There will be a new NBA Champion this season. After three straight losses to the Phoenix Suns, the Los Angeles Lakers lost in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. It is not the ending the defending champions wanted.
Everyone was hoping for an NBA Finals matchup between the Lakers and the star-studded Brooklyn Nets. It seemed like the Lakers were in control of the series after taking a 2-1 series lead over Phoenix with their Game 3 victory. They got two strong performances from Anthony Davis. Unfortunately, Davis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope suffered injuries and the Suns ended up taking the series.
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Coming off a championship, the Lakers had high expectations coming into the new season. With LeBron James and Davis leading the way, many expected the Lakers to be an NBA finalist again. The Lakers traded away their size and strength for versatility. They brought in a few key players in Montrezl Harrell, Dennis Schroder, Marc Gasol, and Wesley Matthews. Andre Drummond was later added through the buyout market.
Even with Davis off to a slow start to start the season, the Lakers appeared to be one of the top teams in the league. They started the season 21-6, with James building a strong MVP case before everything went downhill in Denver. Davis, who played in his second game back from an Achilles soreness, re-aggravated the injury in the game against the Denver Nuggets. A rupture was ruled out but Davis ended up being sidelined for two months. James later followed him with a high ankle sprain. Both stars returned later in the season and clinched a playoff berth.
Team Award Winners
MVP- LeBron James
Who else deserves this? This award obviously belongs to LeBron. He is the engine that makes this team go. It is remarkable that we are still saying this about a 36-year-old in his 18th season. He is not the same explosive player he was in Miami or Cleveland, but he is still one of the best players in the world. James can still impact the game at an elite level with his passing, scoring, and leadership. LeBron averaged 25 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.8 assists per game. Without him, the Lakers are not making the playoffs. When LeBron injured his ankle, the Lakers went from being a top-three seed in the Western Conference to the seventh seed.
Defensive Player of the Year- Anthony Davis
We know how great Davis is on the offensive end. He is just as great on the defensive end. Davis has the ability to guard all positions on the court. He can protect the paint and has the lateral foot speed to stay out on the perimeter against guards. When healthy, he is a nightmare on the defensive end. He has the length to challenge any shot. This season, he averaged 1.4 blocks per game. Even though he was limited by injuries, he’s still the best defender on the team.
Sixth Man of the Year- Talen Horton-Tucker
This award goes to Horton-Tucker. After playing in just six games last season, Horton-Tucker played in 65 games this past season. Even though the Lakers brought in more veteran players, it was clear they had an emerging young player ready to shine. This season, Horton-Tucker has shown the ability to attack the paint and create his own shot. He is the only guard outside of Schroder who can do that. While his offense is good, there’s still room for improvement on the defensive end. Horton-Tucker was often caught losing his man on defense.
Biggest Surprise- Talen Horton-Tucker
As mentioned before, he went from playing six games to 65 games. Most young players don’t get that opportunity on title-contending teams. But Horton-Tucker was ready since the preseason. He became one of the Lakers’ most reliable role players. They even reportedly kept him out of the Kyle Lowry trade talks. This speaks volumes on how high the franchise is on this young player. Horton-Tucker is headed towards restricted free agency, where he will be targeted by many teams. It’ll be interesting to see what offers the guard gets from the market.
Biggest Disappointment- Kyle Kuzma
Kuzma was expected to be the third option behind Davis and James. However, that never materialized. He’s just 25 years old but you have to wonder how much development he has left. The scoring was expected to drop but Kuzma has been very inconsistent. He was nowhere to be found in the series lost to Phoenix. This summer, the Lakers may need to trade him to a new team. A new destination may be best for him.
The Lakers head into the offseason with plenty of questions about their future. Other teams in the tough Western Conference have gotten better. A healthy Klay Thompson will most likely get the Golden State Warriors back into contention. If the Lakers can stay healthy, they figure to be in contention too. But their health is a huge question mark for next season.
LeBron will turn 37 in December. After being an ironman throughout his career, he may be showing signs of declining for the first time. He’s still one of the top five players in the world. But Father Time is undefeated. Davis, on the other hand, has dealt with injuries throughout his whole career. When healthy, he’s shown he’s a top-five talent. But, he’s missed so many games in his career and that doesn’t appear to be changing soon. The Lakers will likely need another high-impact player, but title contention rests on their stars’ shoulders.
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