What a season it has been for the Los Angeles Lakers to this point. While the team has played well, the sudden and tragic death of Kobe Bryant left a hole in the heart of many Laker fans.
They already entered this season with high expectations with the arrival of Anthony Davis, but those expectations seem to be higher than ever at the All-Star Break. The Lakers enter the break with the second-best record in the NBA. The pairing of LeBron James and Anthony Davis has been as good, if not better than advertised.
Some areas can be improved, but overall, the Lakers have played well to this point.
While Davis and James have been great together, there is one major area that seems to have been overlooked by most, Frank Vogel is doing a good job coaching this Lakers team.
Biggest Improvement: Defense
When the Lakers hired Vogel during the off-season, many laughed at the hire. Personally, I thought it was a good move. I even wrote about it here. Looking back at the past few years, the Lakers have struggled on the defensive end of the ball ranking 12th in defensive rating and 21st in opponents points per game last season. Vogel has shown the ability to orchestrate good defensive teams. In his best years with the Pacers, Indiana ranked first in defensive rating and second in opponents points per game for two straight years. In those two years, Indiana lost in the eastern conference finals to the Lebron James led Miami Heat. The following year, during the 14-15 season, Paul George only played six games before being injured, but losing one of the best two-way players in the NBA didn’t stop Vogel’s Pacers as they ranked seventh in defensive rating and fourth in opponents points per game.
The hiring of Frank Vogel just made sense. The arrivals of Anthony Davis, Avery Bradley, and Dwight Howard have certainly helped this team, but Vogel has made his mark as well. There’s a lot that goes into defensive ratings in the NBA, but Vogel has shown the propensity to help improve team defense and that has been evident with the Lakers this year.
What to Watch for After the All-Star Break: Health
It can’t be understated how important this is in today’s NBA. The Lakers have been relatively healthy all season long. A few players have missed time here and there, but overall, the team has been extremely lucky. It has become quite commonplace across the NBA for players to take nights off. Hopefully, in the second half of the season, there is a bit more of that in Laker land. I’m not an advocate of the “load management” mindset, but Lebron isn’t exactly young. The difficulty is maintaining a balance between continuity and rest. How Vogel manages that in the second half of the season will be crucial.
Who Needs to Step Up: Kyle Kuzma
While many would probably put Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope here, Kuzma’s improvement is even more crucial. Kuzma has shown potential but has been inconsistent so far this season. The 24-year-old seems to be trying to find his role in this new look Lakers team. This team is definitely different than any other team Kuzma has been on so far in his career. In past years, the team has needed Kuzma to score, but this team needs him for a different role on a nightly basis. Scoring, rebounding, creating and defending, the Lakers need it all from the Utah product. In the last game before the All-Star break, Kuzma posted three points, three assists and one rebound in 16 minutes of game time. That can’t happen.
Kuzma had a good January, but when the Lakers come back, can he continue that into the playoffs? His consistency will be key down the stretch for the Lakers.