Image Courtesy of CBS Sports
By Jonathan Norman
As the NBA play-in tournaments are coming to a close, the NBA playoffs have officially begun. Eight teams from each conference will battle it out in a 7 games series to see who will become the 2022 NBA champions.
As usual, this year’s playoffs will feature many of the NBA’s biggest players, including Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid, and more. Although, there is one notable player who will be watching this year’s playoffs from his cough, that is Los Angeles Lakers star, Lebron James.
James’s Lakers finished the 2021-2022 NBA season with a record of 33-49. This placed them at the 11th seed in the western conference, which eliminated them from contention in the play-in tournament. At the start of this season, this Lakers team was projected to win 52.5 games and were one of the betting favorites to win the NBA championship along with teams like the Milwaukee Bucks. Instead, the Lakers finished well below .500 and even ended the season with a seven-game losing streak. This led many NBA fans to ask, what happened?
The Lakers generated lots of attention in the preseason with the forming of their new “Big Three.” This included, of course, Lebron James, Anthony Davis, and the newest addition of Russell Westbrook. James is a four-time NBA MVP and an 18-time all-star, Anthony Davis is an eight-time all-star, and Russell Westbrook is a one-time NBA MVP and an eight-time all-star. Along with this “Big Three,” the Lakers added a ten-time all-star in Carmelo Anthony.
With all these big names and having recently won the NBA title in 2020, many expected the Lakers to be back in title contention. Unfortunately, many problems kept the Lakers from reaching these expectations, one of them being injuries.
The “Big Three” of James, Westbrook, and Davis only played 21 games together in an 82-game season. Even Lebron James who has been known to be an ageless wonder around the NBA, missed 23 games this season and even four times in the team’s final games when they were fighting for playoff contention. While these three all-stars had stellar seasons in the past, it must not be forgotten that James is 37 and Westbrook is 33. Older players tend to miss more games in a typical NBA season and the Lakers were no exception.
Chemistry was also an issue for the Lakers. Russell Westbrook struggled to fit in with the duo of James and Davis. Westbrook averaged just 18.5 points per game which was his lowest since the 2009 NBA season. He also shot a mere 29% from the three-point line and 66% from the free-throw line.
Westbrook’s poor play on the season led many fans across the NBA to blame him for the Lakers’ struggles, but he was not the only issue. Anthony Davis also shot a mere 19% from the three-point line which was the worst of his entire 10-year career in the NBA.
The bench for the Lakers was also a problem as they only gave the Lakers 36.6 points a game (which was 14th in the NBA), but the Lakers bench was top five in the league with minutes per game.
As for Lebron James, he managed to put together another great season even in year 19 and with all the Lakers’ struggles. James averaged 30.3 games this season, which was the most he has averaged since the 2007 season. The Lakers star was also in the race for the NBA’s scoring title this season but ended up finishing behind the Philadelphia 76ers star center, Joel Embiid.
Although, even with Lebron James having one of the best scoring seasons of his career, his play did not necessarily transition into winning basketball. The Lakers were 25-31 this season with Lebron James on the court. James is typically known as a great facilitator of basketball, but this season he averaged just 6.2 assists per game, which was his lowest since the 2006 NBA season.
With numerous injuries and multiple star players having near career lows in various statical categories, the Lakers’ 2021-2022 NBA season was a mess. Some major changes will need to be made in order for this team to return to championship contention.
These changes have already begun as the Lakers head coach, Frank Vogel, was fired earlier this week. Vogel was the head coach for the Lakers for three seasons and helped lead the team to win the 2020 NBA Finals.
While the Lakers front office begins to look for their next head coach, rumors have also emerged that Russell Westbrook will be traded this off-season.
No matter what, the Los Angeles Lakers will definitely be making numerous moves this off-season in order to bring their team back into the playoffs. For now, they will have to watch from the sidelines as the NBA playoffs will soon be in full swing.