Lakers Players with Most at Stake During 2022-23 NBA Season

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBAFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 15, 2022

Lakers Players with Most at Stake During 2022-23 NBA Season

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 12: Anthony Davis #3, LeBron James #6 and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers look on during a preseason game against the Golden State Warriors on October 12, 2021 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Lakers always live under the spotlight, but its intensity increased once LeBron James arrived.

    Then, it ramped up further when Anthony Davis joined James and leveled up again upon last summer's acquisition of Russell Westbrook.

    You could make an argument that despite L.A. not having the highest expectations for the 2022-23 season (externally, at least), this club faces more pressure than anyone. Within the world of Purple and Gold, though, the following three players feel that pressure more than the rest.

Anthony Davis

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    PHOENIX, ARIZONA - APRIL 05: Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center on April 05, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Suns defeated the Lakers 121-110. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    On the NBA's all-time leaderboards, Anthony Davis holds a top-five spot in career player efficiency rating (26.9, fourth) and sits top 20 in career win shares per 48 minutes (.211, 17th), per Basketball-Reference.com.

    By virtually every metric, he is a historic talent.

    Yet, it has been a while since anyone painted him in that light, as injuries have prevented him from showing his true form. His numbers have sagged a bit the past two seasons, though none has been more damaging than this: he has played just 76 of a possible 154 games.

    If the best ability really is availability, then Davis doesn't have a lot going for him at the moment. That needs to change immediately. The Lakers might be a long shot for a world title, but Davis is the player who can change that. If he's on top of his game—not merely playing, but producing at his typically elite level—then L.A. has a shot to rule the hoops world once again.

LeBron James

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 1: LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on before the game against the New Orleans Pelicans on April 1, 2022 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images

    If LeBron James isn't already the greatest of all-time, he is at the very least prominently in that discussion.

    That alone heaps pressure onto his 6'9", 250-pound frame, who has effectively spent the last decade-plus being evaluated by the championship-or-bust scale.

    With his 37th birthday behind—and 38th approaching in December—he is running out of time to expand his jewelry collection. He has four rings for now, which is a massive number but maybe not as high as he would want.

    If he even wants to hope for a shot at the crown, he must be prepared to do all the heavy lifting for the Lakers this season. Even if his supporting cast exceeds expectations, it'll be on James to turn this team into a heavyweight contender.

Russell Westbrook

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    SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MARCH 31: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers dribbles the ball during the game against the Utah Jazz on March 31, 2022 at vivint.SmartHome Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

    Considering Russell Westbrook wasn't actually traded out of L.A. this summer, it still proved quite the eventful offseason for the polarizing point guard.

    He spent its entirety on the trade rumor mill. He split from his longtime agent, Thad Foucher. He has publicly received a to-do list from new Lakers head coach Darvin Ham, which essentially asks Westbrook to become a different player than he has been to this point of his career.

    It's hard to think of a former MVP who is more viewed as expendable as Westbrook. While he is grossly overpaid, he's also more productive than people seem to think. Sure, he could be more efficient, but there are only so many ways to sneeze at per-game tallies of 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists.

    Granted, those numbers didn't matter much to last season's Lakers, but Westbrook has a chance to change his narrative and perhaps reroute his career trajectory going forward. He is talented enough to fill a role for this team—not a minor one, either, but as a legitimate third option—but it could require changing his entire approach.

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