The Los Angeles Lakers kicked off the 2022-23 NBA season on Tuesday night when they took on the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
Lakers fans came into this season with some optimism after a coaching change and a younger roster, but just one game in, we are already having flashbacks to last season. The Lakers were blown out by the Warriors, 123-109, with much of their problems from last season persisting.
To their credit, the Lakers’ stars produced. LeBron James finished with 31 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists while Anthony Davis had 27 points, six rebounds, four steals and a block and Russell Westbrook had 19 points, 11 rebounds and three assists on an efficient 7-of-12 shooting.
Outside of those guys though? BLEH.
All other Lakers players combined to shoot just 11-of-34, allowing Golden State to focus on the team’s stars and pack the paint, forcing L.A. to take jumpers.
Now, this was only one game and it came against the best team in the league. So it’s not time to go full-on panic mode if you’re a Lakers fan. There were some glaring takeaways from this game though, so let me get into those.
Lakers lack shooting
I already started talking about this but the most glaring takeaway from this game (and the preseason as well) is that the Lakers lack outside shooting.
This isn’t new information as if you simply look at the 3-point numbers from last season of the players on the roster, you can see that shooting isn’t their strength. The Lakers were hoping for some positive regression from key players, but through the preseason and one regular season game, they are still waiting for that to happen.
James has been in the NBA for 20 years now and the key to building a successful roster around him has always been shooting. In his four years in L.A., Lakers management has yet to learn that and even the King himself was honest about the Lakers’ lack of shooting after the loss to the Warriors.
Barring a trade of Westbrook for two or three rotation players (which is possible and even likely to happen before the trade deadline), there is no real solution for the Lakers’ lack of shooting.
Positive regression will come at some point, but even with that, the best the Lakers can hope for is being a middle-of-the-pack shooting team and even that is pushing it.
Lakers currently don’t have any playable centers
One thing that was very noticeable when it comes to Darvin Ham’s lineups and rotations in the season opener is that L.A. currently does not have a playable center outside of Davis.
Davis has made it clear time and time again that he prefers to play power forward, although with Ham’s system he is willing to do whatever is necessary to help the team win.
I am in favor of playing Davis at center most of the time, but the Lakers also need some sort of interior presence when he’s not on the court.
L.A. brought in two centers on veteran’s minimum contracts this summer in Thomas Bryant and Damian Jones. The former is out for at least a month after undergoing surgery on his thumb while the latter with a DNP-CD against the Warriors after a subpar preseason.
Wenyen Gabriel is capable of being a small-ball center at times, but his lack of size is glaring in matchups like last night when Golden State brought a true center in James Wiseman off the bench.
I would expect Jones to at least get a shot in the coming games to see what he can do, but expectations clearly aren’t very high and that’s a problem.
Westbrook probably will never come off bench
Ham experimented with Westbrook coming off the bench in the Lakers’ preseason finale against the Sacramento Kings. The Lakers didn’t really get a look to see how it worked out, however, as Westbrook injured his hamstring five minutes into his first shift and would not return.
Westbrook was back in the Lakers’ starting lineup against the Warriors and after the game, he was candid in saying that he believes coming off the bench, something he hasn’t done since his rookie season, was why he got hurt.
Now, I’m not gonna accuse Westbrook of lying or faking an injury. But to me, this does feel a little bit like him sending a message to Ham and the Lakers that he’s not comfortable coming off the bench.
Before the season started, I outlined my ideal starting lineup and it did not include Westbrook as I feel that coming off the bench and leading the second unit is the best role for him on this team. It doesn’t look like we’ll get a chance to see if it works though as Ham all but committed to Westbrook starting moving forward.