Through a savvy series of opportunistic late season moves, the Los Angeles Lakers have taken major steps to upgrade their roster, expand their depth, and improve their chances of winning their 17th NBA championship.
While the Lakers will miss Avery Bradley, a starter who opted to not join the team in Orlando for family reasons, replacing him with a championship caliber three-point shooter like JR Smith could end up being an upgrade. Similarly, exchanging DeMarcus Cousins, who never played, and Troy Daniels, who rarely played, for Markieff Morris and Dion Waiters could be smart moves that will make the Lakers a more dangerous playoff team.
Essentially, the Lakers pulled off what could be viewed as an opportunistic blockbuster straight three-player of DeMarcus Cousins, Troy Daniels, and Avery Bradley in return for Markieff Morris, Dion Waiters, and JR Smith. They traded two players who had not contributed to their success and one unavailable player for two proven veterans who filled critical roster needs and one veteran sharp shooter with playoff experience with LeBron James.
So let’s take a closer look at the roles and minutes these three veteran role players could play coming off the bench for the Lakers and the impact they could have on the team’s chances to win their 17th NBA championship:
1. Markieff Morris, 30-year old, 10-year veteran power forward/center.
Markieff Morris was signed as a free agent at the trade deadline when the Lakers waived DeMarcus Cousins. A career 34.4% three-point shooter, Morris was shooting a career best 39.7% for the Pistons before the trade. While he only shot 28.6% from deep on just 21 attempts in the 8 games he played as a Laker, Markieff filled a critical need for an aggressive big to back up Anthony Davis at the four and contribute spot minutes as a stretch five.
Looking ahead at the playoffs, expect Markieff to continue to backup Davis at the four and play with him at the five. He’s done a good job rebounding and fair job defending his position in 14.8 minutes per game he’s played. While Morris only shot 6 of 21 from three with the Lakers, he’s still shooting 38.6% from deep for the season, which is better than any player on the team with over 200 attempts other than Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s 39.4%.
If Markieff can shoot over 38% from three, he’ll not only fill a vital role for the Lakers in the playoffs creating spacing for LeBron James and Anthony Davis but also put himself in position for a key role on the team next season.
2. Dion Waiters, 28-year old, 8-year veteran shooting guard.
Dion Waiters offers the greatest upside and most risk of the Lakers’ three new players. A mercurial player who played just 14 minutes this season, he has the offensive chops to be the needed third scorer and second playmaker. In many ways, Dion’s the Lakers’ latest reiteration of Dwight Howard. Can he put his recent troubled past with the Miami Heat aside and seize a last chance to become a valuable cog in the Lakers championship roster?
In his last full season with the Heat, Waiters averaged 12.0 points, 2.6 boards, and 2.8 assists in 25.9 minutes shooting 37.7% from deep. He’ll need to be a total wild card surprise to earn those minutes in the playoffs. The Lakers must have seen something they liked to sign Dion over JR but he’ll have to show he’s matured and and can play at an elite level during the 8-game regular season to earn any consistent minutes in the playoffs.
If Waiters can get his mojo back and be the player the Lakers need to create shots for himself and teammates when LeBron is on the bench, he could be the difference maker in the Lakers’ quest for another championship.
3. JR Smith, 34-year old, 15-year veteran shooting guard.
Unlike Markieff Morris and Dion Waiters who replaced players who were not in the Lakers rotation, JR Smith was added to the roster to replace Avery Bradley, the starting point guard since opening day of the season. While the Lakers opted to add Waiters before Smith, JR probably has a better chance than Dion to become a regular part of the Lakers’ playoff rotation because of his fit and experience playing with LeBron James.
JR, like Dion, has not played for over a year but is a career 37.3% regular season three-point shooter and a career 37.0% playoff three-point shooter who ranks fourth among players for career made threes in the playoffs. While everybody remembers Smith’s gaffe in the playoffs two years ago, they also know he’s a proven clutch three-point shooter whom LeBron trusts to take and make big shots in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.
If his shot is falling, look for JR to be on the floor with LeBron at crunch time. He may not play big minutes but he’s a player LeBron likes so he’ll get his opportunities to be a key role player in the Lakers’ championship run.
While the Lakers need superstars like LeBron James and Anthony Davis to win the NBA championship, they also need talented complementary role players to create the teamwork and situations for the superstars to excel. The playoffs are more than just a second season. They’re a totally different level of competition where the pressure and quality of play ramps up and the focus switches from single games to gruelling multiple game series.
That challenge will be even more arduous this year with unprecedented conditions with every playoff game played without fans at a neutral site in a bubble in Orlando, Florida in the middle of a deadly ravaging pandemic. Those are conditions that heavily favor experienced veteran players who’ve been there before and understand how to prepare for and maintain the discipline and focus needed to survive the bright lights and high stress.
The Lakers have a veteran roster with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green, JaVale McGee, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, Alex Caruso, Quinn Cook, Jared Dudley, and Kyle Kuzma. Nevertheless, they still need a third scorer to create his own shot, a second playmaker to run the offense when LeBron is on the bench, and better three-point shooting. That’s where the three new veterans come in.
The addition of three talented veterans like Markieff Morris, Dion Waiters, and JR Smith have upgraded the Lakers’ roster, expanded their depth, and improved their chances of winning their 17th NBA championship.