A year or two ago, the Los Angeles Lakers’ roster was frightfully lacking. One of their biggest weaknesses was a lack of viable forwards other than LeBron James, and it caused a sizable drop in performance and production whenever he went to the bench or was out with an injury.
But a couple of midseason trades this past year changed all that. Now, the Lakers have plenty of depth throughout their roster, especially in the frontcourt, where the arrival of Jarred Vanderbilt and Rui Hachimura helped transform them from mediocre to possibly championship-caliber.
Both of them made HoopsHype’s recent ranking of the NBA’s top 24 power forwards, as did a certain oft-injured and oft-criticized superstar.
Jarred Vanderbilt: No. 24
At first glance, Vanderbilt making this list may seem like a surprise. While he quickly proved to be an effective and versatile defender, his offensive limitations were exposed during the playoffs, which led to his playing time getting slashed by head coach Darvin Ham.
But he is young at just 24 years of age, and if he simply gets his 3-point accuracy up to about 35-36% (he was at 32.2% last season), opponents won’t be able to effectively send him to the bench in the postseason.
Here is what HoopsHype said about its reasoning for Vanderbilt coming in at No. 24.
“One of the reasons why the Los Angeles Lakers went from borderline playoff team to legit contender at the trade deadline was their addition of young forward Jarred Vanderbilt, a defensive specialist with great tools on that end of the floor, one who can finish around the basket very efficiently on offense, at that,” wrote Frank Urbina. “Vanderbilt, already 24, won’t ever be a star – his lack of shooting and overall offensive skill will prevent that – but he can be a star in his role as a versatile, impactful defender who doesn’t try to do too much on offense.
“Of course, that type of player – a non-shooting wing – can get played off the floor in the playoffs, as they allow opponents to hide their worst defender or even defend 5-on-4 but even then, Vanderbilt is the type to help teams win games thanks to his defensive expertise.”
Los Angeles reportedly just gave Vanderbilt a four-year, $48 million contract extension on Friday that will kick in for the 2024-25 season. It is part of an ongoing effort to surround James with young, productive players while also possibly preparing for life after the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
Rui Hachimura: No. 23
He instantly gave them a legitimate supplementary scoring threat who could go off when needed. He looked passive at times during the regular season, but he turned it on in the playoffs with several big games, especially against the Memphis Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets.
That was the reasoning behind the Japan native being No. 23 on the list.
“Another important trade deadline addition last season for the Lakers was power forward Rui Hachimura, who proved to be a great fit on the team at times as a starter but mostly off the bench,” wrote Urbina. “Hachimura’s one-on-one scoring – he’s got a potent face-up game and a very quick first step that bigger opponents have trouble keeping up with – were vital to the Lakers’ postseason charge. His numbers may not totally reflect that, as his 2022-23 averages were quite similar to those of Washington Wizards days when many thought he wasn’t living up to the expectations of being a former Top 10 pick, but Hachimura is probably just someone who thrives at being a role player and struggles when given too much of the load on offense. Either way, the Lakers are surely elated to have him and he’ll play a big part in L.A.’s season plans for 2023-24.”
Hachimura also had some moments where he played strong defense, particularly on the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns and Nuggets superstar Nikola Jokic. This two-way production led to him securing a three-year, $51 million extension earlier this summer.
That will allow the 25-year-old to give L.A.’s two superstars, one of which was very high on this list, a respite moving forward.
Anthony Davis: No. 2
Davis often gets criticized, even by Lakers fans, for his seemingly annual injuries and what his critics claim is laziness and a lack of motivation and desire. However, he is coming off of arguably his best season yet.
He put up 25.9 points a game during the 2022-23 campaign, and his 12.5 rebounds a contest and 56.3 percent field-goal accuracy were both career highs. Yes, he had his occasional games where he played poorly on offense, but overall, he was a monster on the midway.
HoopsHype revealed that Davis actually very nearly took the top spot in its power forward rankings.
“The race for No. 1 in this position was neck-and-neck between two players, Lakers star Anthony Davis (the third purple-and-gold power forward on this list) and the player who ultimately won out in our team vote,” wrote Urbina. “Nonetheless, Davis is one of the best players in the NBA outright, an absolute force as a defender, as a rebounder and as a face-up scorer. Davis’ quickness and ball-handling make him a nightmare for fellow big men to defend and his ability to draw fouls and sink free throws make him quite efficient of a scorer, even without a reliable three-point stroke. Last season, Davis ranked Top 5 in WS/48 and Top 15 in VORP and BPM while the Lakers were 7.8 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor. Simply put, Davis is an MVP-caliber player (when healthy, which, granted, is a huge issue for him) and Los Angeles is a title contender heading into 2023-24 thanks in large part to the former Kentucky legend.”
Interestingly, Davis played the center position almost exclusively last season, yet HoopsHype decided to classify him as a power forward for this list.
Whether one considers him a 4 or a 5, he just got his own extension from the Lakers that will be worth $186 million over three years. It will keep him under contract through the 2027-28 season.