Are the Spurs actually better than the Lakers yet again?

Keldon Johnson, Carmelo Anthony
Keldon Johnson, Carmelo Anthony / Ronald Cortes/GettyImages

To open the most recent episode of the Bill Simmons Podcast, the host continued a long-standing tradition by making fun of the Los Angeles Lakers. Simmons is a Celtics fan, so he was born hating the #LakeShow; he and San Antonioans have that in common. Even in the last couple of years (2020—the year that L.A. won the title—notwithstanding) while the Silver & Black's dynasty has come to a close and the playoff streak has ended, Spurs fans have been able to lord over Lakers supporters.

The Lakers entered last year as a favorite to win the Championship; the Spurs took the final play-in spot from L.A. to close the regular season. This season will almost certainly be different. While the Lakers don't necessarily have title aspirations (though in my opinion, any team with LeBron James on it should be doing everything that they can to get there), the Spurs are projected to be the worst team in the league. They showed why in their first game of the season, a bad loss to the depleted Charlotte Hornets. Los Angeles, not to be outdone, also had a rough outing against the Golden State Warriors.

Regardless of how this season plays out, Spurs fans have some new material to laugh about thanks to Bill Simmons. His slight to L.A. at the beginning of his podcast was short, but effective: "I think the Lakers have the worst three through ten [the third through tenth best players on their team] in the league... I'm taking the three through ten in San Antonio over them." In layman's terms, behind LeBron and Anthony Davis, Simmons believes the Lakers have the worst collection of talent in the league. 

I decided to write this piece as an exercise to see how valid Simmons' take is, and it all boils down to your opinion on Russell Westbrook. This is a good place to mention that LeBron and AD are obviously better than Keldon Johnson and Jakob Poeltl (the Spurs' top two). Although any Lakers fan who opened this article is probably long gone, I wanted to make it clear that I'm not that much of a homer. However, after removing each team's top two guys, it gets pretty close.

The Spurs' third best player is Devin Vassell. The Lakers', as previously mentioned, is Russ. While Westbrook is a former MVP and top 75 player of all time (and quietly averaged 18-7-7 last season), it's a pretty close conversation as to who affects winning more. Vassell is in a different atmosphere as a defender, and while he's had a cold stretch shooting the ball dating back to preseason, he's a better jumpshooter also. Russ is still a very good playmaker, while DV's ball skills are developing. 

But let's leave that conversation alone for now. In no particular order, 4-8 on the Spurs are Jeremy Sochan, Tre Jones, Josh Primo, Doug McDermott, and Josh Richardson. In my humble opinion, after #4 (Kendrick Nunn), no one on the Lakers touches that list. The fifth best player in L.A. is either Lonnie Walker IV or Patrick Beverley, and while both have their strengths, they also definitely have their weaknesses. 6-8 are some mix of Austin Reaves, Matt Ryan (not the Colts quarterback), Juan Toscano-Anderson, and currently injured Thomas Bryant, Dennis Schroeder, and Troy Brown, Jr.

I know that as a Spurs fan, I probably sound extremely biased. Maybe you think that Austin Reaves is better than where I have him ranked (some Lakers fans did believe he should've made an All-Rookie team last year, after all). Here's the thing, though: I named the entire Lakers rotation up there. They don't have anyone else. Spurs players I didn't mention include Isaiah Roby, who I believe will have a big role off the bench this year, and Zach Collins (a better center than any non-Davis big on the Lakers).

The Spurs also have more support waiting in the wings— first round rookies Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley have a place in the "best rotational players" discussion, though they likely spend a lot of time in Austin with the Spurs G-League team. As will other talented young guys Jordan Hall and Dominick Barlow. The only rookie who the Lakers have any sort of investment in is Scottie Pippen, Jr., and while he did flash in the Summer League, that is very little future to count on.

As much as that matters to me (the Spurs entire team is future-focused), that was not the original conversation. Back to the original point, though, this exercise proved that Bill Simmons had a point to rag on the Lakers. While L.A. will be better than San Antonio this year, the talent on the roster after the big names is pretty comparable.

Next. Is winning Rookie of the Year possible for Spurs' Jeremy Sochan?. dark

In a season without many wins on the horizon, I'm going to take those moral victories when I can.