10 Bold Predictions for the Los Angeles Lakers During 2014-15 Season
Exhibition play may still be in progress for the Los Angeles Lakers, but it’s already time for some bold predictions about the regular season.
With six players out due to injuries, a new head coach and lots of roster changes, one might think said predictions to be a tad presumptuous.
Au contraire, sports fans. We shall boldly go where many other boldly predictive articles have gone before—out on a fragile limb.
There won’t be any discussion of a presumed championship run—that would be sheer madness at this point.
But there will be rays of hope and at least one dark cloud.
Kobe Bryant Averages 24 per Game
After missing all but six games last season due to a fractured knee, Kobe Bryant is back and highly motivated.
He has looked better by the game during preseason play and doesn’t seem to be showing any ill effects from either the knee injury or the torn Achilles tendon that preceded it.
Will Bryant be the scoring monster he once was? That’s doubtful—now 36 years old and entering his 19th season in the NBA, he’s not going to put up the kind of numbers that he did at his apex. Bryant is a two-time scoring champion, averaging 35.4 during the 2005-06 season and 31.6 the following year.
But, he’ll put up a lot more points than he did last season. Per Mark Medina for the Los Angeles Daily News, Lakers coach Byron Scott feels Bryant is “a guy who’s still going to average probably 23-24 points per game."
Bryant enters the regular season with 31,700 points, needing just 593 to pass Michael Jordan for third place on the all-time scoring list.
Averaging 24 points per game, Bryant would reach that illustrious mark on Dec. 19 against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Jordan Hill Averages a Double-Double
Jordan Hill signed an $18 million two-year deal with the Lakers this season, based on their need for a starting center and an appreciation for his relentless rebounding and all-out hustle.
Hill’s preference for inside scoring and defense didn’t exactly win him extra minutes in Mike D’Antoni’s floor-stretching system. But even so, the 6’10” big man had career highs last season, averaging 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds in just 20.8 minutes per game.
The 27-year-old’s per-36 numbers were 16.7 points and 12.8 boards. So, if we were to assume that Hill plays between 28 and 30 minutes per game as a starter this season, he would definitely hit that double-double average.
This should not be a problem, just so long as the crash-and-burn frontcourt player can stay healthy.
The second year on Hill’s contract is a team option. A double-double average would cement him getting picked up.
Nick Young Wins Sixth Man Award
At the start of training camp. Lakers head coach Scott mentioned that he thought Nick “Swaggy P” Young could collect some hardware at the end of the season, saying per the team’s website: “I really believe Nick has a chance to be Sixth Man of the Year.”
But then Young went and tore the thumb on his shooting hand, requiring surgery. It’s estimated that he’ll be out until early December.
Can Swaggy still win Sixth Man? It will require that he play even better than last season when he was the team’s leading scorer, averaging 17.9 points per game, coming off the bench.
He has a shot. The irrepressible gunner’s resurgent play led to a new four-year contract in Los Angeles. He’ll continue to showcase his shot-making ability but will also be expected to play aggressively on the defensive end of the floor as well.
That wasn’t a prerequisite under D’Antoni last season, but it will most definitely be required under Scott.
An all-around effort and the desire of Young to establish himself as a lasting star in his hometown could get out the vote and put him over the top for Sixth Man of the Year.
Steve Nash’s Final Season Won’t End Well
According to the 2010 Global Burden of Disease research study, lower back pain is the leading cause of worldwide disability.
Steve Nash is one of more than 100 million people dealing with debilitating LBP, and he does so while playing basketball in the NBA.
Unfortunately, time and the reality of progressive, chronic injuries is not on his side when it comes to his final season with the Lakers. Most recently, Nash has been missing games and practice due to a combination of sciatica and back spasms.
On Oct. 18, Nash met with the media at the team's practice facility and detailed his most recent struggles, saying per Lakers.com: “I’m trying to continually take the precarious kind of condition and ask it to adapt to the rigors of the game. And at some point, it does just become unpredictable.”
Basketball fans would love for Nash to leave the game on his own terms—to have some level of success and fulfillment this season.
But he’ll turn 41 in February, and has been dealing with back issues throughout his career. Sometimes it just takes one wrong move and other times the disabling pain can seemingly come from nowhere. To assume that the two-time MVP can make it through a season of NBA basketball seems a stretch.
Predicting that Nash’s season will end prematurely, or that he won’t be able to play consistently effective basketball, isn’t bold. But it’s a likely scenario.
Jeremy Lin Has Best Season Yet
New Lakers point guard Jeremy Lin had a nice start to the preseason, with 10 assists against the Denver Nuggets and 14 points in his second game against the Golden State Warriors, on 4-for-4 shooting.
Unfortunately, he since sprained his ankle in practice and has joined five fellow Lakers on the sidelines as an incongruous early injury bug set in.
Lin may be back on Tuesday against the Phoenix Suns and has been doing shooting and ball-handling drills in lieu of scrimmages.
Consider this: Lin, who was never drafted, played just 29 games during his rookie season with the Golden State Warriors, averaging 2.6 points and 1.4 assists. His “Linsanity” zenith with the New York Knicks lasted just 35 games, and his two seasons with the Houston Rockets were marked by inconsistent roles, including a demotion from starter to sub last season.
All it will take for Lin to have his best season yet is the trust of Scott, a consistent role and the chance to develop to his utmost ability.
Lin has a great support staff with the Lakers—he’s been working closely with both Bryant and Nash, as well the coaches. All the cards are in place for the 26-year-old to have his best season yet.
Byron Scott Outshines Last Two Predecessors
Byron Scott has one big advantage over his last two predecessors—he’s not stepping into oversized shoes.
Mike Brown was hired to fill the void of Phil Jackson who had led the Lakers to five NBA titles in 11 seasons. Brown failed, miserably.
Then came D’Antoini who was hired instead of Jackson, who had been prepared to accept the job.
Everyone knows how that ended—with a 27-55 record last season.
Scott then, has a relatively low bar to overcome. But more is expected than that, both by management, the fans and the new head coach himself.
A former three-time NBA champion as a player with the Lakers during their Showtime era, Scott aspires to return the team to their former glory. During an interview with Mark Medina for the Los Angeles Daily News, the new coach said:
I’m going to walk into our locker room the first day of our meeting and say, ‘I want to win a championship.’ I don’t want us thinking it’s fine if we just make the playoffs or think we have no shot at making the playoffs. I don’t believe that. I want our guys to have the same mindset as I do.
Scott will borrow a few tricks from the Zen Master, implementing aspects of the triangle system into a hybrid Princeton offense.
During an era in which small-ball and high-volume scoring has become the norm, Scott’s emphasis on grinding, half-court basketball, seems out of vogue and downright ordinary.
But if an old-fashioned mindset brings added wins and renewed pride, the new coach will shine like a trophy compared to his last two predecessors.
Julius Randle Makes All-Star Rising Stars Challenge
Julius Randle—the Lakers’ No. 7 draft pick—is learning the challenging ways of the NBA during the preseason.
And per Arash Markazi for ESPN LA: "I thought he was lost, in the first half especially.”
Welcome to the Association, rookie!
One of the validations that comes for young players who rise above criticism and perform well, is the opportunity to appear in the annual All-Star Rising Star Challenge, in which the freshmen and sophomores are mixed together on opposing teams.
Can Randle be one of 18 players chosen for this event at the next All-Star weekend?
There is no reason to think not. Despite his coach’s scolding lessons, the 19-year-old bull in a china shop is about all-out effort— whether ramming into the paint or using solid footwork to help create opportunities.
Randle is a willing student and a potential future franchise cornerstone. By the time the mid-season break approaches, he’s going to be showing up on a lot of highlight reels. He’ll also be appearing at All-Star weekend.
Jordan Clarkson Proves the Draft Wrong
The Lakers made an unexpected move on draft night—buying the rights to the Washington Wizards’ No. 46 pick and selecting Jordan Clarkson from Mizzou.
The 6’5” guard with great handles and acceleration was generally thought to be first round material but dropped all the way into the Lakers’ lap.
And while Clarkson is happy to be in Los Angeles, he’s been talking about the chip on his shoulder since his arrival, including during a recent training camp media scrum: “From the draft, I just got a chip on my shoulder. I’m just trying to prove people wrong.”
Clarkson led all Lakers in scoring during Summer League. He also averaged more points than any of this year’s top 10 picks who played—either in Las Vegas or Orlando.
Initially projected as running the point for the Lakers, Clarkson has lately been seen more as a combo guard. He had a nice start during the preseason before straining a calf muscle. The relatively minor setback isn’t likely to affect his larger goal of proving doubters wrong.
Clarkson’s speed, athleticism, thirst for scoring and willingness to defend, will serve him well in Los Angeles. Fans won’t be surprised when he does well this season, but teams who took a pass may have second thoughts.
3-Point Controversy Will Cease
The Lakers’ three-point shooting has been mainly non-existent during preseason basketball, with few attempts and a ludicrously low percentage of makes—six of 29 tries through four games played.
This prompted a statement of defense from their head coach that has gotten a lot of attention.
Per Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, Scott said, “I like the fact that we only shot 10 threes. If we shoot between 10 and 15, I think that's a good mixture of getting to that basket and shooting threes.”
The howls of protest have resonated across the basketball universe since then, but in fact, it’s a tempest in a teacup.
First, it has to be recognized that six Lakers are currently out of action, and each has been known to loft the ball from long distance—that includes Young, Nash, Lin, Clarkson, Xavier Henry and Ryan Kelly.
Second, it is absolutely natural and expected that Scott won’t hang his hat on outside shooting—it’s simply not how his basketball system is set up. As the season progresses, Los Angeles’ shot-attempts will no doubt fall in line with other teams with similar half-court philosophies—like the Memphis Grizzlies in recent years, or the New York Knicks under the stewardship of Jackson and Derek Fisher.
This isn’t to say three-point shooting will never be a topic of conversation again. However, it probably won’t be lamented to the same degree that D’Antoni’s opposite embrace of long-distance bombing was during a 27-55 season.
The three-point controversy will cease, and something else will take its place.
That bold prediction, however, will have to wait for another day.
Lakers Sneak into Postseason
If you’re looking for a bold prediction, it’s the idea of the Lakers sneaking into the postseason in a loaded Western Conference. How on earth could this happen?
There are a number of factors to take into consideration.
First, Bryant is back after missing most of last season. No matter what kind of doubter you are, the five-time NBA champion will win some games for the only team he’s ever played on—plain and simple.
There’s also a new head coach in town—Scott is determined to reverse the fortunes of the team that he won three championships with as a player. He’s preaching defense, first and foremost, and that will rescue some losses.
New arrivals like Lin and rookies Randle and Clarkson could also have a positive effect.
And Hill, with the confidence of a starting role and solid minutes, will look to justify an $18 million contract. That means adding wins to the column.
Nobody can predict how the vagaries of injuries will affect other teams—although a devil’s advocate would say the Lakers have been bitten by the bug as much or more than any others during the preseason.
Ultimately, you have to look at teams like the Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, and Dallas Mavericks and ask who can get bumped out, and those on the rise like the Phoenix Suns, and ask if they will get in this season.
The Lakers will probably need 50 wins to sneak into the eighth slot. You can look at that as a difficult net pickup of 23 wins.
You can also ask whether Los Angeles can use defense to avoid some of the hideous losses that never should have happened last season.
The optimist says the Lakers will be back where they normally find themselves, appearing in postseason play.