The Los Angeles Lakers will look back on the 2020-21 season as an enormous missed opportunity. The chance was there for LA to repeat as NBA champions, but a roster constructed specifically to win another title completely fell apart starting in mid-February. Injuries and an inability to consistently knock down 3-pointers killed this team.
As I’ve written before, the Lakers and every team that advanced to the later stages of the NBA’s Orlando bubble were at a significant disadvantage this season. The Lakers were only afforded a 51-day offseason to rest, recover and ramp up for the new campaign. That’s about half of a typical break. The result? All of the teams that reached the conference finals in 2020 faced major injuries and struggled throughout the 2020-21 campaign. Only the Denver Nuggets have weathered the storm well, but they’ll be without Jamal Murray until next season after he tore the ACL in his left knee.
For the Lakers, things began to come apart in mid-February when Anthony Davis began dealing with an Achilles problem. He missed more than two months, and while he was gone LeBron James suffered a bad high ankle sprain that saw him sit out for six weeks. Neither guy looked fully healthy when they returned. The Lakers were 21-7 when Davis got hurt. The wound up in the play-in tournament.
Without their two best players healthy, the Lakers were terrible. That was to be expected. But it was clear when Davis and James were back, they weren’t themselves. It should have fallen on the rest of the roster to step up and make up the difference, but that didn’t happen. Most of all, the Lakers just couldn’t shoot the ball consistently. It’s a problem that has plagued the franchise for years.
The Lakers finished 21st in 3-point shooting leaguewide this season, hitting 35.4 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. The Washington Wizards were the only playoff team with a lower percentage (35.1). In the postseason the Lakers were even worse, hitting a dismal 30.2 percent of their 3-pointers. It was brick city against the Suns, a team with a number of good shooters who blasted LA from beyond the arc.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shot 41.0 percent from 3 during the season and Alex Caruso hit 40.1 percent of his attempts, other than that no one was up to the task. Dennis Schroder was brought in to help the offense on the perimeter and was a disaster this season. He hit 33.5 percent of his 3-point attempts and was woefully inconsistent. Wes Matthews struggled to find consistent rotation minutes, mostly because he couldn’t find his stroke from deep (33.5 percent). Markieff Morris (31.1 percent) and Kyle Kuzma (36.1 percent) were also inconsistent. It was a mess all the way around.
This offseason, Rob Pelinka must find shooters. The Lakers need guys who can spread the floor for Davis and James. The only priority this summer should be to get more athletic and find guys who can knock down shots consistently.
After getting smoked by the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs, the Lakers will have a long break before they take the court again. Honestly, they need it. And both Davis and James need to stew on how this season went and come back angry next season. Davis needs to work on staying on the court, finding a solution to the litany of injuries that plague him. And after the first first-round exit of his career, James needs to rest up and take this loss personally.
LeBron’s Lakers aren’t done, they just need to get healthy and tweak the roster. They should be right back in the mix next year.