• The Lakers were hoping to get over the hump after limping into the 2022-23 postseason only to run to the Western Conference Finals. LeBron James and Anthony Davis make for an impressive core duo, and the Lakers were hoping that continuity would be their superpower after making minimal changes over the offseason. They did add Gabe Vincent, who impressed as a member of the Heat, and kicked the tires on Christian Wood, Cam Reddish and Taurean Prince, but ultimately the fate of the Lakers would fall on the starters retaining their form from the second half of the previous season.

    How’d It Go?

    The Lakers made minimal additions over the offseason, believing that the team that ran to the Western Conference Finals was a truer reflection of the group’s capabilities than the rest of what was put on tape. Maybe Darvin Ham would get better in his second year on the job, maybe Austin Reaves could find a way to outproduce his shiny new contract, maybe the Lakers could hit on another former first-rounder. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

    Los Angeles proved to be a fairly mediocre ball club despite a decent start that had them at 14-9. Things slipped with a 3-10 stretch right after, and at that point it was clear that the Lakers were not going to be battling for home court in the first round of the playoffs. There was hope that capturing the league’s first In-Season Tournament title would turn the season around but the team quickly fell into old habits, with Ham shuffling players in and out of the starting lineup to try and find the right mix around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. He was hamstrung a bit without Jarred Vanderbilt and Gabe Vincent, robbing the Lakers of their best defenders at forward (non-AD division) and in the backcourt, respectively, but it rarely felt like Ham was pushing the right buttons.

    With rumors swirling about the Lakers needing to shake things up, D’Angelo Russell put together his best stretch of play and pulled the team out of its tailspin. That was enough to convince management that trading Russell and other assets for someone like Dejounte Murray was not the play, and to the roster’s credit, the Lakers did finish strong and end at 47-35 before winning their Play-In game. On the other hand, they finished right in the mushy middle in both offensive and defensive rating and were in the bottom half of the league in terms of net rating. The roster issues that were there at the start of the season never got addressed, and the Lakers got shredded by the Nuggets in the playoffs again — just two rounds earlier this time. Sure, the Lakers led for most of the series, but that just means they blew a bunch of leads.

    While the Lakers were a collective disappointment, they got elite seasons out of James and Davis, who tried their best to push the team past its shortcomings. Everything the organization does is built on their performance, and they held up their end of the bargain. It’s a great foundation that any team would be jealous of, even as Father Time is gaining ground on LeBron.

    Coaching

    Darvin Ham’s second season as bench boss was a lot more tumultuous than his first. Expectations were high after that run to the Western Conference Finals, and with the Lakers beginning the campaign with the crew that got there, they were expected to keep the pedal down. The Lakers decidedly did not do that and were mostly mediocre for the first half of the season. It shouldn’t have been too surprising since it wasn’t unlike the playoff run; the Lakers looked dangerous on the nights when a role player or two was running hot, but otherwise looked like a team with a clunky roster being carried by two players. After winning the In-Season Tournament the Lakers never found another gear, falling two games below .500 in January and finishing that month 7-8, firmly placing themselves in the Play-In race from that point onward.

    The vibes were not great as an increasing number of players saw fit to take thinly veiled shots at the Lakers’ coaching staff through the media, with the team’s gameplans and overall lack of identity coming up at multiple points in the season. The Lakers had to issue public support of Ham’s job status a couple times as well. Lakers players were miffed at his benching of D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves at different points, and fans were pulling their hair out over his early reliance on Taurean Prince. Ham tried to downplay the noise but the writing was generally on the wall, with his in-game adjustments and questionable rotation decisions under question for most of the season.

    The postseason was his ultimate downfall; those issues were magnified and on full display against the Nuggets as the Lakers lost multiple second-half leads en route to a first-round exit despite leading for the vast majority of their five-game series. Ham probably wouldn’t have been brought back next season unless the Lakers went to the Finals, but the way in which they got bounced was the final nail in the coffin for a coach who just couldn’t find a way to react to Denver’s counters and bring home leads. Ham was dismissed shortly after the Lakers were eliminated.

    The Players

    Anthony Davis
    C, Los Angeles Lakers
    SeasonTeamGPGSMPG FGMFGAFG% FTMFTAFT% 3PTM3PTA3PT% PTSREBAST STLBLKTO
    23-24 LAL 76 76 35.5 9.4 16.9 55.6 5.5 6.8 81.6 0.4 1.4 27.1 24.7 12.6 3.5 1.2 2.3 2.1
    22-23 LAL 56 54 34.0 9.7 17.2 56.3 6.2 7.9 78.4 0.3 1.3 25.7 25.9 12.5 2.6 1.1 2.0 2.2
    21-22 LAL 40 40 35.1 9.3 17.4 53.2 4.4 6.1 71.3 0.3 1.8 18.6 23.2 9.9 3.1 1.2 2.3 2.1

    ADP: 12.9/17.2 (Yahoo/ESPN) | Total Value: 3/3 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 5/4 (8/9-cat)

    The only reason Davis isn’t a surefire top-5 pick every single year is his injury history. This time around, managers who preferred to chase the upside of Davis rather than draft clearly inferior per-game options struck gold. AD logged a career-high 76 games, catapulting him to the top echelon of the fantasy rankings.

    He also set a career-high in rebounds per game and posted his second-best assists per game, so Davis wasn’t just grinding out more value on pure volume. He landed on both the All-NBA Team and the All-Defense Team, pulled down 40 double-doubles and was great from wire to wire. Davis finished top-15 in scoring and top-5 in both rebounds and blocks. It was a remarkable season.

    Unfortunately for Davis, he was often solely tasked with propping up the Lakers’ defense. Without Jarred Vanderbilt to fly around the perimeter, Davis was the last (and often only) line of defense for a unit that prominently featured D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves and LeBron James sometimes trying, sometimes not. That rang true in the playoffs as well, with the Lakers bowing out in five games despite a terrific individual stretch from The Brow. It will feel like a massive missed opportunity for the Lakers to win nothing of consequence after getting this kind of campaign from Davis, but it should assuage some concerns about making Davis the face of the franchise whenever LeBron decides to move on.

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