The move gives the Lakers another superstar to pair with LeBron James and puts them at the forefront of the Western Conference, which is wide open after the Golden State Warriors were weakened by injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson in this year’s NBA Finals. It also made them the current betting favorites for next year’s championship.
The Lakers opened at 20-1 odds to win the 2020 NBA title in May but are now 3-1 favorites at the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, the Warriors have declined from 7-4 favorites to 12-1 odds.
The short-term benefits for the Lakers are obvious: James now has a bona fide superstar sharing the court with him, one who perfectly complements James’s skill set. But before people start sizing up their Lakers championship gear, they may want to take a closer look. L.A.'s current roster, while helped by Davis, needs to be filled out wisely in free agency before this team is worthy of favorite status.
Davis was one of 14 players (minimum 1,500 minutes played in 2018-19) who averaged more than 35 points per 100 possessions last year, and his ability to finish near the rim is among the best in the NBA. The 6-foot-10, 253-pounder scored 1.4 points per possession around the basket in 2018-19, placing him in the 96th percentile; defenders will no longer be able to key on James.
Davis and Kyle Kuzma are both capable perimeter shooters, further spreading the floor for James to attack the rim. And if he can get a clear lane, you can expect him to drive to the basket. If that path is taken away, James is equally adept at finding the open man behind the arc. Davis shot over 33 percent from three-point range and was 39 for 106 (37 percent) on wide-open threes last season.
Defensively, Davis held opponents to 0.9 points per possession as the primary defender last season (79th percentile) with an ability to guard ballhandlers on the pick-and-roll (68th percentile), shooters on the perimeter (56th percentile) or players in isolation (95th percentile). Davis has also led the league in blocked shots per game three times (2013-14, 2015-16 and 2017-18) and ended this past season with 2.4 blocks per game.
But there are concerns with the Lakers’ roster, namely a lack of depth, which makes L.A. very questionable favorites for next year’s title.
After the team says goodbye to Ball, Ingram and Hart, James, Davis and Kuzma are the only players on the roster who logged 20 minutes or more per game this season. It doesn’t look like the Lakers will have enough cap space to add a third max-contract player with at least seven years of experience, which current projections estimate to be valued at $32.7 million for the 2019-20 season.
The current lineup of James, Davis, Kuzma, Moritz Wagner and Isaac Bonga, playing starter minutes and games, would be outscored by 7.1 net points per 100 possessions while they are on the court, according to their box score plus-minus numbers from 2018-19. That’s roughly on par with the performance of the 22-60 Chicago Bulls (minus-8.3 net rating) from last season. Of course, that won’t be the Lakers’ starting lineup on opening night, but there’s work to do to fill out the roster.
If the Lakers are able to upgrade at the point guard position with free agent Kemba Walker, who is eligible for a “supermax” contract ($221 million over five years) if he stays with the Charlotte Hornets, that would boost their starting lineup’s net rating to plus-10 points per 100 possessions, a number that would contend with the best in the league. But Walker would have to sacrifice a big payday to accomplish this.
It’s more likely the Lakers sign a free agent guard such as Derrick Rose, Patrick Beverley, Danny Green, JJ Redick or Seth Curry, although none could be classified as a third member of a “big three.” Those players would project the Lakers’ starting five would outscore opponents by approximately three or four net points per 100 possessions, comparable with teams such as the Indiana Pacers (48-34), Oklahoma City Thunder (49-33) and Denver Nuggets (54-28) of last season. Those three teams were all very good but would not be regarded with the same favor as the returning top teams in the Western Conference, the Warriors and Houston Rockets. Los Angeles needs to do more work if it wants to earn its status as a true title favorite for 2020.