The excitement within the Los Angeles Lakers organization has returned. Scoring in the NBA Draft the past two years and making waves during NBA Free Agency last summer has the Lakers back on everyone’s minds. However, the new era has been met with challenges. The Lakers have fallen below expectations. Their current record is 26-24, which has them out of the playoff picture for now. Can the Lakers turn things around soon? What has worked for them so far? Let’s take a look at the Lakers’ first half of the season.
Los Angeles Lakers Mid-Season Report
The Gift and the Curse of King James
The Lakers took the NBA by storm with they signed all-star LeBron James to a four-year deal. James’ presence has shifted the Lakers’ culture. He has made the Lakers into a threat and a challenger to dethrone the Golden State Warriors. Also, the Lakers are major players in free agency once again. James’ stat line is still impressive. Playing in his 15th year, he averages 27.3 points per game, 8.3 rebounds per game, and 7.1 assists per game. However, James’ first year in Los Angeles has caused some problems.
First, the Lakers have become too dependent on James. Because of a groin injury, James has missed the last 16 games, which is the longest stretch of his career. The Lakers are 6-10 without him. They will have to learn to win consistently without James. Also, James’ presence has stifled the growth of Brandon Ingram.
Ingram was due to have a big year. So far, he averages 16.6 points per game, which is only 0.5 more than last season. Ingram’s three-point and free throw percentage have dropped from last year. Ingram has yet to find his groove playing alongside and without James. Lastly, reports have surfaced that James’ camp wants a new head coach. That puts unnecessary pressure on young head coach Luke Walton, who has been thrown into a win-now situation.
The Rise of Kyle Kuzma
Kyle Kuzma continues to impress NBA fans. In his second year, he averages 19.1 points per game, which is a 3.0 point increase from his rookie year. Also, Kuzma’s shooting and free throw percentage have increased as well. Kuzma’s solid play has landed him in the starting lineup. During James’ absence, Kuzma has enjoyed a fruitful month. On January 9th against the Detroit Pistons, he scored a career-high 41 points. Kuzma had back-to-back 30 point games as well. Kuzma has definitely grown into a sensational player and has a bright future in the NBA. The only question is will the Lakers keep him around. Kuzma has been rumored to be a part of a trade package for New Orleans Pelicans all-star Anthony Davis.
The Slow Burn to Showtime
Slowly but surely, the Lakers are returning to the forefront of the NBA. Their offense and defense have both improved as the season wears on. Their defense needed to improve the most. In the first 11 games of the season, the Lakers gave up at least 110 points to their opponents. Now, the Lakers are 20th overall in the NBA in defense. The Lakers’ defense is in the top ten in field goal and three-point percentage. The offense is tied for 11th overall and will be better when James returns. Although the Lakers still have a long way to go, they are showing positive signs. Also, the Lakers should return to the playoffs. They have not been in the playoffs since 2013, and the drought is due to end very soon.
What Needs Improvement?
The Lakers have been turnover-prone all season long. They average 15.4 turnovers per game, which is tied for 28th in the NBA. Part of the reason is chemistry. The Lakers have three players in LeBron James, Lonzo Ball, and Rajon Rondo who run the offense. The Lakers must figure out which points of the game will benefit all three.
Three-point shooting needs to improve. They are 28th in the NBA in three-point percentage at 33.6%. If the Lakers can increase that percentage a bit, they will be more dangerous. Lastly, the Lakers have to limit opponents on the boards. They give up 47.1 rebounds per game, which is 26th in the NBA. Their 0.1 differential is too narrow of a margin.
Second Half Expectations
The Lakers will improve on their record when James returns. The Lakers need him in order to be successful. Seven out of their next eight games are against playoff-caliber teams. Without him, they have little to no chance of earning a playoff spot. It will take a little time after the All-Star break for the Lakers to flourish. Injuries happen to key players at the wrong time, which has limited their potential. Assuming good health, the Lakers will finish as a top-five team in the West at the end of the season. They have the potential to challenge any top tier teams.
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