Los Angeles Lakers: 3 way-too-early bold predictions for the 2021-22 NBA season
As 2021 Free Agency simmers out, the Los Angeles Lakers have three open roster spots — and many more questions than answers.
Vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka spent early August utterly retooling the team around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Los Angeles acquired a ball-dominant third star, Russell Westbrook, who looks like an awkward fit on paper. The Lakers signed a bevy of notable names on veteran minimums, while the bulk of their 2020-21 roster is employed by different organizations.
The 2021-22 Lakers will be one of the oldest teams in NBA history, yet also one the most prolific. Despite their age, they’ll be scarily explosive in transition. They seemingly sacrificed perimeter defense for shooting, while further solidifying their frontcourt D. James and Davis are reportedly willing to slide to more 4 and 5, respectively.
Of course, nothing will be more important than the health of their superstars.
Amidst all the unknowns, one thing is certain: This rendition of the LakeShow will produce no shortage of drama. Let’s look on the bright side and make three bold predictions for the 2021-22 season.
At some point, the Lakers will add one more former All-Star
I’ve touched on these topics recently, so I’ll TLDR it here.
The Lakers are reportedly looking to fill two of their remaining spots before the season and leave one open for a buyout pickup (they kept two spots open in 2020-21 and had underwhelming results with buyouts).
As it stands, the roster features six current or former All-Stars. I predict that one of these spots will go to a seventh. Kevin Love via a Blake Griffin-esque buyout with the Cleveland Cavaliers is a possibility, as are flyers on LaMarcus Aldridge or Isaiah Thomas (who they’ve worked out). Ideally, the Lakers would convince Paul Millsap to take the ring-chaser’s minimum.
Anthony Davis will earn the most MVP votes on the team
Davis’s MVP chances took a hit with the addition of Westbrook (I previously loved him at 28/1), but he’s poised for a monster season regardless. Not coincidentally, the Lakers’ best run of play of the AD-LeBron era — the bubble playoffs — aligned with Davis’ most dominant stretch in purple-and-gold. I expect to see that AD in 2021-22.
After a frustrating 2020-21 campaign defined by nagging ailments, Davis will take better care body of his body following a much-needed, lengthier-than-expected offseason.
LeBron and Russ will orchestrate more offense and post higher usage rates, but neither player will offer the same two-way dominance during the regular season.
Look for AD to lead the Lakers in scoring, contend for Defensive Player of the Year, and earn the most MVP votes on the team. I can envision James and Westbrook’s scoring average dropping into the low-20s, while Davis returns to his New Orleans Pelicans-era scoring output (28.1 PPG from 2016-18).
Talen Horton-Tucker will garner Most Improved Player of the Year buzz
Horton-Tucker is currently listed at 66/1 to win Most Improved Player of the Year. I’ll sprinkle something on that.
First of all: Just check his learning curve since he turned pro three years ago: The late second-round pick emerged as a G-League standout at 19 years old, earned playoff minutes months later in the bubble, then made major strides as a rotation mainstay in 2020-21.
As last season progressed, on a nightly basis, you could witness him becoming a more creative play-maker off dribble penetration.
During his media session earlier this month, THT talked about his commitment to improving as an “all-around” defender, on and off the ball. A slimmer physique should help him stay in front of guards and quicken his rotations. The Lakers will need him to make an impact on that end in the absence of Caruso.
The Lakers don’t have a clear starting two-guard. They’ll likely open the season with a shooter in that spot (Wayne Ellington Jr. perhaps), but THT’s talent may prove undeniable — especially if, as expected, he improves his three-point shooting. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he emerges as the Lakers’ fourth-best player. (I like him at 100/1 to win Sixth Man of the Year, too.)
Remember, in terms of awards voting: the Lakers will receive outsized attention. If THT (or anybody else) goes up a level, everyone will be keenly aware of it.
Training camp starts Sept. 28.