Lakers

Lakers’ Robust Bench to Face Crucible With AD Out

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The 21-7 Los Angeles Lakers have continued their dominance since arriving home from the Orlando bubble. LeBron James and Anthony Davis have both maintained their MVP-level play to begin the title defense. They continue to manifest why they’re still the best duo in the NBA prior to AD’s injury.

A lot of the Lakers’ early-season success came from their two budding superstars, but it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. The Lakers’ bench has played a vital role in many of the team’s 21 wins, and we shouldn’t overlook it.

New Faces

Lakers’ General Manager Rob Pelinka made arguably the two best moves of the offseason, inking Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder, who finished one and two in the sixth-man-of-the-year race last season, respectively.

Sure enough, Schroder absorbed the starting point-guard spot with Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley‘s departure– and he hasn’t faltered. Dennis “The Menace,” as dubbed by LeBron, has averaged 13.9 points and 4.4 assists to begin his 2020-21 campaign.

Harrell, meanwhile, is the expected down-low force, averaging 13.2 points and 6.3 rebounds while also shooting an efficient 64.4 percent from the field. Adding Harrell to protect the paint with AD has been critical.

Other additions include three-point specialist Wesley Matthews and 12-year veteran Marc Gasol. Both struggled on the offensive end to start the season, but their leadership and ability to spread the floor will be heavily coveted come playoff time.

Renewed Success From The Bench

Coming off a lackluster year a season ago, many started to write off fourth-year player Kyle Kuzma. Some said he faded as a distant third behind LeBron and AD. Those skeptics appeared correct to begin as Kuzma started the season averaging career worsts in points, field-goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage.

He had seemed to be a memory of success on the court, prompting head coach Frank Vogel to pull him from the starting lineup. This change of scenery didn’t seem to be helping right away offensively. A resurgence on the defensive end, though, saw Kuz’s name reemerge in the spotlight.

Since the start of January, Kuzma has posted seven double-doubles, including his most recent 20-point and 10-rebound effort against the Memphis Grizzlies last Friday night. Six-straight games in double figures has increased his average to 11 points per game.

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Even with his scoring output not precisely where he wants it to be, Kuz’s defensive play is arguably one of the main reasons the Lakers currently own the league’s third-ranked scoring defense.

Secret Weapon

Vogel made it known G-league journeyman Alex Caruso was the team’s secret weapon coming off the bench last season, and Caruso balled out. In a recent interview with Backstage Lakers, Vogel dropped a similar statement. He revealed second-year player Talen Horton-Tucker is his new “Jedi in training”.

Horton-Tucker has flashed what he can become, and the Lakers like what they see. In 24 games played this season, Talen has averaged 7.0 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. These stats won’t look pretty on paper, but his playmaking ability and constant defensive effort earned him minutes.

Providing Rest for LeBron and AD

With only a 75-day offseason, the Lakers knew it would be a challenge to pick games where both LeBron and AD could take a night off. The championship bubble run was undoubtedly successful and rewarding for the two superstars. It was also very taxing on their bodies, however, requiring the team to field a bench that could produce without the dynamic duo.

So far this season, the Lakers bench is trending in the right direction. Though LeBron has played in every game this season, Davis has missed five games so far and will be out much longer after reaggravating his Achilles tendon Sunday night against the Nuggets.

In the games AD has missed, the Lakers are 4-1, and the team averages 116 points per contest. The Lakers’ bench in those five games averaged 46 points per game and provided a more balanced scoring threat outside of LeBron. I’m not saying the whole second unit can make up for the production and overall presence Davis brings every night. Still, they have done a pretty good job so far. LeBron may need a breather too in upcoming games if AD is out long-term. However, the team shouldn’t worry too much with the excellent bench play they received to start the season.

Tough Tasks Ahead

With the Brooklyn Nets, Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns on the horizon, the Lakers will need their reserves now more than ever, as these squads are averaging 110+ points per game.

This stretch of games will be an essential measuring stick. How well will the team deals with the adversity of losing AD? How will they fare against the Western Conference’s bests?

Excellent bench play contributed significantly to the Lakers’ early-season success. Now we watch as they clash with the NBA’s top offenses and try to patch Davis’s absence.

Follow us on Twitter @LakersLead for the latest Lakers news and insight. 

About Gabriel Mungaray

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