2017-18 Los Angeles Lakers
Projected Record: 27-55 (14th in West)
2016: 26-56 (14th in West)
- C Brook Lopez
- G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
- G Lonzo Ball
- F Kyle Kuzma
- G Josh Hart
- C Thomas Bryant
- C Andrew Bogut
- G D’Angelo Russell
- C Timofey Mozgov
- G Nick Young
- C Tarik Black
- G David Nwaba
- Youth and upside
- Offensive potential
- Lack of experience
I believe it’s safe to say, for anyone outside of the fanbase, the Los Angeles Lakers will be the most annoying team in the NBA this season. Lakers hype is at its highest point in years, with a high-profile young phenom about to make his debut in Lonzo Ball and the possibility, however distant, of some high-profile free agents coming to town next summer. Even Vegas is buying in: their over/under line of 33.5 feels absolutely nuts.
I’ll say this much: offensively, they’re going to have some very fun stretches. Lonzo Ball is nothing if not flashy with the way he runs an offense, and the Lakers will be able to play fast and spread the court around him. Brook Lopez very abruptly expanded his range out to the three-point line last year – he took 373 more triples than his previous career-high – and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was a clever addition who will add some tough defense and at least average range.
I still don’t love the process behind the D’Angelo Russell trade. The Lakers used a recent second-overall pick as essentially a pot-sweetener to move Timofey Mozgov’s brutal contract to have space to pursue Paul George in free agency next year. Brook Lopez is a great player, but this is the last year of his contract, the Lakers have run the risk of parting with a valuable youngster for a single year of Lopez on the hope that George wants to play in Los Angeles so badly that he’ll bail on a seemingly loaded Oklahoma City team just to get there. Russell and the Lakers didn’t seem to quite match up, personality-wise, but it’s still a massive risk.
I am reluctantly fascinated with Summer League/Preseason superstar Kyle Kuzma, who has gone from a throw-in with the Lopez-Russell trade to perhaps the Lakers’ starting power forward before the season ends. The Lakers now have a very interesting three-way competition at power forward between Kuzma, former lottery pick Julius Randle, and the bouncy Larry Nance Jr. Kuzma has to carry his high level of play over into the regular season, of course, but it feels like Randle could end up the odd man out.
I quite like Randle, despite his awkward fit in the current NBA; there’s a little bit of funk to his game – some reckless driving ability, some sneaky passing, some physicality – that interests me, especially since he hasn’t been a total loss on the defensive end like most of us anticipated coming out of the draft. I’m not sure his future lies in Los Angeles, though – he feels like a future Memphis Grizzlies fan favorite – and that is emblematic of the Lakers’ draft struggles the past several years. Brandon Ingram might soon be the last one standing of the Randle-Russell-Ingram trio, and he’s inarguably shown the least of the three.
The Lakers struggled to defend anything last year – as young teams do – and that doesn’t stand to change much this season. Caldwell-Pope and Corey Brewer are steps in the right direction, but there really aren’t any other plus defenders on the roster, considering that Luol Deng can barely move anymore and Andrew Bogut really can’t be counted on to stay on the court. There’s also the simple fact that young players just don’t typically know how to apply themselves on defense, which has to give head coach Luke Walton migraines.
Most Valuable Player: Brook Lopez
I touched on Lopez a bit earlier, but his newfound three-point shot has helped modernize his game. He’s always been an effective scorer, but without the ability to stretch the court, he was becoming something of a basketball dinosaur. He’ll never really move the needle as a defender, and his rebounding has always been underwhelming for his size, but he assisted on buckets at the highest rate of his career last season (14.8%) and he can enhance an offense in a number of ways.
If somebody tossed Brook and Robin Lopez a pair of Potara earrings, the two would fuse into probably the most complete center in basketball.
X Factor: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram
Between the Los Angeles exposure and LaVar’s weekly headlines, Lonzo Ball is going to be absolutely unavoidable this year. I honestly do like him quite a bit as a prospect, but his play is going to be dissected to a ridiculous extent. The first transition alley-oop he throws this season is destined for SportsCenter and thousands of retweets on Twitter.
Lonzo should change the look of the Lakers’ offense dramatically. He’s an exceptionally unselfish player (despite the Ball family’s reputation), and his passing ability will create a lot of looks for players like Lopez and Caldwell-Pope. He’ll lead the Lakers in some destructive fast breaks. He’s not going to be an instant star – his half-court game needs refinement and his defensive ability is still just theoretical – but he’s the best prospect they’ve had in a long time.
Ingram had a miserably bad rookie season, and I have a fair degree of pessimism about his NBA outlook. He reminds me of the “two years away from being two years away” line applied to Bruno Caboclo a while back; he just didn’t excel at anything as rookie, and he got beaten up on both ends of the court. Ingram is tall and has great length – you can see why people wanted to call him Kevin Durant – but he’s so absurdly thin; I caught some of a Lakers-Jazz preseason matchup and I was struck by how small he looked next to Ricky Rubio, who he has five inches on. He’s only 20 years old this season, so I can’t write him off completely, but it would take unprecedented development for him to contribute positively this season.
The Lakers are incredibly young, and they’re going to play like they’re incredibly young. Their defense won’t be containing anything, although Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Corey Brewer will help. Lonzo Ball and Brook Lopez open up all kinds of fun new dimensions to their offense, and if nothing else, they should be fun.
Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram have uncertain futures. Randle is an interesting player who might not have a spot on this team long-term, while Ingram certainly isn’t going anywhere, but has a long way to go before he’s close to contributing. The rest – Kyle Kuzma, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Ivica Zubac – will start to show whether or not they’re building blocks for this team going forward.
The Lakers have gambled on luring in a big name next offseason. They’re not contending for a playoff spot this season, but they have to show growth in order to help their own sales pitch next summer. Is LeBron James really going to consider signing with a Lakers team that looks like Lonzo Ball and a bunch of stiffs? I wouldn’t think so.