Entering the season, many were worried about the Lakers’ lack of depth. After their season-opening loss, those worries seem to be well-founded.
When those skeptical about the Lakers’ chances of winning the 2020 NBA Championship voiced their doubts, no one ever questioned if pairing Anthony Davis and LeBron James was a good decision. What was called into question was the fragile edifice built around them, the weak foundation they were called to stand upon. Now, in light of their season-opening loss to the Clippers, all who wondered about the Lakers’ lack of depth have reason to feel a bit of vindication.
Throughout their first game, the Lakers’ bench consistently underperformed even relative to expectations. Together, they scored 19 points on 7-21 shooting along with 10 rebounds and 7 assists. This would be a fine enough, though horribly inefficient, performance from one person, but for it to be the fruits of five different players is very far from ideal. The Lakers starting lineup outscored the Clippers by six points in the 14 minutes they were on the floor together, meaning the Lakers were outscored by 16 points in the 34 minutes that they had at least one bench player in the game.
There is hope on the horizon for the Lakers. Kyle Kuzma’s returns from injury will be a major help to them, but expecting him to be a cure-all would be as misguided as expecting Dwight Howard to return to his All-NBA form of a decade ago. The Lakers should at least be able to rely on Kuzma for reliable scoring as well as the confidence to take initiative that may not always be fully warranted, but will at least help give life to otherwise stagnant units.
Making their collective performance even more damning was the Clippers’ impressive bench performance. Every single member of the Clippers’ bench scored in double-figures while shooting at least 50 percent from the field. Admittedly, the Clippers have one of the better benches, and two of the best sixth men (sixth and seventh men?) in the league so the discrepancy is not that surprising, but the games where the Lakers’ bench outperforms their opponent’s promise to rare moving forward.
Davis and James combined for just 11 points in the second-half so blaming the entire loss on the lack of bench depth would be misguided, but this only reveals another issue. The problem is not that the Lakers lack quality players, but they have so few consistently reliable athletes that seemingly everyone has to be performing well at the same time. Their margin of error appears to be very slim. Perhaps that will prove to not be the case night after night as they play teams less impressive than the Clippers, though considering that few teams in the Western Conference could be called a pushover, that margin of error may only widen a smidge.
It’s admittedly a bit presumptuous to be criticizing the Lakers’ bench this harshly after just one game. But this game, as small a sample size as it may be, only served to confirm the fears and criticism lobbied at the Lakers all throughout the offseason. They are extremely top-heavy and are just one extended absence from James or Davis away from being bound for a seventh consecutive trip to the lottery. It will be interesting to see how coach Frank Vogel attempts to stagger minutes between Davis and James while ensuring they still play significant time together and also what lineups he deploys to try to hide the weaknesses of his bench moving forward. Whatever he ultimately decides, tonight was not an auspicious beginning.
Any team featuring both a healthy Anthony Davis and LeBron James deserves to be considered a title contender no matter what players are surrounding them. However, with as many other impressive star duos as there are this season, it would not be surprising to see the league champion come down to how a team’s less-heralded players perform. Keeping that likelihood in mind, Lakers fans may be wise to be a bit more cautiously optimistic as they anticipate the rest of the season.