Basketball is a team sport, but one in which a single player can dominate. A mediocre team with one amazing player can make it to the NBA Finals. This isn’t the case in football or baseball. A great quarterback can’t do much without an offensive line. A star pitcher can’t win games if his team doesn’t score runs. But in basketball, if a player is dominant enough on offense and defense, he can single-handedly propel his team to the championship.
The obvious example of a player like this in modern day basketball is LeBron James. He’s been to the finals the last eight years is a row, and the players around him have always been different.
This year, however, LeBron and the Lakers look like they might miss out on even making the playoffs. So what is happening with LeBron’s team in L.A. that didn’t happen with his past teams in Cleveland and Miami?
The One-Man System
The Lakers don’t create their rosters like other teams do. Instead of building an all-around solid team, they like to build around one exceptional player. They did this in the 80s with Magic Johnson, then later with Kobe Bryant, and now they’re doing it with LeBron.
In order to build a team around one superstar, the Lakers need to free up a ton of money. LeBron isn’t cheap, just like Kobe and Magic were not cheap. They way the Lakers free up money to pay their stars is to sign many of their other players to short-term contracts. This creates a revolving roster of players with the one constant being the star that the team is built around.
This worked for Magic and it worked for Kobe. Both had great success in L.A. and have already gone down in history as L.A. legends. So why isn’t it working for LeBron?
Well, even thought the system is built around one player, LeBron does need specific things from his teammates in order to produce wins. LeBron is a hot and cold shooter. He can’t just knock down shots whenever he wants, like Kobe used to. This means he needs to drive to the basket to score many of his points. But when LeBron drives to the basket, the defense usually collapses to help stop him from making it to the rim. The way to stop the defense from collapsing is to have three-point shooters for LeBron to pass the ball out to. This keeps the defense guessing. If they collapse, someone might get open on the wing; if they don’t, LeBron might get an easy layup.
But L.A. doesn’t have the shooters for this to work. So teams can play help-defense against LeBron and stop him from slashing to the hoop with no fear on giving up a wide-open three-point shot.
A Two-Man Solution
The Lakers know that their system is not working this season. That’s why they tried so hard to acquire Anthony Davis. But that didn’t work, so now they are back to square one. They don’t have much time to get back in the playoff race and even if they do, their chances in the post season don’t look good. So perhaps it’s time to look ahead to next season.
But with a rag-tag bunch to offer up for a superstar like Davis, the team may be better off looking to acquire some good perimeter shooters instead. Based on what happened during negotiations with the Pelicans this season, Davis is not coming to L.A. So the question remains, can the Lakers find the right mix to back up their one-man system, or do they have to shake things up entirely?