to me like, “Where are those 30-40 some odd easy paint points?”, “Where are those rebounds and outlet passes that lead to transition buckets?” and “Where did our paint defense go?” Lakers lead the league in defensive rating, but they were getting killed in the paint early. The saving grace was that the shooters were on fire. AD and Bron was doing what stars do. But once they got hurt? The wheels fell off. Their ineffectiveness at the center position plagued them even when they added Drummond (still not a lob threat and average at best in the paint). Ultimately this was their undoing in the playoffs even with AD out. Ayton feasted and the mid-range and paint was open season.

I saw it coming.

Lakers fans and sports experts are now complaining about how the Lakers need shooters, but Lakers didn’t really need that last year because they played above the rim with McGee and Howard and outrebounding everyone most nights. They had the paint PROTECTED which led to transition buckets. Their bread and butter was transition and paint, not deadeye shooters from range. Pelinka might have felt it necessary to go small just because of meeting a few small ball teams in the playoffs and forgot what got them there. Then teams got big over the summer. Meanwhile, Lakers lost all their size and athleticism. This new roster completely destroyed their bread and butter: Defend, Rebound, Run. Everybody saw the one thing that killed them all season — getting murdered in the paint. Layup lines. Lakers were constantly getting burned on the perimeter, causing the defense to collapse and leaving three point shooters open. Poor switchability created uncontested mid-range jumpers or fouls, especially in the playoffs. It was ugly.

So now as we head into a pivotal off-season everybody is singing the same song and dance. We need shooters. Lakers have a few potential trades looming with Kyle Kuzma in trade talks and numerous players popping up from Kemba Walker to Damian Lillard. Lakers fans scoff at the idea of a Russell Westbrook or Ben Simmons (that’s a stretch) citing floor spacing and shooting. Lakers fans have fallen in love with the three-point shot. Yet, we are ignoring the obvious here. The Lakers need to get the center position shored up. The Jarrett Allens, the Mitchell Robinsons, the athletic, glass eating, quick shot blocking lob threats. I’m sorry. Gasol, Trezz and Drummond will not cut it. The Lakers barely could secure a stop or get a rebound last season. Transition points were much lower and Lakers were forced to figure it out in the half court. If Lakers insist on similar bigs or going small ball, then the need for deadeye three point shooters is going to doom them. They will live by the three and die by the three. Lakers had Wesley Matthews, KCP was shooting well at one point, Caruso led the lead in the 3-point shooting early in the season. However, it’s roulette. Even as we watch the Bucks play keep up with the Suns, their shooters are not enough.

Let’s hope that Pelinka really studies the winning formula from last season. Small ball was never the answer. Neither are three point shooters. It’s necessary to have a few to keep the defenses honest. But the best shooters don’t mean a thing if they are shooting contested shots, or just go cold in the playoffs. Whatever they decide to do, make it a priority to do something about the BIGS.


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