Both teams beefed up their frontcourts, with the Nets adding seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and the Lakers acquiring four-time rebounding champion Andre Drummond. With the two teams making moves to distinguish themselves as heavy title favorites, a clear question surfaces: how do these giants stack up?
How We Got Here: The Nets
The Nets now have 41 All-Star appearances on their roster across LaMarcus Aldridge, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. To say they have a spoil of riches would be an understatement. We’ve seen cases where merely stockpiling talent doesn’t translate to wins (see: 2012-13 Lakers), and there were worries to start the year that Brooklyn’s Big 3 wouldn’t be able to share the ball.
Turns out it’s pretty easy when the three players happen to be some of the greatest offensive talents in NBA history. Through 46 games, the Nets lead the NBA in offensive rating. In fact, their ORTG mark of 118.4 would rank the highest in NBA history.
Every passing day, the Harden trade looks more and more like the deal of the century. The biggest criticisms coming out of the deal were that: 1. the Nets, an already spotty defensive team, lost their anchor in Jarrett Allen; and that 2. their bench would be too thin in the playoffs without Caris LeVert.
Well, time and the buyout market solves all those issues. Even without DeAndre Jordan becoming a serviceable defensive big at this stage in his career, the acquisitions of Griffin and Aldridge erase a lot of concerns. Offensively, both of their resumes speak for themselves, and while neither has made their money on the defensive end, merely having two players at least 6-fooot-10 to throw at the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Bam Adebayo makes their path to the finals all the clearer.
Blake Griffin's first play as a Net is NOT a dunk. Instead, he locks down the league's leading scorer, Bradley Beal 🔐pic.twitter.com/zrJ8vEFiw3
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) March 21, 2021
How We Got Here: The Lakers
The world champion Los Angeles Lakers started the season looking like the best team on planet earth. With an outlier blowout loss to their Staple Center rivals, the LakeShow came out of the gates full speed. They kicked off the 2020-21 campaign with an 11-3 record, thanks to the the dynamic duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis averaging a combined 46 points, 15.3 rebounds, and 10.4 assists while proving to be one of the best defensive combinations in basketball.
All of their offseason additions balled out, too. Marc Gasol, though admittedly has lost a step, provides a rare defensive IQ and a change-of-pace option through which head coach Frank Vogel can run offense. Dennis Schroder is continuing his stretch as one of the best defensive guards in the league while alleviating some playmaking pressure from the likes of LeBron.
Even Talen Horton-Tucker, though not a new addition, has shown flashes of brilliance as a playmaker, scorer and defender.
While the Utah Jazz have drawn a lot of media attention for their rise to prominence in the West–and deservedly so–the Lakers have remained in the upper echelon of Western Conference competitors under the steady hand of James and Vogel.
Injuries to Davis and James have made the Lakers’ activity in the buyout market a necessity. The defending champions have been without their all-world big man for the past 18 games (Achilles sprain) and without King James (ankle) for the past four. In games without the two, the Lakers are 1-4 this season, and though AD may be returning sooner rather than later, the Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that James could miss up to five more weeks with his high ankle sprain.
"LeBron James from the time he got hurt last weekend has an expected 4-to-6 week recovery period."
— Stadium (@Stadium) March 25, 2021
Acquiring Andre Drummond will not replace all that LeBron does for this team and it probably won’t come close. However, it should allow Vogel to restructure his rotation to put as little physical toll on AD as possible. Vogel can use Drummond as the only big man in a lineup as Davis gets to rest, or play them at the same time to avoid Davis having to bang down low.
At the very least, Lakers GM Rob Pelinka has now released the pressure of having to play Montrezl Harrell at the center spot. The rich just get richer in the buyout market.
How The Lakers, Nets Match Up.
A Finals matchup between these two teams would undoubtedly come with fireworks. Unstoppable-force-versus-immovable-object type energy.
For the Nets, the biggest problem they’d have to address is Anthony Davis. LeBron James is going to get his shot regardless of scheme or strategy. Containing Davis–at least to the extent that a 6-foot-11 power forward with two-guard level shooting skills can be contained–should be at the nucleus of head coach Steve Nash’s defensive concerns. This is where the aforementioned Griffin and Aldridge hold the most value. They can bother him defensively with their length and strength while giving AD something to think about on offense. Neither will be able to shut him down, but a rotating cast of experienced bigs presents an entirely different challenge than what AD faced in last year’s Finals.
On the Lakers’ side of things, the problem is much more difficult to solve. How the hell do you even approach guarding a lineup consisting of Irving, Harden and KD? Drummond doesn’t solve this problem, but at the very least, he provides a massive roadblock between them and the rim. The theoretical matchups of Schroder-Irving, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope-Harden, and James-Durant (yes please) will come down to moments of individual greatness, but Drummond can provide a secondary, physical shot-blocking presence on the interior, giving Nash one more wrinkle to consider.
Suffice to say, both teams have set themselves up nicely heading toward the final stretch of the NBA season. The Nets sit second in the conference behind the Philadelphia 76ers, but the talent level of the Brooklyn squad makes any kind of homecourt advantage negligible.
The Lakers have fallen off since their blistering start to the season, sliding to fourth in the West, in the thick of the bloodbath to secure homecourt. But seeding has never mattered for a LeBron-led team in their pursuit of a Finals appearance. And with the names both teams have added, seeing these two in the championship round of the playoffs would come as no surprise to the basketball world.