Lakers Players Who Will Determine LA's Ceiling During 2021-22 NBA Season

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 16, 2021

Lakers Players Who Will Determine LA's Ceiling During 2021-22 NBA Season

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Lakers will enter the 2021-22 NBA season loaded with potential—and plenty of question marks.

    They're firmly in the championship picture and will be as long as LeBron James resides in Hollywood. But after reworking nearly the entire roster around him and Anthony Davis, this club doesn't have the certainty one normally expects from what will likely be the most popular pick to win the West.

    So, who will determine how far these Lakers can go? The following three players loom as the likeliest candidates. 

Anthony Davis

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Anthony Davis is a perennial All-Star, but he didn't always look the part last season.

    Even setting his injury woes aside—he missed half of the team's 72 games—his stats just didn't measure up to his usual standards. His 21.8 points per game were his fewest since 2013-14. His 7.9 rebounds were the least he had ever collected. His 22.1 player efficiency rating was the worst since his rookie year, per Basketball-Reference.com.

    The Lakers won't win a title without a dominant Davis. He obviously needs to be on the court for that to happen, and that's been a challenge of late. In two of the last three seasons, he has lost more than 25 contests to the injury bug.

    Staying upright isn't enough, though. He also needs to anchor L.A.'s defense, get back to being a consistent force on offense and ensure this club has functional spacing after it invested in the erratic shooting Russell Westbrook (more on him in a bit) and a new batch of non-shooting bigs this summer.

Talen Horton-Tucker

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    For all of the focus on the age of this roster, it isn't necessarily a detriment on its own.

    It might increase the possibility of injury issues, and if Father Time speeds up the decline of some of these players, it could be catastrophic. But if health problems don't become a major concern, and no one suffers an unexpected decline, there's a chance the Lakers' experience becomes an asset.

    The larger issue is there aren't many players on this roster who can elevate their games. Most of this rotation is either in its prime or on the wrong side of it.

    Talen Horton-Tucker is the biggest exception as a 20-year-old with only two NBA seasons under his belt. Last season, he emerged as a rotation regular and injected the team with energy, length, plucky perimeter defense and a bit of shot-creation. If he can add a consistent three-point shot to his arsenal, he could become a major asset.

    The Lakers have a lot of moving parts on the perimeter, and there's an opening for Horton-Tucker to carve out major minutes if he shows he's ready.

Russell Westbrook

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    As soon as the Lakers brokered their summer blockbuster trade for Russell Westbrook, they steered themselves and him into uncharted waters.

    Just as everyone expected L.A. to go all in on shooting, the team bet the farm on a high-volume, low-efficiency gunner. It also positioned Westbrook to play off the ball more than ever, where his lack of three-point shooting could be glaring.

    While James has shared the floor with shot-creating guards before, he's never played alongside someone like Westbrook. Probably because there is no one like Westbrook. He is equal parts productive and polarizing, and he goes full-throttle every time he steps inside the lines.

    There's a way for this to work. Westbrook could recharge L.A.'s transition attack, and the team could get a more efficient version of him by utilizing him more as an off-ball cutter and screen-setter. But will the nine-time All-Star and former MVP be open to change a style of play that has proved so fruitful for him? Answer that question, and you can probably tell where this campaign is going for the Lakers.

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