The Los Angeles Lakers — who opened the 2021-22 NBA season as favorites to win the Western Conference — are an underwhelming 8-8 through their first 16 games, despite 12 of those coming at home and mostly against lottery teams (they also went 0-6 in the preseason). For the most part, their performance has been all over the place. It’s been a compelling, stressful, rocky, hot, mess. Yet, Anthony Davis is not ready to sound the alarm.
Speaking after his team’s respectable effort in a seven-point loss to the Milwaukee Bucks — thanks to an unstoppable showing from Giannis Antetokounmpo — Davis acknowledged the Lakers’ growing pains but chalked them up to one simple reason: health.
“We put a team together and we haven’t seen it yet,” he said. “We still have guys who are able to win basketball games for us. … Once we get everybody back then we can kind of see, to be honest. Until then, we can keep fighting with what we got.”
Davis is, of course, correct. The Lakers, as we know, completely overhauled their roster this past summer. Only three players — Davis, LeBron James, and Talen Horton-Tucker — returned from the 2020-21 squad.
Discovering style, identity, and chemistry and sorting out schemes and rotations is complex enough with a revamped roster. When many of those new pieces — including your best player — are in and out of the lineup, it becomes nearly impossible.
“It kind of goes with the league, the business of the game. You go out there and put your body on the line every night, God forbid, something is going to happen in the course of a season. Someone’s going to get hurt. We’ve got to adjust and continue to fight until we get everybody back.”
LeBron James missed two games early on with a sore ankle and has sat out the last eight with an abdominal strain (Los Angeles is 4-6 without him). Talen Horton-Tucker (thumb surgery) made his season debut on Sunday (he’s been fantastic in three games).
Wayne Ellington, a key floor spacer, missed the first eight ballgames. The team’s fifth-highest paid player, Kendrick Nunn (knee bone bruise), and projected starter Trevor Ariza (ankle surgery) haven’t seen the floor yet in 2021-22.
All that said, the Lakers don’t deserve a complete pass. Their effort has been inconsistent. And, as Davis alluded to, they still have more than enough sheer talent to have pulled out wins against some of the worst teams in basketball. They’ve blown double-digit leads to bottom-feeders (twice to the Oklahoma City Thunder) as a consequence of sloppiness, late-game unforced errors, and questionable coaching decisions.
Plus, it’s fair to raise concerns about the roster construction. Westbrook hasn’t proven to be adaptable, yet, nor has he raised the team’s floor with LeBron off the court. Their three-point shooting — the focus of the offseason — has been up-and-down, while their perimeter defense has expectedly floundered following the departures of Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. (The casualties of their offseason approach — namely, Caruso, KCP, Kyle Kuzma, and Montrezl Harrell — are thriving elsewhere.)
In general, though, Davis’ mindset is more rational than Lakers Twitter (shockingly). LeBron hopes to return on Friday against the Boston Celtics, and Ariza looks close to being ready. Promising rookie Austin Reaves, who quickly became a crunch-time stabilizer, shouldn’t be out more than another week.
After that, they’ll officially be out of excuses.