Additions: LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, Javale McGee, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley, Moritz Wagner
Subtractions: Julius Randle, Luol Deng, Brook Lopez, Isaiah Thomas
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: LeBron James
C: Javale McGee
Key Bench Players: Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley, Moritz Wagner, Josh Hart
Welcome to Los Angeles Lebron James. This Lakers team starts and ends with The King. With LeBron in the mix, the Lakers are finally a playoff team after missing the playoffs every year since 2013. With the GOAT in the mix, LA could reach as high as the three seed in the Western Conference, but by no means is it a lock. The rest of the Lakers roster is still very young with a lot to prove. Luckily for them, they have LBJ who can make almost any player in the NBA better. This roster definitely has more potential than the Cavs team he took to the Finals last postseason. This team has about a 99.9% chance of not making the 2019 NBA Finals because well Golden State, but with LeBron’s leadership and skills, he is the perfect player to mentor the likes of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Kyle Kuzma to set them up for the future.
Before anybody throws a fit over seeing Rajon Rondo in the starting five instead of Lonzo Ball, head coach Luke Walton already made it clear that Rondo will be the team’s starting point guard (Lavar Ball, please don’t be mad). He has the veteran, playoff-tested experience that the team wants in their win-now stage. Other than LBJ and Rondo, the front office went out and snagged 2018 champion and uber-athletic center, Javale McGee, the polarizing Lance Stephenson, and the talented although previously troubled Michael Beasley. It may be the single weirdest offseason I have ever witnessed. These may be the three goofiest characters in all of the NBA: McGee is a staple on Shaqtin’ a Fool, Stephenson likes to blow in LeBron’s ear during the playoffs, and Beasley is a stoner. If there is one man who can bring out the best in this rag-tag group of players, it is, of course, LeBron James.
Right now, the biggest missing piece is a partner-in-crime for LeBron. There is no Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh. No Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love. Where will the King find his partner? The most likely candidate is Brandon Ingram, the third year wing out of Duke. He improved immensely during his sophomore campaign putting up a solid 16.1 points per game on 47.0/39.0/68.1 in addition to 5.3 RPG and 3.9 APG, which were all improvements over his rookie year stats. At 6’10 with athleticism and quickness, Ingram can play both forward spots interchangeably with the King and because of his improved shooting, could feasibly play shooting guard to allow Kyle Kuzma to come in off the bench alongside LeBron. Ingram is a capable defender, not the best, but his length and size allows him to force turnovers. His biggest problem is strength. At 6’10, the Duke product is only 190 pounds. In order to be a more consistent scorer around the hoop and bang with opposing power forwards at times, he must continue to pack on muscle. With all that said, it is easy to see that Ingram has the best potential out of the Lakers’ young core to become a star in the league.
Do not get me wrong, Lonzo Ball is a fantastic young player who figures to be an All Star throughout his prime. He is an explosive athlete with an instinctual feel for the game. His problem is scoring or his lack thereof. This problem starts with his ugly jumpshot that starts at his left hip and flings toward the hoop from his left ear. This led to him shooting an atrocious 30.5% from three in his rookie season. His overall field goal percentage was only a laughable 36%. He is a terrible scorer at the hoop shooting 46% within five feet of the basket. This percentage is worse than 5’9 Isaiah Thomas (47.5%) and the shorter, less athletic Jeremy Lin (50%). At his size and athleticism, there is no reason Ball should be struggling at the hoop. It gets even worse in the mid-range where he shot 26.9% between 3 and 10 feet. Without a reliable floater or pull up jumper, it is very difficult for point guards to be successful scorers. Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving are two unathletic 6’3 point guards but are two of the best finishers in the game because of their floaters, pull-ups, and acrobatics. Outside of his scoring Lonzo had a very solid rookie season, putting up 7 assists and 7 rebounds per game. If Lonzo just wants to be a taller, more athletic Rondo or Ricky Rubio, that’s fine with me, but if he wants to be that perennial All Star and live up to his second overall draft status, Ball needs to become a better scorer.
Kyle Kuzma is a tremendous bench player who can only improve under LeBron’s tutelage. As a combo forward, Kuzma has the athleticism, playmaking, and scoring ability to play the 3, and has the size and shooting to defend power forwards and operate as a stretch-4. At this moment in time after a much more successful rookie season, Kuzma is better than Lonzo Ball until the Big Baller can prove us wrong.
The Lakers are automatically one of the best teams in the West with the addition of LeBron. I am not doubting that. But I am doubting their status as a title contender. Without a legitimate running mate for LeBron who can consistently score and relieve the King’s pressure, there is not a chance that this team can compete with the Warriors. Could they compete with the Rockets in a seven game series? With the team on LeBron’s shoulders, definitely. The Lakers need more consistency from Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma next to LeBron. They need Lonzo to have any improvements in his scoring ability. They need Javale McGee to not be a bonehead and make stupid plays. They also need Kentavious Caldwell-Pope not to be put on house arrest so he can actually play in games outside of Los Angeles. Any production from Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson is a bonus. There are too many needs for LeBron and Co. to be a legitimate force in the Western Conference playoffs. They are looking forward to next offseason to sign another star to pair with the King. For now, just let the young guys improve, get them some playoff experience, and let LeBron do his thing.
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*For yesterday’s article on the Los Angeles Clippers, click here
Up next tomorrow: Memphis Grizzlies
University of South Carolina ’21