Early Win-Loss Predictions for Los Angeles Lakers Next Season

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Early Win-Loss Predictions for Los Angeles Lakers Next Season
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Can Kobe Bryant carry the Lakers to the playoffs yet again?

The rebuild rolls on as the Los Angeles Lakers struck out in free agency this summer.

Saying they struck out may be a bit harsh, as they did scrape some decent value out of the bargain bin—let's call it a bloop single.

The biggest fish the Lakers caught this offseason were Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin, but neither guy moves the needle all that much.

Of the two, Lin will be the more productive player. He is a very good scorer with the ball in his hands and showed a lot of improvement in his three-point shooting last season.

The big question with Lin is whether or not he will start at the point this year.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Jeremy Lin figures to get the bulk of the minutes at point guard for the Lakers.

Lin's game is optimally suited to coming off the bench—a role the Houston Rockets smartly put him in this past season—where he has more freedom to dominate the ball and hunt for his own shot.

Facilitating the offense is still not a strength of Lin's, and his shaky decision-making leads to a lot of turnovers.

However, if Steve Nash can't stay on the court—and at this point there's no reason to expect he will—Lin will be thrust into the starting job. He can do an adequate job there, but in a conference loaded with high-quality 1s—including three point guards in the Pacific Division alone who were All-NBA in 2014—he will have a tough time just holding his own.

As for Boozer, the $3.3 million L.A. paid to win his services is not bad for a guy who can still score and rebound at a decent clip. 

Unfortunately, that clip is rapidly deteriorating. Boozer is coming off the worst season of his career, posting a PER below the league average for the first time ever.

Ned Dishman/Getty Images
Carlos Boozer will look to rebound after his worst season as a pro.

A career 52 percent shooter from the field, Boozer failed to connect on even 46 percent of his field goals in 2014, and he actually finished in the negative column in offensive win shares.

Playing in Chicago's anemic offense probably had something to do with that, but on the flip side, being a part of Tom Thibodeau's soul-crushing defense probably masked a lot of Boozer's flaws on that end of the floor as well.

What's most off-putting about Boozer's acquisition is that it seems to block first-round pick Julius Randle from a major role.

Randle is the Lakers' greatest hope at this point. Among rookies, perhaps only Jabari Parker is as ready to contribute right away as Randle is.

He needs to be thrown into the fire from day one with the freedom to make unlimited mistakes to accelerate his development. 

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Julius Randle will be relied upon heavily off the bat.

The front office managed to maintain future cap flexibility this offseason. When they have loads of cap space in the crucial summer of 2016, superstar free agents need to look at the Lakers and see a blossoming star in Randle to entice them to sign with L.A.

Right now, L.A.'s only strength is its deep rotation of solid big men. In addition to Randle and Boozer, the Lakers brought back Jordan Hill on an expensive—but, more importantly, short—contract and got great value in scooping up Ed Davis on the cheap. They also re-signed Ryan Kelly, who flashed an intriguing offensive repertoire last season.

With all those guys in the mix, it's difficult to envision Randle getting the playing time he needs—unless the Lakers do something absurd like start Boozer at small forward.

Despite having a solid core of big men, no one stands out as a star—unless Randle exceeds even the most optimistic of expectations.

Even worse, the only one amid that group who is even adequate at protecting the rim is Davis, who is probably fourth in line for minutes.

Among the 144 NBA players who defended at least three shots at the rim in 2014, Hill, Boozer and Kelly ranked 63rd, 125th and 139th respectively in opponents' field-goal percentage when defending shots at the rim. And Randle did not show great promise in that capacity in college.

Ron Hoskins/Getty Images
Ed Davis looks like the sole Laker capable of protecting the rim, but will he play enough to make an appreciable difference?

Without a back line that can erase mistakes and effectively protect the prime real estate around the hoop, the Lakers once again project as a bottom-of-the-barrel defense in 2015—especially given that they play in a conference that boasted eight of the league's 10 best offenses on a per-possession basis last year.

There are no new faces on the wing, as L.A. decided to bring back Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, Xavier Henry and Wes Johnson on contracts varying in length and cost.

The Lakers' success hinges on Bryant's re-integration. 

When last healthy, Bryant was still one of the most brilliant offensive players in the game. But he's going to be 36 this upcoming season and is coming off two major injuries. 

If he can't consistently draw double and triple teams like the Bryant of old, L.A.'s offense will struggle like it did last season. 

Swapping Mike D'Antoni for Byron Scott won't help on that end. Only once in 13 seasons as a coach has Scott overseen an offense that finished better than 13th in points per possession.

Losing Pau Gasol will be a huge detriment to the Lakers' offense as well, and not necessarily for the reasons that immediately jump to mind.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Without Pau Gasol around, the brunt of the playmaking duties will fall squarely on Bryant's shoulders.

Yes, he was a great, versatile scorer, but L.A.'s new bigs should be able to replace most of that production.

It's his passing that will be sorely missed. If Nash is unable to play a large role and Lin's facilitating doesn't evolve, then Bryant will be the only above-average playmaker on the roster.

And if he's at the point where defenses don't have to send multiple defenders at him, then that skill will be mitigated as well.

Great NBA offenses are built upon exquisite passing. Teams that can't move the ball well are easy to guard, even if they have a collection of good individual scorers like the Lakers do.

There is enough offensive talent here to cobble together a unit that ranks in the league's upper half, but it will require several things to go exactly right. In all likelihood we are looking at a team that will again finish below league average on both ends of the floor.

In a conference as stacked as the West, that spells disaster—which is what the Lakers' season will turn out to be if a playoff berth is the expectation.

 

Final Prediction

Record: 31-51

Conference Standing: 13th in the West

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