It’s only been a couple more than 20 games, but this Lakers season has already been a rollercoaster. After one of the worst starts in franchise history at 3-10, it looked like another year of struggles and no playoffs for the purple and gold. But, things are beginning to change. The Lakers now at the time I’m writing this sit at 10-12, meaning they have won 7 of their last 9 since that nightmare start. Such a change so early into the season isn’t all that common, and multiple moving pieces are allowing this change to happen.
One of these pieces is PG Russell Westbrook. All summer long, rumors of trades for Westbrook reigned down upon the NBA world. After Westbrook’s brutal start to the season, it got even worse. However, head coach Darvin Ham’s decision to move the former MVP to the 6th man role off the bench may have not just saved Westbrook’s career in LA, but the Lakers season. Westbrook off the bench has provided a spark to what was previously a starch second unit. Westbrook’s fast pace of play contrasts with the starters play style, which catches teams off guard and has helped keep the Lakers in games. He definitely still has his occasional bad game or miscue that leaves fans scratching their head, but Westbrook is playing winning basketball and that matters just as much as anything else. Trade rumors are continuing to be released everyday, but if the Lakers pace keeps up, it’s hard to imagine a world where Westbrook is traded.
Westbrook isn’t the only star having a rebound season on the team, however. PF/C Anthony Davis is back, healthy, and simply dominant. It seems many NBA fans forgot what kind of player a healthy AD was. An elite defender both inside and outside the perimeter, a one of a kind post player, and a near 7 footer with guard skills. Davis has been showing all these abilities off and then some, as he has had scoring outbursts of 55, 44, and 38 so far this season. Add these elite offensive performances to his improved rebounding effort, and you have a MVP level version of AD that is averaging 27 points, leading the NBA in rebounds per game with 12.6, and averaging over 2 blocks and a steal a game. For 3 years now Laker nation has been waiting for Davis to become “the guy”, and now seems to finally be his time. There are very few NBA teams come spring and summer time that would want to see a Lakers team with a healthy AD in a 7 game playoff series, and that is a huge part of what could propel the Lakers back to contending status.
The final piece to give credit for this Lakers turnaround is the standout role player. The Lakers brought in multiple free agent signings and retained some of last years players in hopes that one or multiple of them would help out the big 3 of LeBron James and the aforementioned Davis and Westbrook. That wish has come true in the form of Lonnie Walker IV and undrafted second year man Austin Reaves. Starting with Walker, big things were expected of him on the offensive end when he was signed from the Spurs. The Lakers knew he could create his own shot, and that was a much needed asset for the team to get. Walker has produced, averaging 16 points a game on 48% shooting. His shooting threat when curling off of screens has also opened up things for Laker big men, and overall added another aspect to the Lakers offense. As for Austin Reaves, he has taken a jump not too many expected from his rookie year. The former undrafted guard is averaging 10 points a game while shooting over 50% from the field, 38% from 3, and 91% from the FT line. This efficiency plus his constant defensive prowess has made Reaves a starting caliber player who continues to produce when it matters most for the team. Without Walker and Reaves, the Lakers offense would be much more stagnant and lifeless.
It may still be early in the season, but the Lakers are giving fans of glimmers of hope for the first time since they went up 2-1 vs the Suns in the first round of the 2021 playoffs. Trades may come, but for now this Lakers squad looks bought in to winning, and that is what it takes to get back on top of the NBA world.