5 Ways the Los Angeles Lakers Can Exceed Expectations in 2014-15

Ehran Khan@@ekhansworldContributor IIIOctober 26, 2014

5 Ways the Los Angeles Lakers Can Exceed Expectations in 2014-15

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    If the Los Angeles Lakers exceed expectations in 2015, Jeremy Lin will be a big reason why.
    If the Los Angeles Lakers exceed expectations in 2015, Jeremy Lin will be a big reason why.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    The outlook for the Los Angeles Lakers' 2014-15 season is grim—and we haven't even tipped off regular-season basketball yet.

    One half of their Hall of Fame backcourt is already done for the year, as it appears the injury bug that has consumed the Lakers the past couple of seasons is still embedded within the locker room.

    Expectations are low heading into the new campaign. ESPN's Summer Forecast pegged L.A. for just 30 wins, while the analytically inclined FiveThirtyEight.com is projecting the Lakers to be the West's cellar dwellers with an unthinkable total of 24 wins.

    But predictions—even those based on intricate statistical models undergoing thousands of simulations—are nothing more than educated guesses.

    The Lakers have the tools to prove the pundits wrong. Here are five ways they can accomplish that task.

A Full Season of Kobe Bryant

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Getting your best player back has to add a few wins to the total. Especially one as irreplaceable as the Mamba.

    Bryant's return will change the entire look of the Lakers' offense. He is still well-respected around the league, and he will open up good looks for his teammates by constantly drawing opposing defenses in his direction.

    That will open up driving lanes for Jeremy Lin, three-point opportunities for Wes Johnson, dives to the rim for Jordan Hill and elbow jumpers for Carlos Boozer.

    Not being as young as he once was, it will take Bryant some time to get into game shape. And even when he does, he won't be the indomitable force of old.

    But the Mamba is one of the cagiest vets in the league, and his immaculate footwork and precise post-up game will keep him productive over the course of the year.

    A full season out of Bryant will greatly ease the burden on the rest of the Lakers.

Unleash Jeremy Lin

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    Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

    With Steve Nash out for the season, Jeremy Lin will take on an even more prominent role for the Lakers—and that can be a very good thing.

    Lin will be L.A.'s most dynamic point guard in over a decade. He can penetrate a defense to score in the paint or find open shooters on kick-outs, and he's molded himself into a real threat from beyond the arc.

    The fifth-year pro was 17th in the NBA last season in total drives, per NBA.com's player tracking stats. That's more than twice as many drives as any member of the Lakers attempted in 2014.

    He looked good running the offense in the preseason, scoring well and dishing out assists to teammates. Lin finished his exhibition run with a 19-point, seven-assist performance—a line indicative of the type of numbers he can put up on a regular basis.

    It remains to be seen how Lin will co-exist with Bryant in the same backcourt, but the transition on his end should be smooth.

    He has a good feel for playing alongside a ball-dominant shooting guard after spending two seasons next to James Harden in Houston.

    As discussed earlier, Bryant's gravitational pull will give Lin more space to drive, and the Lakers have a nice stable of bigs to run both pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops with.

    Lin will be a key cog for the Lakers in 2015.

Julius Randle Is Good Right Away

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    One way teams improve their win expectancy is when rookies come in and contribute at a high level right away.

    Julius Randle has the potential to do just that.

    The Kentucky product has the athleticism and the motor to be successful as a rookie. He just needs to be allowed to make some rookie mistakes without the threat of being pulled.

    Once he gets past that phase, Randle can be a very productive player for the Lakers this season.

    He showed improvement throughout the preseason. After looking "lost" early on in the exhibition run, Randle finished up with two impressive showings in the team's final two games.

    The competition for minutes in the Lakers' frontcourt will be stiff, but Randle has the potential to stand out among the crowd.

    If he gets to that level as a rookie, the Lakers will have added a formidable weapon to their arsenal.

Significant Minutes for Ed Davis

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Ed Davis was the brightest spot for the Lakers this preseason.

    The former lottery pick lived in the paint on offense—shooting 73 percent from the field—while protecting it on defense—swatting two shots a night in limited minutes.

    Going into the season, Davis is the only player on L.A.'s roster capable of defending the rim. That's a scary thought.

    It's also why he needs to be on the floor as often as possible. 

    The Lakers' starting lineup hemorrhaged points over the preseason, getting outscored 184-124 in the six games where their opponents started a majority of their regular starters and Davis came off the bench.

    When Davis was inserted into the starting lineup for the exhibition finale, the Lakers held the Kings' regulars to a 22-point first period—and actually held a lead after 12 minutes.

    Davis doesn't take anything away on the offensive end, while boosting L.A. defensively. He needs to get playing time for the Lakers to slow down opposing attacks.

Improve Defensively Under Byron Scott

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    New head coach Byron Scott came into the job carrying the reputation of being a defensive-minded boss.

    The Lakers needed a defensive overhaul after ranking 28th in the league in points allowed per possession a year ago, per ESPN Stats.

    Changes have been slow in coming as L.A. was lit up several times during the preseason, including a stretch where they gave up 114 or more points four times in five contests.

    As mentioned earlier, opponents' regular starting lineups skewered the Lakers. The Golden State Warriors shot 56 percent from the field against L.A. in two consecutive tilts.

    Scott has a lot of work to do to get this unit up to snuff. The Lakers don't seem to have the personnel to be even an average defensive team, so it will be up to Scott to get his guys to work hard, work together and execute the game plan with precision.

    If L.A. can just get to the middle third of NBA defenses, it will be enough to keep the Lakers competitive all year long and exceed their gloomy expectations.

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