Analyzing the Lakers’ Resurgence
A look at the new LakeShow with something to prove
“They’re lucky I sprained my ankle. Simple as that, I was ready to go crazy.”
Those were the words of D’Angelo Russell in his walkoff interview after returning from a six-game absence. It came after arguably his best game of the season in his return as a Laker — 28 points (including 16 in the fourth quarter and five three-pointers), nine assists, five rebounds and one steal — as the purple and gold took down the Toronto Raptors 122–112 Friday night, extending their win streak to three and going 7–3 in their last ten games.
Russell’s heroics were juxtaposed with equally-impressive performances from Dennis Schröder (23 points, 7 assists, 4 steals), Austin Reaves (18 points and five assists), and Jarred Vanderbilt and Rui Hachimura (16 points apiece), all of whom took the load off of Anthony Davis, who has carried the team in LeBron’s absence.
Team efforts like this — and similar ones since the Lakers pulled off season-saving trades — have signaled one thing: the Lakers are back.
Despite Davis’s dominance, he alone could not propel the Lakers to their recent success. The team’s win over Toronto is one example of how vital the Lakers’ supporting cast has been as injuries ravaged the team post-All Star break.
Dennis Schröder led the team in assists in three of the last five games following Russell’s injury, continuing a trend of connection between himself and his teammates.
Schröder has been an X-factor for the Lakers through the team’s struggles. He has served as a scoring and facilitating threat, evidenced by a 26-point performance against the OKC Thunder where he scored 22 in the second half and dished out six assists — all while coming off a sprained ankle in the first quarter. His aggression has been key for the shorthanded squad, and it’s because of his offensive talent that the Lakers have been able to keep up with opponents during a relatively rough stretch.
Other Lakers — namely Jarred Vanderbilt, Troy Brown Jr. and Austin Reaves — have continued to prove their worth as pivotal rotation pieces.
Notable stats from March games:
Vanderbilt: 9.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.8 APG on 51% FG
Brown Jr: 11.8 PPG while shooting 58.3% from deep (2.8 makes/5.2 attempts)
Reaves: 15.2 PPG, 5.4 APG while shooting 38% from three
This trio — a three-headed monster of role players — has been critical as of late, making the most of their opportunities when their numbers are called. Vando has helped the team greatly with his paint scoring and rebounding, posting an offensive rating of 108.7 this month. Brown, like Russell, has had ice in his veins, burying a dagger triple against the Grizzlies with 1:12 remaining. Reaves has logged four double-digit performances in his last five games. It’s performances like these that allow a head coach to trust in his players, relying on them to make winning plays and contribute to the team’s success.
Defense, Defense, Defense
Aside from the players, one area the Lakers have thrived in since the trade deadline was the same area they (frankly) sucked at throughout the year: defense. In their last eleven games, the Lakers have boasted the top defense in the league with a rating of 107.9.
Head Coach Darvin Ham was enthused by his group’s latest accomplishment, saying, “We have more than enough scoring on our team up and down the roster but defense is something you can do right every night basically. We have to hang out hat on that, we have to be able to get stops.”
Who has played the biggest role in helping the Lakers’ defense? Anthony Davis and Jarred Vanderbilt. The duo has a defensive rating of 103.3 in the last 11 contests and are responsible for 72% of the team’s defensive rebounds in that span, according to NBA Stats.
As lethal as Davis has been offensively, he has been the anchor of the Lakers’ paint protection, boasting an average of 2.5 swats in his last 11 games.
Silver Screen & Roll writer Alex Regla broke down what has made the Lakers so dominant when it comes to getting stops, and he brought up an intriguing statistic on Davis:
“Amongst the 15 players who have defended at least 170 field-goal attempts since February’s trade deadline, Davis currently leads the pack in allowing the stingiest field-goal percentage against him (41.9%) according to the league’s tracking data.”
Vanderbilt’s hustle has not gone unnoticed, either. His efforts have landed him 12th on the PerThirtySix Hustle Index, which takes into account advanced stats such as box-outs, loose balls recovered, and screen assist points. According to NBA Advanced Stats, Vando averages 3.1 deflections per game and recovers 1.2 loose balls per contest. He does the little things so well, which is vital for the Lakers’ success defensively.
Davis and Vanderbilt are two examples of what has become an increased level of pride on the defensive end. As Regla notes, a key component of their strategy has been their drop coverage, and it has paid dividends in recent games:
“According to Cleaning the Glass, the Lakers’ defense is allowing the 9th lowest percentage of shots coming at the rim, the 6th lowest conversion rate, the 6th highest midrange frequency and the 4th lowest FG% on shots near the floater area of the floor since their roster makeover.”
By far, the biggest key the new-look Lakers have developed is something that cannot be visualized with data nor checked with a box score. The team’s chemistry has flown off the charts.
Ever since the trade deadline, there has been a certain upbeat buzz around the team that was missing throughout the season. It’s gotten to the point where LeBron is praising the team after wins, something he hardly did while the team trudged along after their horrid start to the year.
As Russell noted in his walkoff interview Friday, he and the newer Lakers have fit like gloves and said that “the sky’s the limit” with each piece of the puzzle.
It’s energy like this that shifts the on-court product from a laughingstock to something more enjoyable, and players such as AD, DLo, Vando, Schröder and Reaves have breathed new life into what was shaping up to be a dismal season. The Lakers are now 9th in the wide-open West, one game back of the sixth seed and ever-so-closer to a guaranteed playoff spot.
While the purple and gold look forward to the Knicks Sunday night and a host of other hungry teams in the remaining 15 games, one thing is for certain: they are ready for the tall orders at hand and just as hungry to make a run for redemption.