As of writing this article, LeBron James and Anthony Davis have led the Los Angeles Lakers to the #2 defense in the league. The only team better is the Milwaukee Bucks, with Giannis having an otherworldly start to the season. Their defensive rating has also improved as the season progressed. You’d think with that level of defense, they’d have at least have a few wins under their belt. Instead, they’ve started 0-5, and it doesn’t look like it will be getting better soon. So how has a team with such an impressive defense looked so bad? It’s because their offense is the literal worst in the NBA.
According to NBA.com, the Lakers have the worst offensive rating in the NBA, it’s actually 6 points worse than the 2nd worse rating in the league (Clippers) and 10 points worse than the 3rd and 4th worse offenses (Magic and Rockets).
How is their offense so bad? Let’s count the ways. They’re last in the league in FG%, 3P%, EFG%, TS%... basically if there’s a percentage, they’re bad at it. It looks like in an attempt to overcome these issues, they’re speeding things up with the #2 pace in the league, but that appears to have only increased the number of bad things that are happening. The only thing they seem to be doing effectively is turning the ball over because they’re #3 in the league in turnovers.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, there’s a team out there that could fix these issues today.
Currently, the Utah Jazz are winning more games than they want to. They’ve been one of the biggest surprises of the season behind the play of Mike Conley and the slew of players they’ve acquired this offseason. And the best part is, they’re available for the Lakers if they want to acquire them.
Mike Conley has been fantastic this season. He’s dishing out 7.3 assists per game and shooting 37% from three while being the lead guard for the Jazz. And he’s doing this in just 30 minutes per game. Per Basketball Reference, with Conley on the court, the Jazz are +4.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. If the Jazz and Lakers put a trade together that would switch out the negative impact of Russell Westbrook for Mike Conley, the upgrade from that is hard to understate.
Another thing to consider with Conley is that he’s spent the last 3 seasons learning how to play off of one of the most ball-dominant guards in the league in Donovan Mitchell. He’s already made the transition from primary star playmaker to off-ball playmaker, something Russell Westbrook hasn’t been able to do. In his time with Utah he’s become a spot-up 3 sniper that can also run a secondary pick and roll when needed. He’s the perfect compliment to LeBron James. Imagine the shooting percentage from Mike Conley if he has LeBron James setting him up. It’s easy to see that working out really well in an incredible way.
But that’s not all the Jazz could offer. A lot of people have mentioned Jordan Clarkson as a potential trade piece, but I would argue the Lakers should be asking for Malik Beasley. Beasley, who the Jazz acquired in the Rudy Gobert trade, is another sniper from three that could fill the Lakers’ massive deficit in shooting. Beasley is playing just 24 minutes per game off the bench and is playing in a primary playmaker role. Yes, Beasley is shooting 30% from three this year, but he’s a career 38% three-point shooter. Those numbers will go up once he’s on the floor with LeBron James. Just two seasons ago, Beasley was regularly putting up 20 points per game in 32 minutes per game. You could argue he’s just as good as Buddy Hield is for Indiana, and the Lakers could probably get both of these players.
But wait, there’s more! The Jazz could also probably be talked into adding in Kelly Olynyk. Let’s look at a comparison of Myles Turner to Kelly Olynyk the last 3 seasons.
Per game, Olynyk is scoring just 1 point less per game, is putting up nearly 3x as many assists, and is shooting it at a higher 3P%. And he’s doing this in 5 fewer minutes per game. When when you look at a per-36 comparison, the numbers get even more surprising. In the same amount of time on the floor, Olynyk is putting up more points per game, more rebounds, more assists, more steals ... everything. Danny Ainge must have been looking at this when he made the Bojan Bogdanovic trade. And this has panned out in the best way possible for the Jazz, who have seen Olynyk be a high-level starter for them at the PF/C position.
What also makes this interesting is that Olynyk has been playing alongside Jarred Vanderbilt this year. Vanderbilt has historically been a player that stays near the basket on offense. It’s easy to imagine Olynyk joining the Lakers and fitting seamlessly with Anthony Davis. Olynyk could come in and fill whatever role they need to make Davis comfortable, whether it’s an inside or outside player on the offensive end. The other thing I’ve personally learned while watching him every night is that he’s also tough as nails.
There is one issue here. The Jazz traded for Olynyk on September 22 and can’t trade him until two months after the trade. This means the Lakers would have to wait till on or around November 22 to make that move. If they can somehow string together a few wins up until then, then they could make the move.
All this will take is for the Lakers to trade their future 2 picks, unprotected. It will remove Westbrook from the team and immediately help the Lakers improve their offense to possibly on of the best in the league.
Sure, the Lakers would have zero draft capital after the trade, but you’re the Los Angeles Lakers. You’re the biggest brand in the league. LeBron James decided to join you. Anthony Davis forced his way out of New Orleans to join you. Isn’t that the model you use to improve your team? If you’re relying on picks to build your team it’s because your front office isn’t doing a good job in free agency. You have the advantage every other team dreams of. It’s time to make the move that will help you not waste another season of LeBron James and have confidence in your ability for the future.