LeBron, AD Could Be NBA's Best Duo, But Lakers' Flaws Are Painfully Clear

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistOctober 23, 2019

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 22:  LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on against the LA Clippers on October 22, 2019 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 2019 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Danny Green had one of the best individual performances of his career in his regular-season debut with the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday. LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined to shoot only 15-of-40 from the field, but they finished with 43 points, 19 rebounds and 13 assists.

Despite all of that, the Lakers lost the first game of the LeBron/AD era to a Los Angeles Clippers squad without Paul George, who remains sidelined as he continues to recover from a pair of offseason shoulder surgeries.

On opening night, it became painfully obvious that the Lakers need more than three above-average players (even if those three are way above average).

Among this squad's likely rotation players, those three and JaVale McGee are the only ones who posted above-average box plus/minuses in 2018-19. Several were below replacement level.

In layman's terms? James, Davis and Green are going to have a hefty responsibility this season.

At least one member of the trio was up to the challenge against the title-contending Clippers. Green finished with 28 points on 10-of-14 shooting, including 7-of-9 from three. He also had seven boards, two steals and a block. That added up to a 26.2 game score, the second-highest mark of Green's career.

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And the performance didn't just stand out in comparison to Green's career. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he unexpectedly set a franchise record:

But again, the Lakers lost. And some glaring flaws were on full display.

For one, Davis needs to say, "That's all, folks" to playing power forward. Against the Clippers, the Lakers offense looked about as tight as Austin Powers attempting a U-turn when Davis was on the floor with JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard.

Instead of a free-flowing attack spearheaded by a LeBron/AD pick-and-roll and surrounded by the limited shooting L.A. has, Davis was often forced into post-ups that started 15 feet from the rim. And with a non-shooting center on the floor, it was easy for the Clippers to crowd those catches.

On paper, LeBron and AD should be one of the most natural plug-and-play duos in the league. But that assumes that both are playing to their strengths. The Lakers don't have to abandon post-ups altogether, but Davis will get much better looks than he saw Tuesday by rolling to the rim while defenders have to pay attention to the three-point line.

Another issue is the Lakers' lack of multiple perimeter defenders. Davis is a solid anchor on that end, but he can't be trusted to slow down the league's premier wings. LeBron may have been that guy once upon a time, but he hasn't looked terribly interested in regular-season defense for years. Green is only one man.

For much of opening night, that left 6'5" wing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on Kawhi Leonard.

KCP isn't a bad defender, and Leonard is one of the five best players in the world. However, this issue won't be limited to one game.

Several Western Conference playoff contenders boast multiple perimeter threats. The Golden State Warriors have Stephen Curry and D'Angelo Russell. The Portland Trail Blazers have Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. These Clippers will have the scoring with a little more size than those other teams when George comes back.

It's critical for the Lakers to find a second reliable perimeter defender.

But both of these shortcomings relate to the biggest one: L.A.'s roster just isn't great after that top three (with the possible exception of the injured Kyle Kuzma).

The weight of carrying it seemed to take a toll on LeBron and Davis in the middle of the first game. They combined for 32 points in the first half but mustered only 11 in the second.

We probably should've expected this against a team as deep and feisty as the Clippers.

"These guys fight," Leonard said on the TNT broadcast after the game. "They fight hard every single night."

The talent may not be there for the Lakers supporting cast, but they can at least try to match that level of fight. It showed up during a 15-0 run in the third quarter fueled by the flamethrowing Green. Kawhi, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell stamped it out in the fourth.

Kuzma's eventual return should help a bit, although he was one of those players who posted a well-below-average box plus/minus last season. His 33.5 career three-point percentage won't blow anyone away, but he'll at least keep defenders honest. And while defense has been a knock on him over his two NBA seasons, he does have the size to theoretically bother bigger wings.

The chemistry between LeBron and AD is bound to improve. Green and KCP will lock down their fair share of scorers.

But even with perhaps the game's best duo, forecasting legitimate title contention should be done with caution, unless and until someone else on this roster breaks out.

Think about how much talent is in the Philadelphia 76ers' starting five. There's no LeBron or AD on the Utah Jazz or Denver Nuggets (though Nikola Jokic is certainly close), but those teams are deeper than the Lakers.

Then there's the Houston Rockets. They have their own top-tier duo with Russell Westbrook and James Harden, and their roster actually looks tailor-made for them.

The Rockets can surround Harden and Westbrook with shooting and gritty defense, as can the Clippers with their stars. Meanwhile, LeBron, AD and Green are surrounded by question marks for the time being.

All statistics via Basketball Reference, unless otherwise noted.

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