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FSM Essential Lakers 2020-21 Season Preview

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The NBA season tips off tonight just 72 days after the Los Angeles Lakers won their NBA record tying 17th NBA championship. LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers reshaped, re-tooled and improved their roster in hopes to repeat as champions.

 

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The celebration of the franchise’s 17th championship took place inside a sealed-off arena in Orlando because of the coronavirus pandemic, but that was the only surprising part of the title run.

Otherwise, the Lakers had too much LeBron James and Anthony Davis for anyone to handle in the revamped playoffs. The two superstars stayed healthy, first and foremost, and delivered the high-level performances everyone expected of them.

The reigning NBA champions Los Angeles Lakers immediately revamped their roster for their title defense. They had one of the best offseasons. After Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard left, they acquired Dennis Schröder, Wesley Matthews, Marc Gasol, and Montrezl Harrell.

The champs also resigned key contributors to their squad in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (three years, $39 million with a partially guaranteed final season), Markieff Morris (one year, $2.3 million, Jared Dudley (one year, $2.6 million), and Quinn Cook (one year, $1.7 million). More importantly, they locked in their superstars  Anthony Davis (five years, $190 million) and LeBron James (two-year, $85 million) to secure Los Angeles‘ ability to compete for titles for the foreseeable future.

 

Usually, championship teams seldom change much from one year to the next because there is an inclination in sports to run it back.

 

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Although the Lakers roster was always built on versatility, the club allowed only short-term contracts to the supporting cast to enable L.A. to upgrade if necessary. Hence, the Lakers let go of JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, Howard, and Danny Green. They brought in Harrell, Schröder, Gasol, and Matthews. By almost every metric, the Lakers improved their shooting (Matthews), creativity (Schröder), floor spacing (Gasol), and pick-and-roll presence (Harrell).

The Lakers have a new supporting cast, and in these situations, there’s usually a call for patience. That’s understandable in most cases. The difference here is LeBron’s passing will accelerate that process with new teammates, and Davis is prepared to take the lead role on most nights. Because their offseason was so short, expect some nights off for Davis and LeBron.

Add it all up, and the Lakers are even better positioned for a championship run than they were in the bubble.

What should we expect from the Lakers in 2020-21?

 

Lakers
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While it’s a distinct possibility that LeBron takes it easy for at least the first half of the regular season (which, to be fair, James “taking it easy” is better than 80-90% of the league), he may surprise us, as he has before, and continue to dominate the best league in the world from the jump.

If one had to put money on it, however, I’d say LeBron starts slow enough that the critics rain down hard on his play and dampen his chances of another MVP (though, I do believe the award may go to his running mate). However, because he is the best player on the planet, expect him to be in the finalist race once again if he doesn’t win it outright.

Anthony Davis winning NBA Defensive Player of the Year on the other hand, is absolutely a realistic possibility. Because he’s been so good for so long, I think people often forget that AD is still only 27 and just beginning to enter his prime. He may be ready to go full speed every single game this season, and if he is, the DPOY award (and even MVP) is entirely within reach.

But I will go on record now and say LeBron will secure his fifth League MVP award while Davis wins his first (of many) Defensive Player of the Year trophy. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Harrell win another NBA 6th Man of the Year award.

 

Dennis Schröder will be the Lakers third star, and end up re-signing a long-term deal to remain in Los Angeles.

 

Lakers Offseason 2020
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Recently, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel made it clear that he wants to see Schröder play alongside LeBron James. If this is true, and Schröder does find himself playing extended minutes with The King, expect him to do two things: play pesky perimeter defense and get his fair share of points.

Last year, Schröder averaged 18.9 points per game coming off the bench for the Oklahoma City Thunder. While it’s true he did have the ball in his hands more often than he will when playing with LeBron, he excelled at two things successful James teammates need to excel at: catch and shoot threes and wide-open shots.

In 30.8 minutes, Schröder shot 41.4% on catch-and-shoot threes and an even better 44.6% percent on wide-open shots.

This is perfect for when he and James do share the court together. And when they don’t, Schröder will be asked to create a lot of the offense himself, something he’s done well his whole career, and something that netted him 19.4 points per game in 2017-2018 while playing with the Atlanta Hawks.

 

Lakers offseason
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With LeBron James and Anthony Davis drawing so much of the defense’s attention, Schröder will find himself on the receiving end of even more open looks and catch and shoot threes. He’ll have the ball in his hands’ plenty when James sits and will get to feast when James is playing. For this reason, look for Schröder to score at least 20 points per game this season.

While Schröder may score 20+ a night, there are several really good scorers on this Lakers team, so it’s possible that he doesn’t get as many shots up as would be needed to score that much. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it’s always good to have players who can score the ball, but there does lie a chance that Schröder is asked to facilitate more when he’s on the court.

Either way, whether he’s pouring in buckets, distributing to his teammates, or playing pesky defense, Schröder’s impact will definitely be felt all over the floor this year.

 

The Lakers depth will be a major key for them early in the year, but the team chemistry will be vital for the teams success.

 

Lakers
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L.A. looked vulnerable defensively in the second meeting with Phoenix but made up for the shortcomings with their offense, particularly in the second half. Head coach Frank Vogel continued his roster experiments, replacing Kyle Kuzma with Wesley Matthews in the lineup after halftime.

Vogel admitted incorporating new players, and testing requirements affected the team’s preseason preparations in terms of on-court work. But he said the Lakers spent some extra time in the film room instead, looking for the areas they could still improve in.

It’s something that worked for us a lot in the playoffs last year,Vogel said. “We’ve had some success with carryover — what we’ve talked about in film carrying out onto the court. Hopefully, that continues.”

 

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Vogel praised the new Lakers players for their response to the seriousness taken with film sessions, particularly regarding defensive play. “To their credit, our whole group so far has been really good with this,” he said.

My main takeaway defensively, without looking at the totality of the numbers from Game 3, was I was really impressed with how connected we are already within the nuances and details of our defensive system with the new guys working together with the returning guys. That’s an encouraging thing for me.”

Matthews was surprised by Vogel’s defensive schemes.

The Lakers boasted one of the best defenses in the league last season, which played a major role in their championship run. And Matthews said he was surprised by the nuances of the team’s defensive schemes upon his arrival in L.A.

For myself, it’s a little bit of a change because rather than hedging through screens, now they say bust over and you’ll have help,” he said. “That’s an adjustment for me where as if I didn’t make a stop, it was going to be tough.

“So not gearing myself back a little bit, but understanding I’m funneling people into LeBron, Marc Gasol, A.D., and all the other defenders this team has. As opposed to just playing 1 versus 2, or 1 versus 1 around the screen.

 

Lakers locked Kuzma in for three more years, but Talen Horton–Tucker is the next Lakers budding star.

 

Lakers vs Heat
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The Lakers signed Kuzma to a $40 million deal, including a player option after the 2022-23 campaign. Should Kuzma elect to opt-out, he would become an unrestricted free agent at just 28 years old.

It is especially gratifying for our Lakers franchise to draft, develop and now sign one of our own to a contract extension,” Lakers vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka said. “Kyle has shown tremendous growth over the last three years and played a crucial role on last season’s championship team. Kyle has been a terrific member of the Lakers community, and we are all very excited about his continued future with us.

But the talk of the Lakers camp has been THT.

With a majority of the Lakers solidified role players and stars sitting out the first two games, Horton-Tucker took over and showed the type of player he can be in the NBA. The 20-year-old averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 2.3 steals. All the while shooting 55% from the field, 54% from three, and 90% from the free-throw line.

Numbers like that are presumably aren’t sustainable for a second-year player, but there’s no doubt that he has earned legitimate minutes during the regular season.

One anonymous NBA scout was willing to go a step further, saying that Horton-Tucker could take home the Most Improved Player Award, according to Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports:

I just had an NBA scout text me, ‘I don’t know if you are allowed, but put some money on Talen Horton-Tucker for Most Improved. He’s going to play a lot, and he added a lot to his game since the start of his rookie year.

While it’s still uncertain if Horton-Tucker will get consistent minutes, it’s clear people around the league believe he’s earned it. Not only that, they believe that he’ll continue to play at this high of a level if he’s given the chance.

 

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This puts head coach Frank Vogel in a difficult situation, as the Lakers have one of the deepest rosters in the NBA. On any given night, they have 11 players who can easily make a huge difference on the court.

If Horton-Tucker plays 15-20 minutes a night, this could significantly disrupt the minutes of players like Kuzma, Markieff Morris, and Alex Caruso.

As we saw last season, Vogel has no issues experimenting with lineups regardless of the situation, meaning each night may come with a completely different look. Of course, there is the unpredictability factor with the COVID-19 pandemic and NBA’s protocols.

Vogel welcomes Horton-Tucker making his life ‘difficult.’

Following the first two remarkable Horton-Tucker performances, questions began over what Vogel’s plan was with the young player.

It’s going to make my job difficult, for sure,” Vogel said. “We have a very deep team, and no minutes are guaranteed. If he’s going to keep playing at a high level, that should push everybody to play at a high level.

“But it does give us that luxury having him carry the load for some of our guys who played deep in a championship run and had a short offseason. He should be able to carry some of that load.

 

The season tips off tonight against the Clippers. Nothing is more fitting than to raise the Lakers 17th title banner against the team that covers them with pictures of the their players and the team who stills looks up to big brother.

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-Joe Arrigo – Franchise Sports Media

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