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Friday, April 08, 2022

How Good Would the Lakers Have Been With DeMar DeRozan or Buddy Hield?

This is not suspense story, so I will not make you wait to know the answer to the title question. The answer is "Not very good." It is amazing and amusing that so many people take seriously the notion that the Lakers' train wreck 2022 season would have turned out wonderfully if only the Lakers had acquired DeMar DeRozan or Buddy Hield instead of Russell Westbrook.

Forget for a moment that, due to salary cap rules/restrictions, the Lakers probably could have only signed DeRozan by sending Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell to the San Antonio Spurs, which is not the deal that the Spurs wanted (the DeRozan sign and trade that the Spurs did with the Chicago Bulls yielded two players with expiring contracts, plus three draft picks); also forget for a moment that it seems improbable that Gregg Popovich would be inclined to make any deal that might help a Western Conference rival, let alone a rival that has so much playoff history versus the Spurs. 

Let's assume that the Lakers could have acquired DeRozan. The Eastern Conference playoff picture is very fluid, but right now DeRozan's Chicago Bulls are in sixth place with a 45-35 record: they have had a solid season, but they are probably heading toward a first round exit. DeRozan has had a good impact on the Bulls, but he is hardly a miracle worker, and he made just one playoff appearance in three seasons in San Antonio.

DeRozan is averaging a career-high 28.0 ppg this season while shooting .504 from the field, and he is averaging 5.2 rpg plus 5.0 apg, exceeding his career averages of 4.4 rpg and 3.9 apg. DeRozan is also averaging 20.3 FGA/g this season. Do you know something that has never happened in NBA history? No LeBron James teammate has ever averaged 20 FGA/g--not Kyrie Irving (he came close--once--during his final season alongside James), not Kevin Love, not Dwyane Wade, not Chris Bosh, not Anthony Davis, and not Russell Westbrook, who has averaged at least 20 FGA/g five times during his career. Westbrook averaged 19.0 FGA/g in 2020-21 with the Wizards, and then he averaged 15.8 FGA/g this season with the Lakers. 

A lot of things might have happened had DeRozan joined the Lakers, but one thing that would not have happened is DeRozan attempting 20 shots a night, which means he also would not have averaged even close to 28.0 ppg. Without exception, every star who has played alongside James sublimated his game and his statistics to blend in with James. DeRozan is a high usage player, and that is another thing that would have gone by the wayside if he had joined the Lakers. 

"Stat gurus" believe that all numbers translate from one situation to another. If a player shoots .600 from the field in 25-30 mpg because he has a superstar teammate who draws double teams, "stat gurus" believe that player can shoot .600 from the field in 40 mpg as the best player on the team. Call this the "Andrew Bynum theory," because that is the nonsensical notion "stat gurus" propagated when Bynum played alongside Kobe Bryant. By the way, has anyone seen Bynum since he left the Lakers? I hope that he is doing OK. One thing he is not doing, has not done, and never will do is shoot .600 from the field in 40 mpg as the best player on his team. 

Similarly, "stat gurus" believe that if DeMar DeRozan can score 28.0 ppg on .504 field goal shooting for the Chicago Bulls then he can put up the same numbers for the L.A. Lakers. Unlike the more limited Bynum, it is possible that DeRozan could put up similar numbers on a different team than Chicago--but there is no way he is putting up those numbers while playing alongside LeBron James. When projecting how a player will perform, one has to take into account the overall context, and not just move numbers around on a spreadsheet. 

Further, even if DeRozan had been able to score as prolifically and efficiently with the Lakers as he has with the Bulls, that would not have addressed the Lakers' biggest problem: the Lakers are one of the worst defensive teams in the league, primarily because of their lack of paint presence.

The reality, based on how LeBron James' previous All-Star teammates have fared, is that if DeRozan had joined the Lakers, he likely would have scored--at most--20 ppg while shooting between .460 and .480 from the field, and the Lakers' record would have been no better than it is now. 

This analysis takes nothing away from the excellent season that DeRozan has had. The point is not to denigrate DeRozan, but rather to objectively analyze what would have happened had DeRozan joined the Lakers. 

The notion that Buddy Hield could have saved these Lakers is even more outlandish than the notion that DeRozan could have saved these Lakers. At least DeRozan is a five time All-Star who has played in 58 playoff games. 

Do you remember when Buddy Hield played in the All-Star Game and then had big playoff performances? Of course not--Hield is a six year veteran who has yet to make the All-Star team or play in a single playoff game. Hield has played for three NBA teams and has never been on a squad that posted a .500 record. His career field goal percentage is .430 (the much-maligned Westbrook has a .438 career field goal percentage, including .444 this season). Hield averages less than 2 FTA/g during his career. He is an OK, but not great, rebounder for a shooting guard (4.3 rpg for his career), and he is not a playmaker (2.5 apg for his career). Hield's best skill set attribute is three point shooting, and he has shot .366 from three point range this season. The Lakers' three point shooting percentage this season is .349.

This is not about bashing Buddy Hield. He has had a solid NBA career while playing for bad teams. Maybe he can be a contributor to a winning program, but that has not happened yet. Are we supposed to take seriously the notion that if the Lakers subtracted Westbrook's elite rebounding and playmaking and replaced one of the greatest players of all-time with a one dimensional player who shot .366 from three point range--which ranks 82nd in the league--then the Lakers would have been better? 

Why do so many "stat gurus" and media members create narratives that are absurd? Why is there such a robust market for ideas that are demonstrably nonsensical?

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:25 AM



At Friday, April 08, 2022 12:27:00 PM, Anonymous Jazz Man said...

Isn't the whole argument usually being made that with Hield or DeRozan they could have kept Caruso/KCP as well and still had a defense? You've been saying all year that the problem was defense, wouldn't keeping their two best perimeter defenders/perimeter shooters help?

I've not seen a single solitary soul saying that DeRozan or Hield is a better player than Westbrook in a vacuum, but I'm inclined to agree that DeRozan + KCP + Caruso is likely more valuable than Westbrook at least on a Lebron James team.

At Friday, April 08, 2022 1:27:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jazz Man:

Ignoring the reality that the Lakers probably could not have even acquired DeRozan, the argument that I have heard and read suggests that DeRozan or Hield fit better individually with the Lakers even outside the context of who else the Lakers kept or let go. Also, if the Lakers had signed DeRozan what makes you think that they would have kept Caruso? The Lakers were not willing to pay Caruso, and that had nothing to do with the DeRozan/Westbrook choice or decision.

I agree with you that the Lakers should have kept Caruso (and possibly KCP as well), but this article focuses on the ridiculous arguments that begin "Look at DeRozan scoring 28 ppg as a Bull and emerging as a fringe MVP candidate. The Lakers could have had THAT, but they chose Westbrook instead." You hear words to that effect from guys like Wilbon and "Screamin' A," among others.

Regarding Hield, almost every article that I have seen comparing Hield to Westbrook asserts that Hield individually and without considering who else the Lakers kept or discarded would have fit better than Westbrook. Such "analysts" are saying that they value Hield's three point shooting--which is just slightly better than the Lakers' three point shooting this season--over Westbrook's elite rebounding and playmaking, not to mention Westbrook's value as a hard worker and positive leader who never throws teammates under the bus (unlike LeBron). I cannot think of a context outside of the Three Point Shooting Contest for which I would rate Hield higher than Westbrook, and I maintain that anyone who rates Hield that way has little understanding of basketball.

At Friday, April 08, 2022 3:15:00 PM, Anonymous Jazz Man said...

C'mon mate, "nothing" to do with whether or not they acquired Westbrook? Westbrook cost 44 million this year and plays Caruso's position, while DeRozan cost 26.5 million this year and doesn't. Caruso cost 8.5 million this year, so he and DeRozan combined are still 15 million less than Westbrook. Even if you add in KCP (13 million), you're only looking 48 million, or 4 million more than they paid Westbrook... but less than the 5 million they spent on Avery Bradley and Wayne Ellington as "replacements" or on Kendrick Nunn. Swap in Hield instead and he's four million cheaper than DeRozan, so they could still keep their lads and add Bradley and Ellington and end up paying exactly what they ended up paying anyhow. I don't think it's any great leap to say they're willing to pay the same price they paid, is it?

Put more simply 8.5 million is a fair to great price for a starting point guard but a high one for a backup. Saying that them signing an expensive starting point guard had no impact on their interest in Caruso is a bit silly.

So the Lakers could have certainly had all three of those guys financially for no more than they're paying now and even a little less. Bit hard to see it as a question of money so much as a case of what "GM Lebron" as you call him wanted. And the one thing every outlet seems to agree on is he wanted Westbrook.

I also think you're tossing up a bit of a strawman that the narrative is DeRozan vs. Westbrook. All the coverage I've seen of it has been DeRozan or Hield + Caruso + KCP vs. Westbrook. Even your nemesis "Screamin' A" who you're holding up as the cause you're rallying against made the full-spectrum version of the argument. Perhaps there's someone dumber than him out there making a dumber version of the argument, but I haven't tumbled across them.

If your point is simply "this team would be no better with just DeRozan or Hield instead of Westbrook" you're probably bang-on, but I don't know that anyone's really been saying differently.

At Friday, April 08, 2022 3:51:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

David, appreciate this article. Thank you. The loudest Lakers fans, and loudest in the general media, are often the most ill-informed (and basketball illiterate). DeRozan is also a mid-range shooter (that lacks a 3-point shot, though he's improved a great deal on corner shots, like Russ). Adding his skillset to the Lakers would have done nothing for the team. Yes, he's improved as a playmaker, but even the most ardent Westbrook haters can agree that there is no question Russ is the superior playmaker. So, DeRozan brings better scoring ability, but does not provide better spacing, better defense, or better outside shooting.

@jazz Man. Caruso only cost the Bulls $8.5 million this season, because they weren't over the cap when they signed him. While the cap covers the cost of the entire team, retaining Caruso would have cost the Lakers an additional $10-12 million per season in luxury tax penalties (depending on what his final contract would have been). I love Caruso, was my favorite Laker last year, but is he worth $20-22 million per season? Especially considering he is an injury-prone player. I don't think he is.

And replacing Caruso with Russ would not have solved the Lakers problems either. Caruso only played half the season, and would have done zip during the 70 games that AD/Lebron missed combined this year.

At Friday, April 08, 2022 3:56:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

@jazz Man, the second part of my post didn't post. So, I'll repost here. Regardless of what coverage of the team has said, most of it is just flat out wrong, and if you break down the actual financials and trade implications, there was zero possible way for the Lakers to get both DeRozan and Hield, let alone keep Caruso + KCP. It was either DeRozan OR Hield. And only in the latter scenario would the Lakers have been able to keep Caruso.

Hield and DeRozan needed to be traded for...so KCP or Caruso or THT would need to be included, as would the Lakers draft pick. Can't trade a draft pick twice.

David's crusade against the complete deterioration of sports journalism is a welcome one. But, if a major news network is pushing a story that sounds "no duh", it's probably because it's not true. Clicks and views are all sports journalism cares about nowadays.

At Friday, April 08, 2022 4:40:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


DeRozan was much better than Russ this year

He a pick and pop midrange player who doesn't need the ball to be effective

He fits perfectly with LeBron

Russ is the worst ft and 3 point shooter in league and led league in turnovers

Not a mid range shooter

And Russ might of been the worst defender on the Lakers

Idk anyone but Russ family who think Russ would be a better fit than derozan

Russ works on another team with no expectation

He cried and whine about criticism because he thin skin

And that won't work with Lakers and expectations here

Also keeping Caruso and kuz helps too

Demarr makes us a 50+ win team

And we get a 5 or 6 seed

Russ we was 11th seed

It's pretty simple

At Friday, April 08, 2022 4:56:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jazz Man:

Jordan beat me to the punch regarding the holes in your argument regarding the Lakers' ability to sign all of the players you mentioned.

Regarding the various assertions about Westbrook versus DeRozan and Westbrook versus Hield, I know what I have been reading and hearing throughout the season. If you believe that you have read and heard other things, that's fine.

At Friday, April 08, 2022 5:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You're welcome!

All fans--not just Lakers fans--are passionate but not always objective or well-informed. My website is not a "fan" site, but an objective analysis site, so fans may agree or disagree but I am doing my best to look at things objectively. We agreed that objectively it is ridiculous to assert that DeRozan or Hield would have been more effective for the Lakers this season than Westbrook.

At Friday, April 08, 2022 5:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As I have said before, there is a difference between asserting something, and proving something to be true.

Westbrook's per minute numbers (and even his per game numbers: 18/7/7) this season were All-Star caliber, and comparable to his career numbers. He was the third option for the Lakers while DeRozan was the number one option for the Bulls, so of course DeRozan had better per game scoring numbers this season.

As discussed above, this is not fantasy basketball being played on a "stat guru's" spreadsheet. The Lakers could not keep every role player and also sign Westbrook or DeRozan or Hield. Choices had to be made.

I provided a skill set analysis plus historical context demonstrating why the Lakers would not have been better off with DeRozan or Hield instead of Westbrook.

Countering by saying that acquiring DeRozan would have made the Lakers a 5 or 6 seed does not prove that to be true. You did not provide any evidence that DeRozan would have been a 28 ppg scorer with the Lakers with LeBron hogging the ball, nor did you explain how the Lakers would have made up for Westbrook's rebounding and playmaking if they had DeRozan instead of Westbrook. Fans traffic in unsupported opinions, but I am most interested in evidence-based analysis.

At Friday, April 08, 2022 5:24:00 PM, Anonymous Jazz Man said...

Jordan & David I didn't say DeRozan and Hield, I said "or Hield."

You're correct about the tax implications on Caruso but you're implying that somehow didn't apply to the players they had instead. They had to pay just as much tax with Westbrook + Bradley + Ellington as they would with DeRozan + Caruso + KCP unless I've faffed up the math somehow. Their tax bill this season was about 45 million. It'd be about that in the alternate timeline too. About 8-10 million less with Hield instead of DeRozan.

You're right that those players would have to be traded for just like Westbrook. My understanding was those trades were predicated around Kuzma + picks. They wouldn't have included as much salary as the Westbrook trade did, because those players don't cost nearly as much as he does. Perhaps they still lose KCP, but in that case they keep at least Harrell (and save another 4 million towards the tax). He doesn't help on the defensive end anywhere nearly as much as KCP would but he at least shores up the rebounding some when Davis is out (more important with no Russ about) and gives them another high-percentage scorer. I think it's more likely they'd keep KCP, given the teams they'd be trading to are more interested in younger talent but if you differ that's fine. Either way it's less than they sent out for Westbrook.

It's about the same amount of money (or a little less) as they ended up paying the way they went. Hard for me to believe they wouldn't spend 9 million (plus tax) to start Caruso when two years ago they spent 14.5 to start Danny Green (plus tax), a pretty similar 3-ball/D-ball type and won a title doing it. Doubly so given they won that title with Caruso too.

You can disagree that having two quality perimeter defenders and shooters and an isolation scorer (or third shooter in the Hield scenario) would be better or worse than having and misusing Westbrook, but you shouldn't pretend it would have been more expensive.

At Friday, April 08, 2022 5:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jazz Man:

My article and subsequent comments clearly refer to DeRozan OR Hield.

I focus more on skill set analysis and player/team history/context than on the salary cap. The salary cap is important, but my main point is to refute the narrative that the Lakers would have fared better with DeRozan OR Hield than they did with Westbrook.


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