Ranking the Los Angeles Lakers Roster with LeBron James

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistJuly 2, 2018

Ranking the Los Angeles Lakers Roster with LeBron James

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    LeBron James is a Los Angeles Laker, and the Lakers are back on the NBA map because of it.

    James has agreed to a four-year, $153.3 million contract, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com. The Lakers were not done, however. They immediately concocted a personality cocktail the likes of which the world has never seen, reaching terms with Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shortly after James' announcement, per Chris Haynes of ESPN.com.

    There are still some decisions to make, such as whether to retain Julius Randle and whether Brook Lopez will agree to take the league minimum to come back, but the framework of the Lakers is in place.

    It's worth mentioning that Kawhi Leonard could join by trade at any moment and that Randle remains a restricted free agent for the Lakers. Neither is a Laker at present, though, and therefore they are not included on our list.

    Let's rank the Lakers roster as it exists.  

Out of the Rotation

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Not Ranked: Two-Way Contracts—Alex Caruso, G and Malik Newman, G

    Caruso played 37 games for the Lakers last season, averaging 3.6 points and 15.2 minutes. He spent the rest of his time in the G League.

    Newman is an undrafted rookie who ranked 48th on ESPN.com's draft board (which made him the highest-ranked undrafted player).

    Neither is likely to get much time on a team that is looking to contend for a title.


    12. Moritz Wagner, C

    Wagner is the Lakers' first-round pick this year, taken with the Cavaliers' pick at No. 25. He might get some playing time, as the thinnest position at the moment is center, but head coach Luke Walton is unlikely to invest a lot of playing time in untested players.


    11. Luol Deng, F

    Deng presents an interesting case in that the addition of James could reignite his career. Other aging wings with high character, such as Jeff Green and James Jones, have become trusted sidekicks to the King. Deng could fill that role.

In the Rotation

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    Reed Saxon/Associated Press

    10. Lance Stephenson, G-F

    Stephenson has agreed to a one-year, $.4.5 million deal, according to Haynes. He's a high-risk, high-reward player who has a lot to offer if he can keep his volatile personality in check. He's competent at everything except shooting. The only problem is he's never worked out anywhere other than with the Indiana Pacers.


    9. Ivica Zubac, C

    Zubac may have taken a step back last year, as his numbers fell across the board. The Lakers have already brought JaVale McGee on board and are in talks with Nerlens Noel, per Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports. As well, RealGM's Keith Smith reports that Brook Lopez is "a good bet to return." That doesn't signal a lot of confidence in the third-year center, but for now, Zubac is the second-best option they have at the 5.


    8. Josh Hart, G

    Hart is one of two Lakers who outplayed his draft position last season. Although he averaged only 7.9 points, he's the best pure shooter the Lakers have, as he drained 39.6 percent of his shots from deep on 3.1 attempts per game last season. Playing next to LeBron is only going to give him more open looks. While Hart is a good shooter, he also plays smart and aggressive defense. Look for him to fill the Kyle Korver role on the new-look Lakers.


    7. Kyle Kuzma, F

    Kuzma arguably had the league's third-best rookie season last year, even if he was only drafted 27th. He knocked down 16.1 points per game with a 52.7 effective field-goal percentage. As things stand, he'll be the best player the Lakers have coming off the bench. He does have some defensive issues; his minus-1.54 Defensive Real Plus-Minus was 80th out of 88 power forwards. That is easier to look from a sixth-man role.

6. Rajon Rondo

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    We're throwing this as an updated slide as a move that happened after the initial piece was published. 

    The Lakers renounced Julius Randle, and then almost immediately used that money to sign Rajon Rondo, per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESN. 

    Let's just say there is a whole lot of personality in this team. Things could get very weird. An HBO show would get monster ratings. 

    But how does Rondo fit in on the team? Well, he does give the Lakers a third exceptional passer in addition to James and Lonzo Ball. He also could serve as a mentor to Ball. And in spite of his reputation, both in Chicago and in New Orleans, he acquitted himself well as a guy who does well with younger players. 

    As to who starts? That's up in the air according to ESPN's Ramona Shelbourne, who tweeted: "Regarding Rondo and the Lakers, source says they told him that with LeBron here they’re trying to win now. Best man wins the job." 

5. JaVale McGee, C

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Los Angeles agreed to terms with JaVale McGee on a one-year deal for the league minimum, according to Haynes.

    The Lakers got a double win here, not only getting a starting center (if not the primary backup) but also snatching the Golden State Warriors' starter.

    McGee didn't play a ton of minutes (9.5) for the Dubs, but the ones he did play were effective, as he averaged 18.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per 36 minutes.

    Two questions come up here: First, can he maintain that same kind of production over heavier minutes, and second, can he transfer the same type of production from the Warriors to the Lakers? Playing alongside Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant can make things a tad easier.

    The Lakers have some shooting, but they were only 19th in the NBA last year with 10.0 treys per game and 29th in three-point percentage. If the court isn't stretched and the paint is a little more packed, some of those easy cuts to the rim that McGee had in Oakland won't be coming his way.

4. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will return to the Lakes for one year at $12 million, Haynes also reported.

    KCP averaged 13.4 points on 56.1 percent true shooting last season, both acceptable numbers. He also played decent defense on a unit that improved from last in the league in 2016-17 to 12th, according to NBA.com.

    Caldwell-Pope should serve as the quintessential role player/glue guy for the Lakers this year if he can improve on his consistency.

    The Lakers might have overpaid for him, but the familiarity helps, and they didn't have any other great options.

    One other thing worth noting: Should a Spurs deal materialize closer to the trade deadline, his contract would be an enticing piece for San Antonio as it creates cap space for next summer.

3. Lonzo Ball, PG

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Lonzo Ball's foray into the NBA saw a lot of outright heckling from Twitter audiences. Through the first part of the season, his shooting didn't even reach the level of atrocious.

    He improved as the season progressed, though, as his true shooting percentage rose from 43.6 before the All-Star Game to 46.2 after it. While that leaves an obvious need for considerable growth, it does indicate the 20-year-old has hardly peaked.

    Let's also not overlook that averaging 7.2 assists and 6.9 rebounds per game isn't too shabby.

    Ball has a kind of versatility and court vision that makes him an interesting complement to James. For the first time in his career, the King is sharing the court with an equally capable distributor (apologies to Kyrie Irving and Dwyane Wade). This will allow James to play off the ball more.

    ESPN.com's Andre Snellings shares the same opinion:

    "One difference between this projected offense and the normal LeBron offense is that LeBron wouldn't necessarily be the best distributor on the team. Lonzo Ball has Jason Kidd-like court vision and passing ability, and he is both a natural floor general and an indifferent scorer. For LeBron, this is the first time that he will be playing with a point guard of this caliber who can actually set the floor and get the ball to LeBron in advantageous positions."

    One of the more exciting things is that we should be seeing a lot more of LeBron cutting to the basket and ooping Ball's alleys. They'll be a fun pairing to watch.

2. Brandon Ingram, SF

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    Associated Press

    It's hard to figure out how to rank Ball and Brandon Ingram. Ball is a better all-around player, but Ingram is a better shooter. Regardless, both should fit nicely with James.

    Ingram tied Kuzma and Randle as the team's leading scorer last season (which gives a notion of how even that attack was). But of all the current Lakers, Ingram is the one with the most potential to average around 25 points.

    He should also see a tremendous uptick in efficiency this year from last season's 53.6 true shooting percentage.

    Last season, 17.0 percent of his shots came on catch-and-shoots, and his effective field-goal percentage on those was 57.6 percent, which included 41.1 percent shooting from deep.

    On pull-ups (distinguished from catch-and-shoots in that they are off the bounce instead of a pass), his effective field-goal percentage was only 39.5 percent, even though he shot 40.0 percent from deep. But that accounted for 32.5 percent of his shots.

    He also took 48.1 percent of his shots within 10 feet of the basket (whether off the bounce or the pass) and made 63.3 percent of them.

    If he can cut down the percentage of mid-range pull-ups he takes and turn those into shots either closer to or farther away from the basket, he can improve his efficiency. With James to command defensive attention and two great passers now on the team, that's almost inevitable.

1. LeBron James, PF

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    Adam Pantozzi/Getty Images

    It's really amazing what LeBron James has done, in spite of what his Finals record. Just consider: This will be the first time in John Wall's career that James won't represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. Do you think folks in the East are happy about this move?

    There's at least room to consider that the Lakers might be better off if they don't trade for Kahwi Leonard.

    First, there seems to be a good chance they can get him next year anyway (though we saw how that worked out with Paul George).

    Second, the Lakers fill out nicely around James, even if you'd like to see a bit more shooting. There are some things to consider about that.

    Shooters tend to shoot better when James feeds them the ball because of his ability to break down defenses and see where the open man is. Last season, Rodney Hood shot 57.1 percent from deep off James' passes. Jose Calderon (51.2 percent), Jordan Clarkson (46.7), George Hill (45.7) and Kyle Korver (45.5) also shot above their season averages. Putting LeBron on the court makes Ingram, Caldwell-Pope, Kuzma and Hart better shooters because it gives them better shots.

    When you add that to the potentially increased efficiency of James because of Ball's passing and the King's ability to create shots for his teammates off the ball (while trusting in Ball's vision to see the openings), there's a lot to work with in this offense. And Luke Walton has a pretty good head for that.

    None of this even factors in the rim-running potential of Randle if he re-signs or the three-point shooting of Brook Lopez as a stretch 5 if he returns.

    James probably doesn't make the Lakers good enough to unseat the Warriors, or perhaps even the Houston Rockets, but they're certainly back in contender status.