It does not take a genius to build an elite team around LeBron James. There have been multiple connecting themes behind every championship run of James’ career, with some components easier to accomplish than others.
James’ best teams have always had at least one other superstar teammate next him, and usually one more player just a tick below that status. James’ title teams have always shined on the defensive end, with all four of them ranking in the top-10 of regular season defensive efficiency. There’s also long been an understanding of the easiest way to build an excellent offense with LeBron on the team: give him the ball, surround him with shooters, and let him collapse defenses before kicking it out to the open man behind the arc.
The post-2020 Lakers have had a lot of problems, but the most unforgivable is the lack of shooting talent they’ve put around one of the greatest players of all-time.
Through the extremely early stages of the 2022-2023 season, it’s already apparent that the Lakers still don’t have enough shooting. Los Angeles has gone 19-for-85 from three-point range across their first two games, both losses, which equals 22 percent. Yes, that’s the worst start a team has ever had from deep.
Of course, you didn’t need to see Russell Westbrook, Patrick Beverley, and Kendrick Nunn combine to go 1-of-16 from three (6.25 percent) in Thursday’s loss to the Clippers to realize the Lakers didn’t have enough shooting. LA didn’t have enough shooting last year, either, finishing No. 19 in three-point range (percentage of field goal attempted taken from three) and No. 22 in three-point percentage. Armed with this knowledge heading into the offseason, top executive Rob Pelinka decided to mostly ignore shooting again. The Lakers rewarded him with an extension anyway.
It only took one game for James to criticize his front office for a lack of shooting around him.
Sooo Lebron has some thoughts: "We're not a team constructed of great shooting. It's not like we're sitting here with a lot of lasers on our team...like if you had a bunch of underneath route runners, the quarterback's not throwing 20+ yard passes downfield." pic.twitter.com/n4yJGdbVqS— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) October 19, 2022
New head coach Darvin Ham acknowledge it, as well, slyly deflecting the blame for the roster construction around James. This quote is basically the equivalent of saying “hey, I’m doing all I can here!”
Darvin Ham: "Our offense is producing great looks. We just got to step up and knock them down."— Daniel Starkand (@DStarkand) October 21, 2022
Most fans and publications have pinned the Lakers’ shooting troubles of Westbrook. The Westbrook trade certainly looks like a historic disaster to this point, but the Lakers are lying to themselves if they think they didn’t know what they were getting into. Westbrook has always been a poor outside shooter and has never really showed a willingness to play off the ball offensively or defend at an elite level.
If the Lakers thought they could turn Westbrook into Alex Caruso on the defensive end, or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as a shooter, well, that was just shortsighted planning. For their part, the Lakers are going to keep shooting even if the shots aren’t falling.
All positivity in the lakers locker room pic.twitter.com/TdazuS4JzM— Travonne Edwards (travonne.eth) (@Travonne) October 21, 2022
The Lakers have failed LeBron in so many ways since their title run inside the bubble. Ownership failed him by letting go of Caruso for nothing but money. The front office failed him by forgetting the defense-and-shooting identity while trying to chase stars. Anthony Davis has also let James down with his inability to stay healthy the last two years. Meanwhile, LeBron is somehow still playing like he can be the best player on a championship team in season No. 20 of his career. It’s too bad the Lakers are so, so far away from being a championship team.
It isn’t easy to build an elite defense or acquire the right superstars, but shooting should never be an issue on a LeBron team. Identifying and acquiring it is a simple first step. Somehow, Pelinka and the rest of the Lakers’ braintrust completely botched the assignment for multiple years in a row. If there’s a quick fix to be found, it’s not coming from anywhere on the current roster.