Saturday, October 11, 2014

2014-15 Season Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

Pacific Division
Coach: Byron Scott
Power Ranking: 26

The Lakers continue to float between rebuilding and competing, held in basketball purgatory by the impact of Kobe Bryant's massive contract and aging joints.  Kobe is back this season, after only appearing in six games during the 2013-14 season.  He'll have to be in prime form for the Lakers to contend for a playoff spot in 2014-15, as the Lakers supporting cast is devoid of established NBA talent, aside from the aging Steve Nash and Carlos Boozer.  Nick Young looked like he was developing into a valuable contributor last season, however a thumb injury suffered in training camp will have him out until December.  Unless Boozer and Nash have found the fountain of youth, Kobe figures to be short on help this year.

The Lakers will be coached by journeyman Byron Scott, who hasn't lead a team to a winning record since the 2008-09 New Orleans Hornets.  Bryant, Nash and Boozer, Scott also appears to be well past his prime, as he hasn't shown any semblance of being able to coach since he was fired for not being able to get the Nets over the hump in the early 2000s.  His successful run in New Orleans coincided with Chris Paul's presence, creating a situation where it'd practically be harder to lose than to win.  In Los Angeles his pupil with star potential will be PF Julius Randle, who finds himself in a suddenly crowded front-court, fighting for time with Jordan Hill, Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis and Ryan Kelly.  Unless things go off the rails early, Randle may have to fight for his share of time in the post.  With Kobe still in town, the urgency for a youth movement may not be strong.  How much that delays his development will be seen in the coming months and years.  The impact of fighting off what seems like an obvious call to rebuild will also seen.

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Off. Eff.
Def. Eff.
FTr 3PAr TS% OReb.% DReb.% TOV%
101.9(21st) 107.9(28th) .263 .291 54.2% 20.2% 71.0% 13.7%

Los Angeles was merely mediocre on offense last year, thanks to strong outside shooting.  Their 38.1% three point shooting ranked third in the league, carrying an offense devoid of a number one option while Kobe was sidelined.  Their 47.8% 2-point shooting was slightly below league average, ranking 19th.  The Lakers were also mediocre when it came to taking care of the ball, ranking 14th in the NBA in TOV%, a sign of the gap caused by Nash's absence for 67 games.  Where things really fell apart was on the glass, as the team's 20.2 OReb% ranked dead last in the league.  Fixing that hole could help prop the offense up and move them closer to the middle of the league in efficiency, as will the return of Bryant.

Defensive rebounding was also an issue, as the Lakers also finished dead last in DReb%.  That wasn't the only issue on defense though; the Lakers ranked 28th in opponent TOV% and allowed opposing offenses to shoot 50.4% inside the arc, good for 25th in the league.  The Lakers were average at defending the three ball, allowing an opponent 3PAr of .251.  In line with expectations, Lakers' opponents shot 36.1% from three, right around the league average.  The bright spot for last year's Lakers defense was their ability to defend without fouling; LA managed a .192 opponent FTr, good for 5th in the league.


Mike Trudell of interviewed Byron Scott after he was hired this summer, unearthing some of what Scott plans to do with this year's team.  When asked about offense, Scott stated that he plans to bring the team along slowly, but would like to run the Princeton offense, which has been a staple throughout his coaching career.  The offense, which relies on constant, precise motion, and big men who can shoot and/or pass, should fit the Lakers' personnel fairly well.  Ryan Kelly and Julius Randle especially fit well in the system, with their ability to be a threat from 18+ feet away from the basket.  Finding players to finish shots in the paint may prove tougher, although that can be overcome with solid passing and movement.  The team will have to fight the urge to stand around and watch Kobe go to work.

On defense, Scott recognizes the team's need to improve on defense, after watching the games courtside as an analyst last season.  He recognizes the team's need to establish a defensive identity this year, after watching the Lakers struggle under Mike D'Antoni.  He pledged to improve the team's consistency be solidifying the team's defensive strategy.  He specifically mentioned the team's need to improve their pick-and-roll defense.  D'Antoni's teams didn't play PNR action consistently, something that Scott thinks really hurt the defense.  By establishing protocol for how to play the PNR, Scott hopes to minimize the issue caused by the team;s lack of a rim protector.  Scott hopes the Lakers can keep teams out of the paint, which may be a struggle when Nash is on the floor.  Nonetheless, this team should be improved on defense, if only because it will be hard to be worse.

Acquisitions: PF Julius Randle (7th pick), G Jordan Clarkson (46th pick), PF Ed Davis, PF Carlos Boozer, PG Jeremy Lin
Departures: PG Jordan Farmar, PG Kendall Marshall, SG Jodie Meeks, G Kent Bazemore, F/C Pau Gasol, C Chris Kaman

PG: Steve Nash
Jeremy Lin may very well start a fair share of games, but for now the two-time MVP gets the nod.  He's far removed from those days though, and Lakers fans should have low expectations for the former star.

SG: Kobe Bryant ('12-'13 stats)
Kobe's return from an injured left knee that caused him to miss 76 games in 2013-14 will likely determine the Lakers' level of success in 2014-15.  He's not likely to replicate his solid season from two years ago, but he needs to be classic Kobe for LA to compete.

SF: Nick Young
Young will probably be out until December thanks to a thumb injury he suffered in training camp.  In his stead, Wes Johnson and Xavier Henry will battle for the SF minutes.  Young finally lived up to his talent last season, producing a PER above 15 for the first time in his seven year career.  His .321 FTr was by far the best of his career, as was his 56.4 TS%.

PF: Carlos Boozer
Boozer ought to hope a change of scenery can help him rebound from the worst season of his career, which led to the Bulls amnestying him in the off-season.  The Lakers entered the winning claim and now he finds himself in less green pastures.  Boozer has lost his scoring punch and is no longer one of the league's best rebounding PFs.

C: Jordan Hill
Hill parlayed a solid, steady season into a two-year, $18 million deal in the summer.  If he can replicate last season's career-best numbers, he just may be worth it.  The 6'10, 27-year old shot 69% within three feet of the rim last season, and ranked 10th in TRB% among players who played at least 20 MPG and over 50 games.

PG: Jeremy Lin
The Rockets shipped Lin out of town to clear room under the salary cap to sign Chris Bosh...and then...well.  He'll play out the last year of his contract as a Laker, making him as valuable for his future expiring salary as he is for his play.  At the very least, he's a much better defender than Nash.  All things considered, Lin is probably the best PG on the roster.

SG: Xavier Henry
Henry is a FT generating machine, but he doesn't do much else well on offense.  For his career he's a 42.2% 2-point shooter and sits at 32.5% behind the arc.  Henry is a mediocre rebounder and passer, so he'll need to do more on offense to earn his minutes.  He's only 23 years old, so there may be more left for him to develop.

SF: Wes Johnson
Believe it or not, the numbers you see above are the best that Johnson has managed in his career.  Despite being in the league for as long as Xavier Henry, he's already 27.  If he can replicate last year's solid three point shooting, he'll maintain status as a reliable role player.  Getting to the FT line more is the key to improving his efficiency.

PF: Julius Randle (college stats)
Randle is the future in LA, but it's unknown at this point to what extent that the future is now.  With the acquisitions of Boozer and Davis, the minutes at PF may be hard to come by.  However, he fits well in the Princeton offense thanks to his ability to create going towards the basket.  If he can develop a reliable mid-range shot, his career should be long and successful.

F/C: Ed Davis
The Grizzlies screwed Ed Davis over after acquiring him in the Rudy Gay trade, using him sparingly despite his solid production in those limited minutes.  Now he finds himself in a crowded Lakers frontcourt, although his odds at winning minutes are better.  The two-year, $2.1M deal he signed with LA was a steal for the Lakers.


Now five seasons removed from winning the title in 2010, the Lakers are staring a second straight season without a playoff berth right in the face.  In the competitive Pacific division, it looks like the Lakers will compete with the Kings for dead last in the division.  Even with Kobe back, the Lakers may be one of the worst teams in the league.  There just isn't enough substance on the supporting cast to carry this team too much past what they achieved last year.  With no gimme games in the Western Conference for a team that starts Nick Young and Jordan Hill, it should be another rough year at the Staples Center.


The Lakers ought to be striving to keep their draft pick this season, which goes to the Suns if it falls outside of the top five.  The Lakers also own the Rockets pick if they make the playoffs, so if things look bleak early on, the Lakers would be wise to keep the rebuilding project in mind.  If they are able to add a top five pick, and a selection in the 18-25 range to what they already have with cap space opening up and Julius Randle on board, they may find a return to glory sooner than later.  However, they can't get there by just treading water.  They need to commit to a strategy; and losing seems more plausible than winning this season.  If Kobe plays 55 or more games, the Lakers will likely win around 30, which is the worst-case scenario for this organization and leave this proud franchise hoping that the lottery protects their best interests.

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