When a team has been put into a strange situation such as that at Orlando, you begin to see them in a different light. As we write, there have been eight games played and there are four to go. Therefore, before the crunch conclusion to the championship, let’s reflect.
Dion Waiters is more important than we thought
Dion Waiters might feel like an internet joke. He does make at least half a dozen mystifying mistakes during a game. Some of these mistakes are a horror show and can impact the scoreboard as well as the body language of his team. However, what we have spotted in this time in Orlando is that he plays a critical role in the mechanics of the squad – even when his stats didn’t seem to suggest this.
First, defences don’t back off from Waiters when he is looking to take a shop. They have enough respect to collapse on his at the basket. He then opens up the way for others with some startling good passing that has opened up some three-points shots from Kuzma. Kuzma’s stats wouldn’t look so good without Waiters ball handling.
When LeBron is on the bench, Waiters seems to offer the solution to the points drought during these periods. This fact alone makes Waiters an essential cog in the Lakers machine for the future.
Kyle Kuzma has increased his value
There is no doubt that LeBron James and Anthony Davis lead the way in terms of most valuable Lakers players. However, Kyle Kuzma has definitely proven himself to be up there in value for the franchise – an easy third in the rankings. While Avery Bradley’s absence might have helped him here, there is still something to be said for the player that can step up in such pressurised circumstances.
Kuzma has strung together a series of games that should be considered the best stretch of his career to date. He has averaged double figures in every game and has found a way of scoring alongside Waiters. He is a consistently positive defender and takes a lot of the pressure off LeBron James.
While Kuzma is still not a star performer in the league of the forward partnership, he is an exceptional talent. He is valuable to the franchise for a different reason to the stellar names, as he can be used in most places, filling gaps where necessary. There are more ways to become indispensable to the Lakers and Kuzma is doing this by being the team player that steps up when the intensity increases.
The Lakers needed Bradley
It is probably a bittersweet story for Avery Bradley. We all want to be missed and our role ina team seen as indispensable. However, Bradley more than anyone would have wanted the Lakers to demonstrate the depth and breadth of talent to fill the gap he created. He is the best point-of-attack defender in the game and it is helpful when you are trying to stop the likes of Lowry, Harden and Mitchell hits about 30 points.
The thought was that giving Caruso and Caldwell-Pope more minutes would actually be a good thing but both have so far failed to live up to their defensive responsibilities.
The only choice that Frank Vogel seems to have is to respond to the opponent and match-up his selection. The roster construction requires some imagination as they are forced to choose smaller guards.
Dwight Howard is better than JaVale McGee
The question for any coach is how much you can take the performance of players in this artificial environment. If you are Dwight Howard you want to be given the credit for the performances you have offered. If you are McGee you want your charging and fumbling to be put down to the situation and how in normal circumstances such mistakes are rare.
However, the truth is that JaVale McGee is not known for his on-court basketball intelligence. He can make some unforgivable mistakes that will make him difficult to select in real pressure moments. Although McGee still seems like a go-to for a start-up position, the general understanding is that Davis will start as center for most minutes and then the next best choice is Howard. While is a better rebounder, they need the simple things done right – and this is what Howard guarantees.
Howard might not be that inspirational presence but you know what you are going to get. He will offer excellent offensive rebounding, a few dunks and enough of a defense to support his colleagues. McGee could offer brilliance but he is a risk and when the games get serious and it is clear that there is no time for taking such risks.
The Lakers need LeBron to step up
LeBron is one of those players who steps up when he is needed the most. While he might be frustrating to fans because he can be merely mundane sometimes when it matters he becomes the superstar they need. There are signs that James is up for the fight. His defensive play was excellent against the Clippers and his scoring is on the rise. The hope is that he will really show his star quality when the play-offs kick in.
Yet, the Lakers will be worried. He seems to have jogged his way through these early games. And while he has spoken about his need to manage fitness, Lakers fans might be concerned by their over-reliance on his desire and his ability to just turn it on. There is little to say whether he is actually performing at 100% yet and it could prove the deciding factor.