The Los Angeles Lakers have improved their report card for the 2022-23 season within the last few weeks.

After a 2-10 start — defined by historically inept 3-point shooting, trade speculation, a flu bug, and an injury to LeBron James — Darvin Ham’s squad has rebounded. They won seven of nine against a light schedule, went 3-3 on a tough East Coast trip (3-1 with LeBron and Anthony Davis), bested the Milwaukee Bucks, and came within a few Davis free throws of defeating the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics.

Issues with shooting, depth, and late-game execution linger, along with the need for size on the wing. But, about a third into the season, the Lakers (11-16) sit two games behind the Golden State Warriors for the final play-in spot.

As trade season tips off, Los Angeles needs to upgrade the roster to ascend the standings. But, if you told Lakers fans that, 27 games in, their team would be in the playoff mix, AD is healthy and in the MVP race, and Russell Westbrook was in the Sixth Man of the Year race, they’d happily take it. All things considered, the Lakers get a B-.

Before doling out individual grades, Darvin Ham deserves a shout-out. His spacing system generates open looks, even if the players often miss. The defense has been (mostly) stout. Their ball movement can be beautifully crisp. His relentless optimism has helped the Lakers weather a brutal start and discouraging losses.

Ham pledged to hold players accountable, regardless of stature. After numerous discussions throughout the summer, he convinced Westbrook to embrace a bench role four games in. He successfully challenged AD to play full-time center and become the team’s “epicenter.” He was quick to yank Kendrick Nunn and Damian Jones from the rotation and give 19-year-old Max Christie a shot. The Lakers typically play with spirit, cohesion, and resiliency. They’ve clearly bought what he’s (genuinely) selling. So Ham gets an A-.

Now, the players…

Anthony Davis

“He’s been unbelievable, man,” LeBron said about AD. “On both sides of the floor. I mean, playing like the MVP of this league. Just straight dominance. Straight dominance.”

There are two blips on AD’s sterling resume. Early on, he disappeared from a handful of second halves, which directly led to avoidable losses that could come back to bite the Lakers. In two of the last three games, he missed last-second free throws that led to OT Ls rather than uplifting Ws.

Otherwise, Davis has been spectacular. He’s averaging 28.1 points and 12.4 rebounds — both career highs. His defense — both statistically and by eye test — is as dominant as it has been since the bubble. He’s cutting back on jumpers and getting to the line more, where he’s converting 82.4% of the time. He’s rolling off screens way more than popping. His passing has made strides. He’s playing with increased physicality and aggression. He’s playing center. He has missed just three games.

Davis is in contention for MVP, DPOY, and All-NBA First Team. More significantly, he’s grabbed the torch from LeBron as the Lakers’ best player.

“They know I make him a top priority in terms of who we need to play through,” Ham said. “And again,  (that) makes everyone else’s life easier. Bron is still gonna be Bron. Russ is still gonna be Russ and dominate certain segments of the game. But the consistency of AD, from quarter to quarter and half to half, just being able to go to him and get something good every time.”

AD left a message for Ham before the season: Give me the ball. He has backed it up.

“He wants it,” said Ham. “He wants to be the guy for the team.”

Grade: A

LeBron James

With AD playing Batman, LeBron, in Year 20, can become an all-world Robin. James can inhabit any style or role in any situation while averaging 26.5/8.6/6.5. A laughably ideal sidekick.

After a slow start (due to foot soreness/illness), LeBron, since a five-game absence (groin strain), has found find his jumper. He’s shooting 38.5% from 3 over the past 10, and that includes 1-0f-8 and 3-of-11 showings.

“My game has evolved in I don’t have to rely on super-duper athleticism to be able to be effective,” said LeBron. “Probably my first 12 years of my career – maybe 11, first 11-12 years, I was just super-duper athletic and I could not be as efficient and not be as dialed in on the actual game, the basketball game. I could go out and just figure things out once I jumped in the air. … But I’m also smart enough to know that in order for me to be the best player I needed to be, I needed to continue to grow my game.” (LeBron credited opposing coaches like Gregg Popovich, Dwane Casey, and Rick Carlisle for defensive tactics in the playoffs that forced him to adapt his game.)

LeBron is essentially playing full-time power forward. He’s having his best rebounding season with Los Angeles — critical, considering the Lakers’ shortcomings on the glass.

You can usually get a sense of where the Lakers stand by observing LeBron’s energy. The fact that he has been working hard on defense as of late illustrates his newfound level of enthusiasm about this group. Folks say he has been more active in communication, film room, practices, etc. By my read, his unwillingness to entertain the notion of a moral victory after the Celtics loss signals belief.

Grade: B+

Russell Westbrook

The Bad: The Lakers are 6.6 points per 100 possessions better with Russ on the sideline. He still turns it over too much. He still bristles when sitting in crunch time, yet he has partially cost the Lakers a handful of winnable games with regrettable decisions. (Related: Los Angeles has been the worst clutch team in basketball.)

The Good: The Westbrook-off-the-bench thing working has been a massive sigh of relief. He’s averaging 15.2/5.8/7.9 since his “re-alignment.” He’s developing two-man chemistry with Davis and even LeBron.

Even Russ-AD-LeBron lineups now have a positive net rating! (2.4) He’s making Lonnie Walker IV, Thomas Bryant, and Wenyen Gabriel better. The Lakers rank second in pace; he’s a major reason why.

Westbrook’s move to the bench and the joy he has played with since have benefited the Lakers on the court and dissipated tension in the locker room. They have little reason to trade him, and the latest reporting suggests they won’t.

Grade: B

Lonnie Walker IV 

No offseason signing invited more skepticism and Klutch jokes than Lonnie Walker IV. The Lakers are going to use their only non-minimum contract on another small wing with spotty defense and 3-point shooting?

Give Rob Pelinka credit. Walker has been a steady bright spot. In 24 starts, LW4 has been a dependable scorer (15.7 PPG) and shooter (.478/.395/.849 splits). His electric rim-attacking, dunk-contest-caliber bounce, and microwave scoring ability have ignited home crowds and second-half runs. He’s having a career-best year from midrange.

His on-ball defense has been competitive and has earned plaudits from Ham.

Grade: A- 

Austin Reaves

If stamina didn’t exist, Ham might never take Reaves out; he impacts winning in too many ways. This season, though, he has all of the swagger.

Reaves, who bulked up over the summer, is attacking the cup and dishing with sizzle. He has shown off a variety of vintage post-footwork. He’s pulling Smittys and Dream Shakes and throwing down vicious dunks.

Reaves is putting up 10.6 PPG thanks to his deeper bag and, as the Lakers hoped, improved shooting (37.6% from 3, up from 37.1%). His IQ and feel on both ends are immensely valuable alongside stars. He’s a stingy defender who is often underestimated by opponents. He’s fourth in charges taken. He’s a crunch-time staple.

“He’s just been aggressive,” Davis said. “He’s taken another step in his progression in this game, and he’s coming out making the right plays, taking a challenge on defense. Also, he’s a second-year player, he’s playing unbelievable for us.”

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Reaves is arguably the Lakers’ third-best player. The Lakers’ best high-usage three-man lineup combinations are Davis/Reaves/Walker IV (9.3) and Russ/Davis/Reaves (7.4). Ham should consider moving him into the starting lineup over Patrick Beverley or Dennis Schroder.

Grade: A-

Troy Brown Jr.

Another quality addition.

Like Reaves, Brown has a sophisticated understanding of the gray areas of the sport: cutting, spacing, defensive positioning, hustle, etc. He’s willing to sacrifice playmaking opportunities for the little things.

His rebounding (6.4 per 36 minutes) has been a boon. His length on the wing has been essential for a team without large wings. He needs to nail more 3s (31.0%).

Grade: B

Dennis Schroder

Schroder is neither looking for his shot (8.3 points on 6.8 attempts per game) nor making 3s (25.8%). And yet, I kinda like how he has played. He has orchestrated the offense with discipline, deferring to LeBron and AD. His pick-and-roll chemistry with Davis is already better than in 2020-21. He has brought pesky on-ball defense, as usual.

Lineups with LeBron, and AD, and Dennis have produced an 8.4 net rating. Coming off an electric EuroBasket run, Schroder is benefiting from the lower expectations in his second sting with the Lakers. He can be their PG1 for the rest of the season.

Grade: C+

Patrick Beverley

Beverley is shooting 25.4% on 3s, and I’m pretty sure every miss has been short. His perimeter defense and intangibles are important. But that stuff doesn’t negate his abysmal production. He’s one of the team’s three major disappointments.

Grade: C-

Kendrick Nunn

Oh, boy.

Nunn, who missed all of last season with an injury, earned raves in camp. It hasn’t translated.

The combo guard has been in and out of the rotation. He’s averaging 5.3 points on 35.9% shooting and 27.7% from deep. He looks like he has forgotten how to play basketball.

The 27-year-old may need a less pressurized environment (a tanking team?) to find his game ahead of free agency. Nunn and Beverley are the two likeliest trade candidates.

Grade: F

Wenyen Gabriel

Gabriel is the type of player every coach loves. Never stops moving and hustling, plays bigger than he is, and has a Swiss Army Knife quality; always hungry to contribute in some fashion on every given possession.

Gabriel was among the few positives from preseason. In his case, it has translated. He’s averaging 13.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 1.5 blocks per 36. He has developed smooth chemistry with Westbrook and Thomas Bryant. His defense and rebounding are critical for the second unit.

The Lakers’ scouting department deserves praise for scooping him up.

Gabriel has missed the last five games with a shoulder strain. The Lakers need him back.

Grade: B+

Thomas Bryant

Bryant doesn’t bring much on D and hasn’t found his stroke (3-of-10 from 3). But, man, he works hard. He has been a reliable benefactor of Westbrook’s driving and dishing. Despite missing the first 13 games (thumb surgery), Bryant has games with 15 points/9 rebounds, 14/6, 19/9, and 16/5.

Bryant’s minutes might be limited in a playoff series, but he can definitely help the Lakers get there.

Grade: B-

Damian Jones

Jones’ return to Los Angeles hasn’t gone as planned. He was -19 in his one start — one of only three games in which he has played rotation minutes. Bryant and Gabriel have been better backup 5s. With AD ensconced at center, Jones’ lack of versatility has unsubstantiated his usefulness.

Grade: D

Max Christie

Christie has appeared in 10 games — definitively more than was expected of the 2022 second-round pick before Christmas. Some of those appearances have been garbage-time cameos. But, he did log a four-game stretch in the rotation, in which he held his own in 20.2 minutes, — including 5-of-10 from 3. (He lit it up from 3 for South Bay on Wednesday).

Christie hasn’t looked overwhelmed. He has gained Ham’s confidence to call his number in meaningful situations.

Grade: B

(The Lakers’ rookies on two-way contracts, Cole Swider and Scotty Pippen Jr., have seen 10 minutes of NBA action, combined. Grades: INC)

Juan Toscano-Anderson

JTA quickly fell out of the rotation and has only played 146 minutes across 14 games. He’s 2-of-11 from 3.

His value to the Lakers is felt in the locker room and in practice, where he provides elite leadership and daily culture-setting. He’s currently out with a right ankle sprain.

Grade: C-