Swingman Swider Answers Lakers Debacle at Forward


Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: the Lakers are all that everyone is talking about right now.

For context, here’s a quick catch-up of all the relevant Lakers news since free agency began just a few weeks ago:

  • A Russell Westbrook-Kyrie Irving trade reached a near-boiling point, but ultimately hasn’t happen
  • Anthony Davis appears to (finally) be getting back in basketball shape
  • LeBron James, AD and Westbrook confirmed their commitment to the Lakers over the phone
  • Westbrook fires his long-time agent over “irreconcilable differences
  • LeBron took the Drew League over by storm and teamed up with DeMar DeRozan (who LeBron originally wanted on the Lakers last offseason)
  • Westbrook trade rumors ramp up (again…)

It’s been a wild summer for L.A. basketball off the court.

But on the court, the Lakers are finding some secret gems that could fill critical holes on the current roster.

In the past, L.A.’s development in Summer League has been incredibly successful:

This year, the Lakers found another diamond in the rough– Cole Swider, the starting small forward this past season for Syracuse University.

Swider put himself on the NBA map this summer with some incredible performances:

Now, Swider could be the answer to some of the Lakers roster limitations heading into this upcoming season.

Swider’s Upside as a Versatile Two-Way Wing

The NBA’s most coveted position is wing-sized players who can space the floor, defend multiple positions, and fit into different roles on both ends of the court.

On paper, Swider fits that bill seamlessly.

At six-foot-nine and over 220 lbs., Swider has the speed to defend quicker guards and the size to match up with forward-sized players.

In college, Swider has always been a consistent three-point shooter. In his final three seasons in college, Swider shot over 39% from three on 4.4 attempts per game. This past season for Syracuse, Swider chipped in over 41% from three on six attempts per contest.

Swider became more than just a shooter for the Orange, taking a leap forward as an on-the-ball creator and playmaker.

So far, Swider’s success on offense is translating to the NBA hardwood.

In Summer League, Swider shot a scorching 53% from three, making 28 of his 53 attempts from behind the arc.

More importantly, Swider’s ability to diversify his offensive game in Summer League stood out the most. Swider flashed his ability to score in catch-and-shoot, off-the-dribble, or transition situations.

Superstars like LeBron, Westbrook and AD need space to operate in isolation. Swider could easily slide in, providing value for the Lakers on offense without being a ball-stopper.

Additionally, Swider fits the mold as a switchable, multi-positional defender. His size and frame allow him to defend most guards and some forwards. He still needs to improve his defensive IQ and help defense. Swider will be easily outmatched against larger forwards that can generate efficient offense.

Then again, the Lakers ranked 28th in opponent points allowed per game last season. The team finished in the bottom-ten in the league in effective opponent field goal percentage and defensive rebound percentage. L.A. is in need of a defensive upgrade wherever it comes from.

Swider could provide some instant support on both ends of the court for a franchise looking to return back to the playoffs after a disappointing year.

Swider Addresses Lakers’ Weakness on the Wings

In free agency, L.A. looked to address their lack of depth at small forward and power forward.

The Lakers used their taxpayer mid-level exception to sign Lonnie Walker IV. The team also took flyers on wings Troy Brown Jr. and Juan Toscano-Anderson.

So far, there’s a case to be made that Swider could be the best fit moving forward out of all the Lakers’ current wings.

Los Angeles will enter next season as one of the worst shooting teams in the league. The team’s new free-agent acquisitions won’t make the situation any better:

Three-Point Attempts and Accuracy of Lakers’ Free-Agent Signings

  • Lonnie Walker IV: 31% on 5.0 attempts per game in 2021-2022
  • Troy Brown Jr.: 35% on 2.0 attempts per game in 2021-2022
  • Juan Toscano-Anderson: 32% on 1.2 attempts per game in 2021-2022 
  • Thomas Bryant: 29% on 1.6 attempts per game in 2021-2022 
  • Damian Jones: 35% on 0.5 attempts per game in 2021-2022

Some of the Lakers’ returning players don’t improve the team’s desire for more floor spacing.

Westbrook shot under 30% from three. Davis submitted arguably the worst shooting season of his career. Talen Horton-Tucker shot under 27% from behind the arc. Stanley Johnson shot 31% from three on limited volume.

On top of that, Malik Monk (39% from three on 5.8 attempts per game), the Lakers’ best shooter from last season, signed a lucrative deal with the Kings in free agency.

In 2022, the Lakers were 23rd in offensive rating and 19th in attempted three-point rate. Heading into training camp, the Lakers will be one of the league’s worse offensive teams on paper.

The Lakers will need all the versatility they can get next season. Assuming Westbrook is still on the team, L.A. desperately needs an efficient shooter like Swider. 

And, if the Lakers choose to start Davis with a traditional center, shooting at the wing positions becomes almost necessary for the team to be successful.

Lakers Lacking Clear Avenue for Improvement

In recent days, the Lakers have been the subject of more trade rumors:

The most logical trade package revolves around shopping Westbrook plus multiple first-rounders from the Lakers.

However, there are several complications to finalizing a trade of any sort.

First, Westbrook is owed over $47 million for the 2022-2023 season. Any team willing to take Westbrook in a deal needs to have the cap space and will probably require L.A. to give up some draft equity.

Given Westbrook’s decline as a shooter and on-ball creator, teams will expect assets to make up for his declining value.

However, the Lakers are light on draft capital in the near future.

New Orleans holds swap rights with Los Angeles in 2023. The Pelicans own the Lakers’ 2024 first-rounder with an option to defer the pick to 2025. Realistically, L.A. can only trade first-rounders in 2027 and 2029.

The real question for the Lakers is this: how much do they value their future?

On the one hand, LeBron will be long retired by the time the 2027 and 2029 drafts roll around. Is it worth it to sacrifice the future of the franchise for a one-to-two-year title window? 

On the other hand, the Lakers possess one of the top-two players in NBA history, and Anthony Davis is in the middle of his prime. When healthy, the Lakers can still make a deep run in the postseason.

Swider flashed tremendous potential in Summer League this year. If given the chance, he could be the unexpected but critical piece to a Lakers playoff run this upcoming season.

About Dominic Chiappone

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