5 Reasons the Los Angeles Lakers Could Outperform Low Expectations in 2014-15
Search around for (objective) predictions of L.A.'s win total for the coming year, and you'd be hard pressed to find a figure that climbs out of the low 30s.
Bleacher Report's Bryant Knox—who broke down the Lakers' record month by month—has them pegged for 34 victories.
ESPN's Summer Forecast was even more pessimistic, projecting the league's glamour franchise for just 30 wins.
Preseason predictions, though, are no more than educated guesses. Just look at what all the pundits were saying about the Phoenix Suns this time last year.
And like that surprising Suns team, the Lakers are going to outperform their low expectations for this season.
The Return of Kobe Bryant
Part of the reason everyone is lukewarm on the Lakers is that no one knows what to expect out of Kobe Bryant.
The 36-year-old is coming off of two serious leg injuries and has played in all of six games over the past 18 months.
That's usually not a precursor for an All-NBA-caliber season.
But this isn't just any aging veteran trying to make a comeback from debilitating injury—it's the Black Mamba.
Bryant may not have the lift and explosion he once did, but those athletic qualities haven't been the hallmarks of his game for the past several years anyway.
Instead, he has come to rely more and more on a steady diet of post-ups—which he does better than any other guard in the game—shot fakes and jab steps to generate clean looks at the basket.
As one of the craftiest players in the league, Bryant will always be able to get his shot off, making him the focal point of opposing defenses on a nightly basis and freeing up his teammates in the process.
His preseason debut was a good omen, as Bryant showed he can still score as well as create shots for others.
A New Philosophy
New head coach Byron Scott vows to bring changes to the team's culture.
And it starts with the defense.
Only two teams allowed more points per possession in 2013-14 than the Lakers did. Scott won't allow that trend to continue.
"Defensively, we’ll start to work from day one," Scott told Mike Trudell in an offseason Q&A, "because that’s something we have to get better at right away, and we will."
Scott commands respect with his impressive resume, both as a player and as a coach, and his voice carries extra weight in Los Angeles, where he helped hang some of the banners currently on exhibit inside the Staples Center.
After last season's debacle under Mike D'Antoni, the Lakers will welcome a new voice in the locker room.
A Deep Big-Man Rotation
The Lakers couldn't bang with their opponents down low last season, as they had perhaps the worst crop of big men in the league suiting up for them.
A washed-up Chris Kaman, a rookie Ryan Kelly, an eventually waived Shawne Williams, a badly overmatched Wes Johnson and the illustrious Robert Sacre all made double-digit starts for L.A. at the 4 or the 5 in 2014.
This offseason, the front office made it a priority to put together a solid big-man corps.
The Lakers drafted Julius Randle in the first round, won the amnesty auction for Carlos Boozer and stole Ed Davis in free agency to go along with a re-signed Jordan Hill.
Kelly, who made 25 starts a year ago mostly out of sheer desperation for a warm body with size, is now the fifth option on the depth chart.
With so many above-average bigs on the roster, the Lakers will avoid a massive drop-off when their starters leave the floor.
And—perhaps more importantly—they are much more capable of withstanding losses on the front line due to injury.
Improved Point Guard Play
The NBA has become a league dominated by point guards.
It seems like every team now has a young, speedy, talented man leading the attack.
That is, every team except the Lakers.
According to 82games.com, L.A.'s lead guards produced a player efficiency rating (PER) of just 13.2. Opposing point guards put up a 17.6 PER against the Lakers in 2014.
That's what happens when you're forced to start a signed-off-the-street Kendall Marshall for more than half the season.
The gap in point guard play should close substantially this season.
Steve Nash is healthy (for now) and put on a promising display in the preseason opener. He's not the MVP of years past, but a Nash in form can still be a devastating offensive weapon with his all-time great shooting and passing ability.
Backup Jeremy Lin may be the Lakers' most dynamic point guard since Nick Van Exel.
He's one of the best at getting into the paint and finishing around the rim and really improved his three-point shooting last year to become a multifaceted threat.
It remains to be seen how that combo will hold up defensively, but on offense, L.A.'s point guards will produce much more than they did a season ago.
So many of the Lakers' key components are highly motivated this season on an individual level.
Kobe Bryant is out to prove that his career is far from finished.
Steve Nash wants to show that he can earn the money the Lakers are paying him.
Carlos Boozer is determined to stick it to the Chicago Bulls for outright waiving him via the amnesty clause.
Jeremy Lin will fight the notion that he is a fluke who washed out when given a chance in Houston.
Julius Randle craves to show that he should have been drafted higher than seventh overall.
The list goes on and on.
Combine that with the "Nobody Believes in Us!" factor as a collective, and you have a team that will compete hard every night to prove the doubters wrong.
The Lakers will surprise people this season by outperforming their expectations.