The Los Angeles Lakers went into the All-Star break with the Western Conference’s top record, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis both playing at an MVP-caliber level.
James and Davis have led the Lakers in being one of the NBA’s top teams, but their squad still has room to grow as the regular season enters its last stretch.
With 29 games left, the Lakers have an opportunity to take their play to another level and refine the facets of their style that have helped them be successful. The Lakers will open the last portion of the regular season Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies in Los Angeles.
Kyle Kuzma must be more consistent scoring the ball
One of the Lakers’ glaring issues is their lack of scorers aside from James and Davis. Heading into the season, Kyle Kuzma was slated to be that third option, the player who could get buckets and add another wrinkle to the offense.
Kuzma hasn’t been the effective, consistent third scorer, though. Part of that is because of injuries. He missed the first four games of the season because of a foot injury he suffered before the season. Kuzma also missed five straight games in December because of an ankle injury.
This season Kuzma adjusting to coming off the bench has also affected his scoring output. He’s currently playing a career-low 24.7 minutes per game and scoring a career-low 12.6 points per game on 43.7% shooting from the field.
Despite his up-and-down season, Kuzma remains as the only player besides James and Davis averaging double figures in scoring. The Lakers rank 11th in bench scoring, per NBA.com.
As the Lakers play the rest of the regular season, they’ll need Kuzma to arise as a legitimate bucket-getter off the bench.
Kuzma’s scoring ability isn’t necessarily in question — he’s averaging 20.3 points in the six games he’s started this season. Consistency is what the Lakers need from the third-year forward.
When the Lakers gain quality scoring from Kuzma, they’re usually successful. According to Basketball Reference, the Lakers are 14-4 when Kuzma scores 15 or more points.
Refining their offensive identity
Though NBA teams have moved toward shooting 3-pointers in bunches, the Lakers are in a sense quasi-traditional.
The Lakers have 3-point shooting threats in Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Avery Bradley. But at the same time, their offense isn’t geared toward shooting a plethora of threes. The Lakers rank 24th in 3-point attempts per game (30.9), and they’re ranked 13th in 3-point percentage (36.3).
What the Lakers thrive on is using James’ and Davis’ prowess in the pick-and-roll to create space. Davis is scoring 3.7 points as a roll man this season, according to NBA.com. With that pick-and-roll, the Lakers’ shooters have room to score.
Though Kuzma is the only players besides James and Davis averaging double figures, the Lakers have six players averaging seven or more points.
As perhaps the best playmaker ever, James has been in arguably his purest form as a facilitator this season — and his teammates have benefited more than ever. Howard, who is the Lakers’ ultimate rim runner, has shot a career-high 82.9% from within 0-3 feet of the hoop, per Basketball Reference.
Assist points created, which records points a player or team creates through assists, shows how James makes his teammates better. According to NBA.com, James ranks first in assist points created with 27.0.
While the Lakers can make threes, they are built to score points in the paint — and they need to keep it that way. They rank second in points in the paint, averaging 53.6 points a game.
Getting back to playing smothering defense
The Lakers started the season as one of the league’s definitive best defensive squads, but in the games leading up to the All-Star break, their performances on defense began to wane.
In the 13 games before the All-Star break, the Lakers gave up an average of 114.2 points a game. Over the course of the season, the Lakers have allowed an average of 107.3 points per game.
The Lakers are still an above average defensive team, leading the league in blocks per game, and ranking in the top 10 for steals and opponent field goal percentage.
Davis, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, has been the anchor for the Lakers because of his versatility in defending multiple positions. He leads the team in blocks and steals per game.
Where the Lakers particularly faltered in those last 13 games is defending the 3-point line. In 10 of the 13 games prior to the All-Star break, the Lakers’ opponents shot at least 35.0% from the 3-point line. In this last stretch of the regular season, the Lakers will need to shore up their defense on the perimeter.