Over the last few weeks, several players have issued statements and taken stances regarding the restart of the NBA season.
With the deadline to finalize rosters just over a week away, we are beginning to see players make their decisions on whether or not they plan to report to the “bubble” in Orlando.
While Kyrie Irving has been very vocal expressing his opinions on why players should not participate, Trevor Ariza was the first player to decline participation in the NBA’s restart in Orlando, albeit due to a family matter involving seeing his child.
Now, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN has reported that Avery Bradley has elected to decline his invitation to participate in the continuation of the 2019-2020 season. Woj followed that up by reporting that Bradley’s decision was influenced by the health complications of his oldest son.
The 6-year-old child has struggled to recover from respiratory illnesses and would’ve likely not been cleared to enter the bubble with the other members of his family.
Subsequently, Bradley decided to side with his family.
While it’s certainly commendable that Bradley is foregoing his game checks and a chance at an NBA title to be with his family, it leaves several question marks on how the Lakers will adjust to his absence.
Looking back when Corona was merely just a Mexican Beer, Bradley started 44 out of 49 games, playing 24 minutes a game and contributing in a variety of ways.
Avery Bradley 2019-2020 Stats per Basketball Reference:
8.6 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.3 APG. 0.9 STL, 0.1 BLK
44.4% FG%, 36.4% 3PT%, 83.3% FT%
52.6% EFG%, 53.7% TS%
While his counting stats (points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals) and shooting percentages look, pedestrian, Bradley’s best asset is his defensive ability.
For years now, Bradley has been guarding opposing teams’ Point Guards and Shooting Guards at a high level. In fact, when looking at Bradley’s advanced stats, you can see he’s having one of the best defensive seasons of his career.
In 49 games, he owns 1.4 Defensive Win Shares, which when you adjust it to DWS per minute is actually the highest mark of his career. Additionally, his Defensive Box Plus-Minus is the 2nd highest of his career behind only his sophomore campaign on the Celtics.
It’s been well documented that defense is something Coach Frank Vogel preaches.
It shows in the Lakers dramatic improvement from last season, allowing 6.6 fewer points per game, and going from allowing the 21st most points to 3rd in the entire NBA.
The Lakers could find it much more difficult to replicate this defensive effort without Bradley manning the opponents’ PG or SG. It’s safe to say the former Celtic, Clipper, Piston, and Grizzly will surely be missed.
So now with a void in their starting lineup, all eyes will be on the Lakers and how they adjust to playing without one of their key players.
Here’s how I expect them to respond.
Step 1: Find a Replacement
Due to Bradley deciding not to play, it leaves the Lakers with an open roster spot. And while there’s no one available who could have a similar impact as him, there are some intriguing players who could help fill a role on this team.
It’s already being widely reported that JR Smith is the leading candidate to take the open slot.
He obviously has a past with Lebron, filled with several highs and lows, but he’s been practicing with numerous Lakers during the break and had a workout with the Lakers prior to them signing Dion Waiters.
He could help by providing some much-needed bench scoring, an additional 3pt shooter, ball-handling ability, and some defensive capabilities.
Another name that’s been thrown around is Demarcus Cousins.
Cousins signed with the Lakers last summer but suffered a torn ACL that prevented him from ever suiting up in the Purple and Gold.
Now over 10 months after the injury, Cousins is surely starting to ramp up his rehab and return to full health.
While Boogie would be a great addition, it doesn’t appear to be a realistic one. According to Woj, several teams have already reached out to him but it appears his plan is to sit out this season and focus on rehab.
Can you really blame him after being rushed back from a torn Achilles in 2018 and tearing his quadricep after only 8 games?
There are several intriguing options still available and it’ll be interesting to see what direction the Lakers want to go.
If they want a like for like replacement, they could go towards Iman Shumpert who has proven to be a solid defender over the years.
If they want a PG to fill the void in the starting lineup we might see them lean towards someone like Trey Burke.
If they want more firepower from behind the arc there are still guys like Jamal Crawford, Allen Crabbe, Gerald Green, and Ryan Anderson.
There’s even a chance we could see a reunion with Isaiah Thomas and Lance Stephenson currently unsigned.
This will be something to keep a close eye on and with rosters needing to be finalized by July 1st I imagine the Lakers will make a move soon.
Step 2: Find a New Starter
Like I mentioned earlier, Bradley started 44 out of 49 games this year.
There’s no one currently on the bench that provides the same defensive qualities as Bradley but due to his off-ball style of play, there are several candidates who could seamlessly slide into his role on offense.
Regardless of who takes claim to the open starting spot, it will inevitably change the dynamic of not only the starting lineup but the bench rotation as well.
Here are a few candidates I would like to see get consideration for the starting job:
Kuzma has started 112 out of 201 games across his Laker career. He has also seemed to struggle to adapt to his role off the bench. Could putting him in the starting lineup help get the best out of him?
KCP might be having his best season as a Laker. Playing solid defense and hitting his 3s at a 39.4% clip. He has defensive versatility and is a great fit with Lebron.
The Bald Mamba is someone who is referred to as a “Glue Guy.” He works hard on both ends, makes smart plays with the ball, and does the little things to help the team win. He also has experience playing PG which ultimately is the position up for grabs.
For all intents and purposes, Rondo is having a bad year. Shooting poorly, and not creating like were accustomed to seeing. He’s also a terrible fit with Lebron. But the legend of “Playoff Rondo” should not be forgotten.
Step 3: Expect More from Current Players
There’s no doubt that Lebron James and Anthony Davis will have to shoulder the load if the Lakers want to win the title.
I expect Lebron to enter his usual “Playoff Mode” and turn it up another gear.
Davis however will be playing in his first playoffs. There will be immense pressure on him to perform to his ability but none of this is news to anyone.
The real pressure will be on the role players to step up and fill the void.
Someone like Danny Green, who for the most parts was having a down year, is likely to take on more minutes and be tasked with more defensive responsibilities.
Rondo is someone else the Lakers will need to step up.
He’s the only true PG who sees extended minutes and thus far, he’s barely been an asset. As evidenced by his Negative Box Plus-Minus and his Value Over Replacement Player being only 0.2.
It’s crucial he takes it up a notch and solidifies that 2nd unit.
Markieff Morris is the last name I’ll highlight in this section.
Signed late in the season to bring toughness and shooting, with the latter lagging severely behind the former. After shooting 39.7% with the Pistons, the Morris twin has shot a measly 28.6% with the Lakers.
While teams typically play fewer players in the playoffs we could see the Lakers opt to give a run to a number of different people. Guys such as Dion Waiters and Quinn Cook could see an increase in minutes.
If the Lakers can follow these 3 steps and execute them, I believe they will minimize the impact of losing Avery Bradley.
While certainly a big loss, it is not one this Lakers team can’t overcome. The journey to glory is never an easy road and the fact remains that anything less than a championship will be deemed a failure.
If there’s anything that says they can still do it, it’s Las Vegas, who continues to tote the Lakers as the favorite to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
- Lakers Sign J.R. Smith – Reaction - June 29, 2020
- No Bradley, No Problem: How Avery Bradley’s Decision to Not Play Effects the Lakers - June 24, 2020
- The Return of the NBA and What it Means for the Lakers - June 3, 2020