Buying or Selling Lakers' Biggest Early-Season Trends

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 9, 2021

Buying or Selling Lakers' Biggest Early-Season Trends

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    The Los Angeles Lakers might quietly be turning a corner.

    Well, that or they're just taking advantage of some soft patches in the schedule.

    Either way, four wins in six games is a good thing, and even if the Lakers simply take advantage of some favorable matchups, that qualifies as progress for a group with two earlier losses to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not to mention, their most recent triumph might have been their best yet—a 15-point handling of the visiting Boston Celtics.

    With 25 games now under its belt, L.A. keeps giving more clues about the kind of club it has. But which ones are worth trusting and which are unlikely to stand the test of time? We'll use the buy-or-sell method to find out.

Trend: Russell Westbrook Is Finding His Footing

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Verdict: Buy the numbers, sell the impact.

    L.A.'s head-turning acquisition of Russell Westbrook this offseason produced some head-scratching rough moments to open the campaign. Through his first 17 games with the Purple and Gold, the veteran point guard was averaging 18.9 points on 42.6/29.7/66.7 shooting and 5.0 turnovers per outing.

    In his last eight outings, though, the 33-year-old has raised a few eyebrows by pumping in 23.5 points on 50.4/36.4/72.4 shooting and trimming his turnovers to a more manageable 3.6 per night.

    The shooting rates feel inflated, but with the amount of defensive attention paid to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Westbrook should be able to pick his spots in a way that keeps him above his early marks.

    Similarly, the fact that James is more than capable of running the offense means the nine-time All-Star should have some control over his giveaways and not cough them up at such an alarming rate.

    The question is whether Westbrook can turn this production into something that consistently helps his team, and that's where it's fair to remain skeptical. His lack of shooting limits the spacing, and he does little to cover the many defensive leaks on the perimeter.

    To that end, the Lakers have still fared 4.6 points worse per 100 possessions when he plays versus when he sits, per

Trend: Anthony Davis' Jumper Is Broken

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    Verdict: Buy, but hoping to sell at some point.

    The Lakers likely knew they would be squeezed for spacing this season, but they couldn't have planned on Davis being such a detriment in that department.

    Two years back, his first in L.A., the 28-year-old contributed 1.2 triples per night at a 33.0 percent clip. Now, he's down to just 0.4 threes and misfiring on all but 18.8 percent of his long-range looks.

    If your ears are starting to ring, those are actually alarm sirens blaring inside of the—opens a new tab to Google this— Arena. This is the second straight season Davis' splash rate has dropped, and he's backtracking from the the free-throw line, too (career-worst 72.2 percent). On all of his jumpers—inside and outside of the arc—he's shooting just 35.9 percent.

    If his shooting woes were isolated to one area, you might be able to chalk this up to some early-season statistical quirk. But the fact that he's struggling with everything that isn't a dunk or a layup suggests this is a bigger issue threatening to linger all season.

Trend: Talen Horton-Tucker Has Regressed

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    Verdict: Sell

    The Lakers are big believers in Talen Horton-Tucker. Last season, they reportedly nixed a Kyle Lowry trade over the Toronto Raptors' request for him, per Jovan Buha and Bill Oram of The Athletic.

    This summer, they gave the 6'4" swingman a three-year, $30.8 million deal, per Spotrac, making him No. 4 on the list of highest-paid players on the team.

    That confidence could already be shaken, as Horton-Tucker has stumbled out of the starting block. A torn ligament in his thumb delayed his start, but since getting back on the court, he has failed to make an impact beyond his splashy return. After scoring 17-plus points in his first three outings, he has averaged just 6.6 points on an anemic 30.8 percent shooting (8.3 percent from deep) in the nine games since.

    The 21-year-old is better than this. Just last season, he averaged 9.0 points on 45.8 percent shooting in a smaller role.

    There might be a low ceiling on his outside shot (career 27.1 percent), but inside the arc, he has the separation to free himself and the touch to put points on the board. He can make his mark as a secondary playmaker and plucky on-ball defender, even if his team defense needs work.

    Given how little he has played and how good he has looked in part of it, he deserves the benefit of the doubt for now.