NBA

NBA 2022-23: Can the Lakers bounce back or will LeBron regret penning new deal?

By Sports Desk October 05, 2022

It is safe to say 2021-22 was a season to forget for the Los Angeles Lakers.

A record of 33-49 meant failure to even reach the play-in tournament, unthinkable at the start of the campaign.

The Lakers finished 11th in the Western Conference, and only managed a measly three wins from 13 against Pacific Division opponents.

They actually won five of their first eight games, but by the end of the season they had reached peak crisis-mode.

Heading into their final 10 games, the Lakers knew they needed to win several to get into the playoffs, before proceeding to lose eight in a row, with two consolation victories saving a minimal amount of face.

It was quite the failure, and yet LeBron James did not seem to think twice about signing a new two-year, $97.1million contract extension that includes a player option for 2024-25.

Before the new season gets underway, Stats Perform has taken a look at the Lakers' prospects to try and determine if there is cause for optimism, or if James could be left to carry the load on his own once again.

Can LeBron get Lakers out of a jam?

The man has four NBA championships, four Finals MVPs, four NBA MVPs, 17 All-Star selections and three All-Star MVPs to his name, but this could be his biggest challenge to date.

Basketball is clearly a team sport, but as James knows all too well, it's not unusual for one player to play so well that he can carry a team to success almost single-handedly.

That did not happen last season, despite his best efforts, which goes to show just how poorly the rest of the team performed.

James scored 1,695 points in just 56 games at an average of 30.3 points per game, his best regular season return since 2005-06, and only Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers averaged more (30.6).

He also reached a notable landmark in March, becoming the first player in NBA history to record 10,000 assists and 10,000 rebounds in a career.

Of course, one of the issues was that he only managed to play 56 games, and as James turns 38 in December, is he likely to be more involved this year?

Even if he is, his impressive numbers last season achieved little in terms of the team's outcome, so will he get more help this time round? Perhaps, if the new coach can make an impact.

 

Can Ham sandwich Westbrook into his team?

The dismissal of Frank Vogel was about the most predictable thing that happened at the end of last season.

Just as you thought the Lakers were pulling out of danger, the wheels would fall off again, which was a recurring theme throughout the campaign, with Vogel unable to maintain any consistency.

His replacement, Darvin Ham, comes highly rated and with a quiet confidence he can step up having impressed as assistant at the Milwaukee Bucks.

One of his first jobs will be to form a unit out of his key players, in particular finding a way to get James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook on the court together as often as possible.

While not perfect, the Lakers did win 11 of their 21 games last season when all three featured, but had losing records when only two, one or none of them played, including defeat all five games where only Westbrook played of the three.

Westbrook actually recorded his worst scoring season since 2009-10, failing to average over 20 points per game for the first time since then (18.5).

His rebound and assist numbers were also well down on those he produced at the Washington Wizards in 2020-21, with average rebounds falling from 11.5 to 7.4, and assists from 11.7 to 7.1.

He was, at least, available though, making 78 appearances, while James played 56 times, and Davis just 40.

 

AD's lack of availability could potentially the biggest issue, as he also only managed 36 outings in 2020-21, meaning he has played less basketball in the last two years than Westbrook did last season.

However, he is – for the time being – fit now, and after the Lakers' opening preseason encounter with the Sacramento Kings on Monday, Ham said of the trio: "They allowed themselves to help one another… we have a three-series that involves all three of them, a half-court play call, and I think they're gonna thrive."

There have been persistent rumours the Lakers will trade Westbrook, but Ham is seemingly working towards life with the 33-year-old, also saying on Monday: "I have a plan for him. That plan included him when they gave me the job."

Keeping them fit is one thing, albeit mostly out of Ham's hands, but if he can find a way of getting the most out of them when they are available to him, and can coax the Wizards form out of Westbrook, that could be the support James so badly needs.

A new face and a familiar one

The consensus was that the Lakers needed fresh blood, rather than relying on older players to rediscover their magic.

So naturally, they brought in 34-year-old Patrick Beverley and re-signed nine-year NBA veteran Dennis Schroder.

In fairness, there does appear to be method in the two acquisitions. Beverley was crucial for the Minnesota Timberwolves as they returned to the playoffs last season, averaging 9.2 points in his 54 games, as well as 4.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game while shooting 34.3 per cent of his three-pointers.

Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka also pointed to his "toughness" and "competitive spirit", possibly suggesting Beverley has been signed as much to inspire his team-mates as much as what he can do with the ball in hand.

Schroder was an interesting pick-up given the German shooting guard's struggles in the playoff exit to the Phoenix Suns in 2020-21, before leaving for the Boston Celtics.

Overall though, he had a good record of 15.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.1 steals in 61 games that season, and rumours are that James played a key role in getting him back to LA.

Just make the playoffs and go from there

There are definitely things to work with for Ham, but it is also far from a simple job.

While he was pleased with the showing from his main men against the Kings, he will have been alarmed to see the drop-off once he made changes in the second half.

Leading by five points at half-time, the Lakers went on to lose by 30 at the Crypto.com Arena.

They tip off with the hardest possible job of stopping Stephen Curry and the defending champion Golden State Warriors on October 18, but an NBA season is a marathon and not a sprint.

The Lakers do not need to be perfect, but Ham has the regular season to find the right formula and as a minimum, reach the playoffs.

Then just see where James can take them in the situation he has so often thrived in, assuming he gets more help this time.

Related items

  • Messi primed for World Cup glory after 'liberating' Copa America triumph, says Aguero Messi primed for World Cup glory after 'liberating' Copa America triumph, says Aguero

    Lionel Messi was liberated by winning last year's Copa America and is relishing his leading role in Argentina's World Cup bid, according to former team-mate Sergio Aguero.

    Messi scored his ninth World Cup goal – and his first in a knockout tie – as Argentina claimed a 2-1 victory over Australia on Saturday, teeing up a quarter-final meeting with the Netherlands.

    The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner's strike, a trademark left-footed finish after cutting inside from the right, also saw him surpass Diego Maradona's tally of eight World Cup goals for Argentina. Only Gabriel Batistuta (10) now has more for the country.

    Messi highlighted his "beautiful" bond with Argentina's supporters after the win, but Aguero believes that is a recent development, one which came about as a result of the Albiceleste ending a 28-year wait to win the Copa America last July.

    "Leo is going to do everything possible to achieve the goal that we all want," the former Argentina international told ESPN. 

    "Leo is happy and content. The Copa America changed his life, it gave him life. After the Copa America, he was happy again in the national team, like when we were in the under-20s.

    "He lived with criticism and lost finals for a long time. The Copa America was liberating for him."

    Prior to Argentina's triumph over hosts Brazil last year, Messi had suffered the ignominy of losing four major international finals, failing to help his team over the line at the 2014 World Cup or the 2007, 2015 and 2016 editions of the Copa America.

    Recalling that victory in Rio de Janeiro, Aguero said Brazil – who could meet Argentina in the World Cup semi-finals – would not relish a rematch.

    "If we made it to the quarter-finals, let me be excited," Aguero said. "Do you think that Brazil wants to meet Argentina in the semi-finals? 

    "Brazil has just lost the Copa America final, I think they don't want that match."

  • Kerr says improving Warriors played 'best stretch all year' in win over Rockets Kerr says improving Warriors played 'best stretch all year' in win over Rockets

    The Golden State Warriors played their "best stretch" of basketball this season in Saturday's 120-101 win over the Houston Rockets says head coach Steve Kerr, as the reigning champions ominously made it five wins from six games.

    The Warriors raced to a 39-23 quarter-time lead, inspired by Andrew Wiggins with a season-high 36 points and reigning NBA Finals MVP Stephen Curry with 30.

    Golden State led 22-4 at one stage in the first quarter and did not commit a turnover until the second quarter, in an ominous sign from the reigning champions who improved to 12-11.

    "It was a phenomenal first 18 minutes," Kerr told reporters. "I thought that was maybe the best stretch we've had all year to start the game.

    "Then halfway through the second quarter, maybe eight minutes left in the second quarter we didn’t have any turnovers, we had like 16 assists, we were defending, rebounding, doing everything right and then we just lost our focus.

    "That's our biggest challenge right now is trying to maintain our focus long enough to not give up leads and allow teams back in and I thought that’s what happened tonight."

    Warriors shooting guard Thompson was rested for the game, the second of their back-to-back games, having won 119-111 over the Chicago Bulls on Friday.

    "The hope is that he will play back-to-backs later this year," Kerr said.

    "Today, he will go through really good court work to try and simulate as best we can what a back-to-back would feel like for him."

    Wiggins and Curry both scored eight three-pointers each as the Warriors tallied 25 for the game on 52.9 per cent shooting from beyond the arc.

    The Warriors became the second team behind the Utah Jazz in November-December 2021 to make 20 three-pointers in four of five games.

  • Lyon's six-wicket haul guides Australia to 1-0 series lead with final-day victory over West Indies Lyon's six-wicket haul guides Australia to 1-0 series lead with final-day victory over West Indies

    Nathan Lyon has bowled Australia to a 164-run victory over the West Indies with a fourth-innings six-wicket haul in the first Test in Perth on Sunday.

    The West Indies resumed at 192-3 chasing the improbable target of 498 and pushed Australia beyond drinks in the second session before Lyon claimed the final two wickets in successive balls.

    Australia skipper Pat Cummins was on the field throughout the final day but did not bowl, due to a quad injury which has him in doubt for the second Test starting in Adelaide on Thursday. Cummins' absence from the attack heaped more pressure on Lyon who shouldered that burden.

    Lyon finished with 6-128 from 42.5 overs in the fourth innings, getting the key breakthrough of captain Kraigg Braithwaite, after having Kyle Mayers caught at first slip by Steve Smith in the first session. Braithwaite, who reached his century late on day four, was bowled by Lyon for 110.

    Jason Holder was brilliantly caught by Smith at first slip off Travis Head before Joshua De Silva edged to Usman Khawaja off Josh Hazlewood, with the tourists' resistance appearing set to wither at 233-7.

    But Alzarri Joseph and Roston Chase put together a stubborn 82-run eighth-wicket partnership which ensured Australia were made to work for their victory. 

    Head clean bowled Joseph, who belted three sixes in his 43, on the delivery after wicketkeeper Alex Carey dropped a tough chance, before Lyon dismissed Chase for 55 and Kemar Roach in successive balls.

    Marnus Labuschagne was named Player of the Match after his scores of 204 and 104* earlier in the contest.

    Lyon brings it home for Australia

    Australia's all-time most productive off-spinner Lyon finished the job for the hosts with four final-day wickets and six for the fourth innings, having taken two late on the fourth day.

    Lyon's five-wicket haul was the 21st of his Test career, but also his fifth in the fourth innings of a Test match, with only one of those coming before 2019.

    Positives for West Indies

    Not much was expected from the West Indies in this series but they can take some heart from their gallant defeat in Perth, although it leaves them 1-0 down in the two-game Test series.

    The West Indies bowling left a bit to be desired but their opening batsmen did well, with Braithwaite scoring 64 and 110, while debutant Tagenarine Chanderpaul impressed with 51 and 45.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.