What to Expect from Every Los Angeles Lakers Player in 2014-15
While we know what the team's roster will look like (for the most part), we can only speculate as to individual expectations. Can Lin return to anything close to Linsanity? Will Carlos Boozer revitalize his career?
Maybe most importantly: Will Kobe Bryant remind us of the superstar that has dominated the league for nearly two decades?
With August coming to an end, the Lakers have 13 players on the roster, as shown by ESPN.com. Each player has something to offer, but time will tell whether these expectations are ultimately fulfilled.
*Players are listed in alphabetical order (last name).
End of the Bench
Assuming the Lakers don't expand past a 10-man rotation to start the 2014-15 season, three players from the current roster will find themselves fighting for court time. Two more names will be added to this list if the organization chooses to fill out its 15-man roster.
Los Angeles has officially signed rookie point guard Jordan Clarkson, giving the team a young player who played extremely well in summer league. The hope is that he's not needed at point guard, meaning Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin are producing at a high level all year.
However, knowing what we know about both players' recent pasts regarding injuries, Clarkson had better be ready just in case.
The Lakers chose to bring back Ryan Kelly, but the big man joins an incredibly crowded frontcourt. At power forward alone, the team already features Carlos Boozer, Julius Randle and Ed Davis ahead of the 23-year-old.
In 2013-14, Kelly averaged 8.0 points and 3.7 rebounds in 59 contests with L.A. He compiled those numbers in 22.2 minutes per game, meaning we can expect a drop in his sophomore season.
Like Kelly, Robert Sacre will be the victim of a loaded frontcourt. Although he's technically the backup 5 on the current depth chart, we're likely to see some imitation centers coming from the power forward position.
ESPN doesn't think too highly of the Carlos Boozer pickup. In a ranking of this offseason's "worst newcomers," the 32-year-old was ranked No. 1 despite being signed on the cheap through waivers.
This is why Boozer has so much to prove entering his 13th season. As B/R's Kevin Ding put it back in July:
Boozer has made at least $10 million per season for 10 consecutive years, though he does have two All-Star berths in that stretch. After the Chicago Bulls—with two standout big men in Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, to be fair—found use for Boozer last season in only the first and third quarters at the rate of $15.3 million, his value was solidified at this low, low price for a limited time only.
With the pressure of being overpaid lifted off his shoulders (although he's still collecting a check from Chicago), it now becomes simply about how much he can produce. In L.A.'s rotation, Boozer "'absolutely' expects to start," according to Ding, and he's stated, "I have a lot to prove."
The question here is: Will he be a leader and a teacher for Julius Randle, or will he stunt the youngster's growth by stealing minutes?
Expect Boozer to start early in the year. If the team is surprising everyone by remaining in the playoff hunt, look for the veteran to stay in the first five alongside center Jordan Hill.
But if the team flops like many league-wide expect it to, Boozer's short-term production, no matter how good it is, will become less important than getting Randle the experience he needs to jump-start his career as one of the newest faces of the Lakers.
What can we expect out of Kobe Bryant in 2014-15? That is the $23.5 million question.
With that salary this season, Bryant is the highest-paid player in the NBA, according to HoopsHype.com. Two or three years ago, this type of deal would have made complete sense. But at 36 years old and coming off two major injuries, the pressure is going to be on him to prove that the monumental payday was more than just loyalty on the part of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Money aside, we can expect the Mamba to enter the year "100 percent." He said so much himself while being interviewed on Brazilian television (h/t LA Times, Fox Sports West), which is a good sign for fans in L.A.
The problem here is that Bryant was presumably healthy when he came back most recently. That comeback lasted six games, and an injury once again ended his season.
If Bryant can stay healthy, he's going to be more than just the emotional leader of this group—he'll be the runaway statistical leader as well. He's still an ultra-skilled player with a killer's mentality. And while ESPN Insider's Bradford Doolittle (subscription required) might not have him in his top 10 shooting guards (according to WARP projections), he's never been one to back down, especially when he can prove someone wrong in the process.
Ed Davis was a steal during free agency. Not only did the Lakers pick up a young, emerging big man to help round out their rotation, but they did it for less than $1 million, as shown by HoopsHype.com.
Unfortunately for Davis, he's going to find himself toward the bottom of the rotation when it comes to big men. The Lakers' frontcourt ended up surprisingly cluttered once free agency passed, and players such as Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill will earn minutes based on their past production, while Julius Randle could very well do the same because of his potential.
If Davis has anything going for him at this point, it's that he might be the best defender of the bunch. As B/R's Ehran Kahn points out:
The 6'10" forward ranked fourth in the entire league in opponent's field-goal percentage while defending the rim among players who played an appreciable number of minutes and defended at least three such shots per game, per NBA.com.
His frontcourt mates Jordan Hill, Carlos Boozer and Ryan Kelly ranked 55th, 109th and 124th, respectively, out of the 128 players who qualified under those criteria.
Davis won't be the flashiest player in L.A's frontcourt, but if defense means anything, as we expect it will in Byron Scott's system, he could be a surprise contributor by the end of the year.
Xavier Henry played in 43 games during 2013-14 with the Los Angeles Lakers. He dealt with injuries (and a confusing rotation) that kept him off the floor at times, but when he played consistently he showed flashes of excellence in a contract year.
Entering 2014-15, Henry will have an opportunity to write the same story, just hopefully without the injuries. He's in another contract season, and with the Lakers' future so far up in the air, there's no telling where an offer could come from during 2015 free agency.
Henry's versatility will give him the opportunity to impress. The bulk of his minutes came at shooting guard and small forward in 2014-15, according to 82games.com, but he also saw minutes at the 1, albeit few of them.
With health as big a variable as anything on this roster, Henry could have a chance to showcase his skills at multiple positions. Unfortunately, efficiency has never been a specialty of the now-23-year-old. And while we can't expect that to change entering his fifth season, fans in Tinseltown can certainly hope that his growth last season will pay off this year.
Jordan Hill has officially been paid, and if all goes according to plan, he's about to propel his career to another level accordingly.
After re-signing with the Lakers, Hill, 27, is slated to start at center consistently for the first time since entering the league in 2009. There's no one else on the roster who can step in and provide the size and skills he can at the 5, and he's coming off a 2013-14 campaign that saw him post a Personal Efficiency Rating (PER) of 19.4—a team high for L.A., according to ESPN.com.
Will Hill actually improve? Almost undoubtedly. As impressive as he was last season (9.7 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 0.9 BPG, 54.9 FG%), he was limited to just 20.8 points per contest.
As Hill stated last year to Lakers.com's Mike Trudell, "When I'm out there, I feel invincible, that I can overcome anything."
That's exactly what fans want to hear with more minutes (and a whole lot more responsibility) coming the big man's way.
Wesley Johnson is back with the Lakers, and if recent quotes from Byron Scott mean anything, he could be back in the starting lineup, where he was for 62 contests in 2013-14.
Scott has noted when speaking to high school students recently that "all the other starting spots [aside from Kobe Bryant] are up for grabs." Making things even more interesting, Scott told Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, "I do love Swaggy (Nick Young) coming off the bench."
Although Johnson appears to have the edge over Young when it comes to the starting small forward spot, you can expect the 27-year-old to play a smaller overall role than his positional companion. Young is the better shooter at this point in their careers, and with Bryant back in the lineup, there's less reason for the fifth-year player to take more than eight shots per game like he did last season.
At this point, defense will be where Johnson makes his name. Although not traditionally as menacing as Thabo Sefolosha on the perimeter, that's the kind of role the former Syracuse product could look to fill in Byron Scott's system.
Johnson is even a better shooter than Sefolosha, giving him more reason to fight for minutes if he can become a true three-and-D presence in a contract year.
If the Lakers are smart, they'll give Jeremy Lin the starting job at point guard. It doesn't have to be Game 1 of the season, but sooner rather than later, the team needs to figure out if it has a point guard for the future with Lin in a contract season.
Although this won't be the popular choice among some (both Lin detractors and fans of what Steve Nash has done over his career), it's a move that will better prepare the Lakers organization for what could be a huge 2015 offseason.
This isn't just about the future, though. This is also about current team chemistry. As B/R's Stephen Babb put it:
The Lakers already have one ball-dominating playmaker in the starting lineup. Rather than asking Nash to compete with Bryant for touches, why not make him orchestrator-in-chief of the bench? It would ensure the veteran more touches, and it just might translate into better performances from other reserves.
Can we expect Linsanity 2.0 in L.A.? Not likely. But that's why placing him next to the Mamba in the starting lineup would behoove all parties involved.
The Lakers would have a chance to evaluate Lin's potential as a playmaker, and they'd do it without putting excess pressure on the 26-year-old to be a go-to option.
In case you haven't grasped the theme of this analysis, uncertainty is a word that perfectly describes almost every position for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Sticking with that theme, enter Steve Nash.
At 40 years old, the future Hall of Famer is entering what will likely be the last season of his career. He's coming off back-to-back injury-plagued seasons, and the hope is that he can simply get through the year without doing too much damage to his body.
Nash could have retired this summer, but he was very candid in his reason for not walking away just yet. "It's just a reality," Nash said in a Grantland.com video. "I'm not going to retire because I want the money."
Whether you agree or disagree with his reasons for staying, Nash is still in L.A., and the debate of starting him is sure to be a hot topic. But while he's earned the right to start based on career accolades alone, chances are we'll see him off the bench by the end of the year, if not from the start.
Whether or not he starts, you know what you're getting from Nash. You're getting a sweet stroke and insane court vision. You're also getting a historically inferior defender who has actually lost a step on that end of the floor.
Then again, all of this is moot if the veteran can't stay healthy. Uncertainty remains regarding Nash, which will be the case until he's played his final game.
Fans with the future in mind want Julius Randle to start right away. ESPN's Arash Markazi has offered his insight, saying, "Nash and Boozer might start the season as starters but Lin and Randle will finish the season with more starts."
Chances are, this ends up being exactly what happens, at least as it pertains to the aforementioned power forwards.
No matter how many games Randle ends up starting, one thing is for sure: The Lakers selected him seventh overall with the future of the organization in mind. Even if Boozer returns to All-Star form, Randle will get his burn; and if Boozer fails to reclaim his good name, that will just mean more minutes for Randle early in the season.
Defensively is where most people expect to see a tough adjustment to the professional game, but the truth is he wasn't all that good on that end of the floor even in college. The bigger question then is: Can he be as impressive on the glass, and can he put the ball in the bucket the same way he did at Kentucky?
Both of these questions should be answered with a resounding yes this season, but as with all first-year players, there will be stretches of adversity.
The hope is that Randle gets those rough patches out of the way while he's still behind Boozer and that he can be a bright spot on this roster even if things don't go as hoped everywhere else.
Wesley Johnson is expected to start for the Lakers in 2014-15. This leaves Nick Young to play the role of sixth man, one that will fit him well as long as he can accept playing behind the first five.
From a talent perspective as well as one of overall production, Young deserves to start over Johnson. The score-first perimeter player averaged 17.9 points per game on 43.5-percent shooting (38.6 percent from deep), but if Johnson does indeed earn the nod at starting small forward, it will be for two reasons: defense and chemistry with Kobe Bryant.
With Young accustomed to shooting nearly 14 shots per game, there may not be enough basketballs on the floor for he and Bryant to share. Just as importantly, Johnson is the superior defender, although Young did show good effort on that end of the floor much of last year.
Above all else, Swaggy P will provide the energy off the bench this team needs. If Bryant is healthy and productive as expected, Young's numbers will see a dip from last season, but that will be a sacrifice Lakers fans are okay with—especially if the team is surpassing expectations along the way.