Shepard: The Lakers Should Be Nervous

Anything is possible with LeBron James, David Shepard says, but the Lakers should no longer be favored to win the West

CBS Sports Radio Weekend
August 03, 2020 - 4:00 pm
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3/10/20…In the Los Angeles Lakers’ last game of the pre-Covid-19 regular season, their two superstars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, combined for 55 points. That is three points above their combined season average. Despite that, they lost to a Brooklyn Nets team that was five games below .500 at the time and without their best player (Kyrie Irving) at HOME. The Nets’ best player on the court that night was Spencer Dinwiddie. Certainly an above average starter, but not even a top-40 NBA player. The Lakers have two of the five best players in the world. A loss like that can’t happen.
7/30/20…This was both the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers’ first games that actually counted in the Orlando bubble. Every NBA fan knows this type of a game is much more than just a typical regular-season contest. LeBron and Davis combined for 50 points, just two points shy of their combined season averages and the Lakers won by two points. A win is a win right? Here’s the problem: the Lakers had all their significant pieces on the floor that night who will be with them going forward in Orlando. The Clippers were missing two of their four best players and still lost by just two points. Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell aren’t your typical third- and fourth-best players on an NBA team. They will be playing with the Clippers sooner than later in Orlando.
Before 2019 there has never been a player off of the bench who has put up at least 33 points and at least 10 assists in a postseason game. Williams became the first bench player to accomplish this on April 15th, 2019. You know who he did it against? The two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors – ON THE ROAD, by the way! He then accomplished this AGAIN just nine days later. Williams is very much still in his prime. That was a Warriors team mind you that was fully healthy.
Harrell, by most accounts, is the favorite for THIS YEAR’s Sixth Man of the Year award. Not only that, but he is in a contract year. For many players, if you combine that incentive with already wanting to be great and win an NBA title, that is a dangerous thing for opposing teams. Many former great players have referred to Harrell as this generation's Dennis Rodman. Rodman may very well be the greatest pound-for-pound rebounder in the history of the game.

8/3/20….The Lakers lost by 15 points on Saturday to the Toronto Raptors. What makes this a bad loss is the Raptors best player (Pascal Siakam) shot 29 percent from the field. The Raptors starting lineup combined for 92 points. The Lakers starting lineup scored FORTY-TWO points combined. LeBron and Davis played in this game, by the way. Thirty-four-year-old guard Kyle Lowry, standing six feet tall, more than doubled the rebound total of Davis, who stands at 6’10.
Here’s what it comes down to. The Lakers’ lack of depth is being exposed. It’s not a matter of blame. It’s not based on effort or the lack of coaching ability from Frank Vogel. Their starting lineup against the Raptors aside from LeBron and Davis had EIGHT POINTS COMBINED.
Many Laker fans felt Kyle Kuzma would be key as their third-best player this season. He has shown to this point that he’s not good enough to be part of a Big Three to win a title. Kuzma has regressed in PPG, APG and RPG from his first two seasons in the NBA. With the additions of LeBron from last season and Davis from this season, he is getting even better looks because of the double teams that LeBron and Davis are facing. Considering he is deeper into his NBA career and getting a lot more open looks, his shooting percentages should be going up, but they are only going down.
Another key young piece for the Lakers is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. His numbers have also decreased from last season. Danny Green, the newly acquired guard for the Lakers, shot 46 percent from three last season; he’s shooting 37 percent from three this season. Shooting is the last thing to go for an NBA player. It seems to be going from Green, and that is not a good sign.
Truth be told, I am not ruling out LeBron. I’d be a fool if I did. Their season is far from over, and they shouldn’t be pressing the panic button. BUT it’s fair to say at this point that the Lakers should not be the favorites to come out of the West. There are too many holes, not enough improvement from younger players, and not nearly enough depth. If I’m LeBron and company, I’d much rather be anxious in the regular season than anxious being in an elimination game in a playoff series. The Lakers need to figure out some things, but if they are not nervous, they should be. 

CBS Sports Radio producer David Shepard is a former ESPN researcher, a former Division I college basketball practice player, and the host of The Good Shepard YouTube channel. Follow him on Twitter @TheGoodShepard_.