Lakers Takeaways from 1st Month of 2020-21 NBA Season

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2021

Lakers Takeaways from 1st Month of 2020-21 NBA Season

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    The defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers are cruising at high altitude.

    They were the title favorites entering the 2020-21 campaign, and a month's worth of games has only solidified that stance. This is the best team in basketball by traditional metrics (.733 winning percentage), advanced analytics (plus-10.0 net rating) and the trusty, old eye test.

    From LeBron James' age-defying game to a blindingly bright future, we're here to break down the biggest takeaways from the team so far.

LeBron James Is an Ageless Wonder

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    The best anti-aging elixir in the world can't hold a candle to whatever is turbo-powering James through what's supposed to be the twilight of his career.

    With his 36th birthday in the rear-view mirror, James should be losing ground in his race with Father Time. But that's assuming he's a mere mortal, not the basketball cyborg we've known him to be.

    Three players are averaging at least 23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. One is 21-year-old Luka Doncic, who hopped on the fast-track to NBA stardom the second he made it stateside. Another is 25-year-old Nikola Jokic, already the best-passing big man in league history and a fully-fledged MVP candidate. And then there's James, 36 years young, playing his 18th NBA season and somehow looking as fresh as his first.

    "There are players who've had longer careers, and arguably one player who's had a better career, but no player is putting those two together quite like LeBron," NBA.com's Shaun Powell wrote. "There are scant, if any, signs of decay in his game, or erosion of skills, or decline of strength and power, and no slippage in smarts."

The Lakers Aced the Offseason

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    You know the old adage, "To the victor go the spoils"? Well, these Lakers are living proof.

    Their championship victory was immediately followed by a series of offseason heists. They needed to perk up their complementary scoring, so they nabbed both Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell. They had to find another interior anchor, so they signed former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol. They sought better spacing, so they plucked perimeter sharpshooter Wesley Matthews.

    The offseason moves drew rave reviews, as the Lakers were popular picks on every offseason winner lists. But the praise perhaps didn't go far enough.

    Schroder has quickly nestled into support scoring and secondary creating roles. Harrell remains a per-36-minutes monster (20.6 points and 10.9 boards). Gasol has served a pivotal role in L.A.'s top-ranked defense. Matthews is dead-on his career average of a 38.1 percent perimeter success rate.

    The Lakers' supporting cast looks loaded, which is a frightening thought when coupled with the fact the James-Anthony Davis duo remains the best in the business.

Frank Vogel Belongs on Coach of the Year Watch Lists

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The NBA mountaintop is an incredible place to reside in almost every aspect. If there's a drawback, though, it's having impressive accomplishments be buried beneath massive expectations.

    Frank Vogel probably won't win the Coach of the Year award. While there isn't a clear-cut criteria for doing so, it's often bestowed upon skippers who exceed expectations.

    Vogel doesn't have that opportunity. His team is expected to win, and even if it does, he'll struggle to get credit, since critics will say he's supposed to win with this roster.

    Maybe that's true, but it shouldn't take away from his masterful performance.

    Concerns of potential championship complacency—or outright fatigue given the proximity to the bubble-based playoffs—have been silenced by a dominant defense. The fifth-ranked offense is clicking as if the roster didn't undergo several significant changes over the offseason. And despite having fewer minutes available than players capable of filling them, there's never been a whisper of discontent about roles, shots or floor time.

    "He's probably the best communicator as a coach that I've had on this early season," Matthews told reporters. "He communicates very well about whatever is going on in his lineup, whatever he's thinking. So, that gives you comfort."