Going into last season, the youthful Los Angeles Lakers were expected to do one thing; improve. The main talking point was the young core, headlined by No.2 overall pick Lonzo Ball. President of basketball operations Magic Johnson labeled Ball the future face of the franchise. Hefty expectations for the young point guard. Drafting well and signing a few talented free agents, the Lakers overachieved winning 35 games, a total they could’ve bettered if it weren’t for some unfortunate injuries. After an off-season which saw major changes in Los Angeles, the Lakers look set for playoff Basketball once again.
Los Angeles Lakers Season Preview
What Worked Last Season
The “baby Lakers” used their youth to their advantage last season. Playing fast is something Luke Walton wanted to implement. The third fastest team in the league, Walton’s youngsters were deadly on the fast-break. Ranking as the second best fast-break team in the NBA, you could beat the Lakers, if you could keep up. Rebounding was also a strength, this despite not having a board dominant center. Walton put an emphasis on sharing the ball during training camp, something the team really bought into. A top-10 team in assists, a team mentality to liberally share the rock worked all season. The addition of Ball and playing Brandon Ingram at point guard also aided the team’s ball sharing efforts.
Dealing with several annoying injuries throughout the season and the team dealt with them surprisingly well. With Ball, Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Isaiah Thomas all missing significant time with niggling injuries. By winning 35 games, it’s fair to say a healthy Lakers team could have won close to 40 games if those key players stayed healthy. There was a lot to be happy with last season, but not everything went to plan.
What Needs Improvement
Simply put, the Lakers did not shoot well last season. Ranked 29th in threes and 30th at the line, the Lakers struggled. The team didn’t struggle to get to the line, they just couldn’t convert when they got there. This has to be a key focus for the team, with poor shooting costing them games last season. As mentioned earlier, the Lakers like to pass the ball. However, the team struggled to take care of the ball, ranking 25th in assist to turnover ratio. Expect this to change this upcoming season with the team adding better, smarter passers.
Ball, Ingram, and Kuzma all have areas of their game that need improving. Ingram has made it clear that he intends to focus on his physicality. The former No.2 pick has been working on his body all off-season and already looks stronger. Ball, on the other hand, has been looking to improve his shot. Last season saw Ball struggle early, especially from beyond the arc. This season Ball hopes to shoot a better percentage and become more consistent from three. One player who doesn’t struggle to shoot the ball is Kuzma. A big surprise last year, Kuzma will look to improve defensively, with that being his biggest weakness.
Just like most young teams, the Lakers struggled defensively. Good offensively, they would often find themselves having to outscore teams instead of shutting their opposition down. This is to be expected from such a young roster, with improvement coming with experience. This season should be a different story.
To begin the off-season the Lakers main focus was the NBA draft. The Lakers went in with three picks to their name, with the team making three selections on the night. In the first round, the Lakers drafted Michigan big man Moritz Wagner. Expected to compete for the backup center role, Wagner could play a role in his rookie year. The 39th pick saw the Lakers draft International prospect, Isaac Bonga. A point-forward, Bonga will likely play in the G-League, with the 18-year-old nowhere near ready for the NBA. With their final pick, the Lakers drafted Kansas wing Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. Known as “Svi”, Mykhailiuk is a deadly shooter with good defensive potential. His skill set could see him play good minutes at some point during the season.
Moving on to free agency, the Lakers looked to make a splash. They did exactly that and some, by signing NBA superstar LeBron James. Agreeing to a 4-year, $154 million deal, James is a gamechanger for a young Lakers team. The signing started a domino effect, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope re-signing with the team. Shortly after, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee became Lakers. The team went on to add Rajon Rondo and Michael Beasley, all on short-term, flexible deals. The alternative was trading the bulk of the core to acquire a second star, something James was not on board with.
Now, with these additions, the team did lose talent. Arguably the best Laker last season, Julius Randle walked, due to his agent. It’s fair to say Aaron Mintz has had a woeful off-season. Center Brook Lopez also signed elsewhere, a big loss for the Lakers. As expected, Thomas also walked, signing with the Denver Nuggets. However, one outgoing player outdoes the rest. Luol Deng is finally gone, with the extremely expensive free agent finally agreeing to a buyout with the team. Thus giving the Lakers more money and options come free agency in 2019.
2018-19 Season Prediction
This Lakers team has talent, perhaps more than some are willing to admit. Led by the leagues best player, this Lakers team will make the playoffs. If healthy, they would’ve won at least 40 games last season, so 50 wins should be the goal. A strong bench and an improving young core will surround James with more support than he had last season in Cleveland. The Western Conference is tough, as usual. This team’s main competition will come from OKC, Houston, and Utah with Golden State likely topping the conference. Those four teams all lack one thing, they don’t have LeBron James.
This team has gone from a rebuild to ready to compete for a top-four seed. How Walton’s group react to such expectations will be interesting early on, but expect the roster to adapt and get stronger as the season goes on.
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