The Runner Sports

Los Angeles Lakers Team and Player Previews for the 2017-18 Season

To know where this team is headed you need to know where they have been. When the Los Angeles Lakers fired General Manager Mitch Kupchak and had Jim Buss step down as President of Basketball Operations it set the tone for a foundational offseason. From the trade deadline forward, Laker legend Magic Johnson and new General Manager Rob Pelinka were allowed to put their stamp on the roster.

It started with trading Lou Williams for a first-round pick at the trade deadline. Then, they were mightily relieved when they kept the number two pick in the draft. The one and done star out of UCLA Lonzo Ball was whom they ultimately selected . They made another exceptional move when they traded controversial point guard De’Angelo Russell to get rid of Timofy Mozgov’s dreadful contract. In that trade the Lakers brought back a first round pick and a solid starter in Brook Lopez. He will help out the team immediately with his ability to score both inside and out. He will also be able to somewhat protect the rim on defense as well. The first-round pick they traded for eventually turned into Kyle Kuzma. Who through Summer League and Pre-season has looked like the biggest steal in the draft.

 

Team Preview

Looking forward to this season the Lakers should improve in the win column from 26 wins last season. They still are a very young team and that is important to keep in mind when setting expectations. Three of the five projected Laker starters are under 23 to start the season (Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, and Lonzo Ball) making them one of the youngest starting lineups in the league. The other two starters Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brook Lopez are newcomers via free-agency. This means it could take some time for the team to build chemistry.

Using Summer League to judge regular season success is not practical. But the team looked great taking home the Summer League championship. That is solid momentum to build on going into this season. Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma won the Summer League MVP and the Summer League Championship MVP respectively. They both stood out among a star-studded rookie class in Las Vegas. Ball showed why he was the number two overall pick in the draft, dazzling sold out crowds with flashy passes. If he can translate that same production in the regular season he will easily take home the rookie of the year award. Another bright spot from summer league was sophomore Brandon Ingram. He got injured at the end of game one, but in that game he looked dominant and far more confident than he did last year in the same situation.

So far in pre-season the Lakers have looked like a below average NBA team that will finish at the bottom of the Western Conference. They came out of the gate strong, but they slowly fell behind and could not make up the deficit in the second half. Unexpectedly, the best player for the Lakers in both pre-season games was rookie Kyle Kuzma. He was the top scorer in the first two games showing great three-point range. Injuries at the end of game two to a few key players caused them to sit out and that made them struggle in the third game.

Realistic win expectations for this team should be set around 35 wins. This would be almost a ten win jump from last year. Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and Jimmy Butler all came out west, so the Western Conference is loaded this year. It should be difficult for such a young Laker team to compete in such a crowded conference next season. Expect them to have under .500 win percentage all season.

Player Previews 

Returning Veterans

Vander Blue

Last years D league MVP is stepping up to the big stage. He certainly won’t have the same impact at the NBA level. Vander Blue’s specialty is scoring from the perimeter. He should have some opportunity to do that next year considering the Lakers lost three of their top wing scorers from last season (Lou Williams, De’Angelo Russell, and Nick Young). Blue might have to go back to the D league if he can’t find a spot in the rotation. He will have to fight for minutes with Caldwell-Pope, Jordan Clarkson, and Josh Hart who are already guaranteed playing time.

Tyler Ennis

In his short time with the Lakers last season Ennis looked like a solid backup point guard in the NBA. The former Syracuse product was 18th overall pick in the 2014 draft. He never panned out for the phoenix suns eventually being released. He has solid play making ability and can hit the open three. If he plays as well as he did during the end of last season he should be the Lakers go to back up point guard this season.

Luol Deng

Luol Deng was once a great player for the Chicago Bulls, but now he is just looked as one of the worst contracts in the entire league. He is vastly overpaid based on his production from last season. He averaged only 7 points and just over 5 rebounds a game, which was by far the worst of his career. Deng just never found his role on the team last year on a team that struggled to win games. Maybe he can have a bounce back season this year, but it is more likely that they trade him at some point. This way they can unload his huge contract and open up cap space to sign a max free-agent like Paul George or LeBron James next summer.

Corey Brewer

Brewer came along with Ennis in the Lou WIlliams trade. He figures to fit well with what the Lakers are trying to do after playing well last year. On defense he will stand out for the Lakers, he can switch out on pick and rolls well because he can stay in front of smaller players. On offense he can space the floor very well and will be one of Lonzo Ball’s favorite targets when running the fast break due to his great speed at the forward position. Look for Brewer to be a solid role player for Showtime 2.0 next season.

Larry Nance Jr.

Everyone fan knows Larry Nance Jr. can jump out of the gym when dunking the basketball. Teammate Brook Lopez knows that better than anyone after Nance had the dunk of the year on top of him last season. Nance will have many opportunities for highlights with Lonzo Ball running the show. However, he looks to expand his game beyond that. His offensive game will improve significantly if he can find a way to consistently knock down the 3 pointer. He figures to get more playing time at power forward and even small ball center in some line ups. Look for Nance to be a major leader on the court and in the locker room for the Lakers this season. This is because he is the player that most of the young players on the team flock too for advice.

Jordan Clarkson

Clarkson has had a roller coaster start to a promising young career. But he expects to have a break out year this season. He came out of nowhere his rookie year and was named first team all rookie in 2015. That is something none of the Laker lottery picks on the roster could achieve. Since then, he has struggled to make the same impact on the team. That should change a lot this season. Lonzo Ball allows him to play more minutes at his more natural shooting guard spot. Ball will be able to get Clarkson the ball in spots where he can succeed. He fits better in a backcourt with Ball rather than former running mate De’Angelo Russell. Because it allows Clarkson to be more of a slasher on offense rather than a part-time playmaker. This should amplify his scoring output tremendously. He won’t start to begin the season, but a sixth man role where he can score off the bench suits him well.

Julius Randle

Randle was a double double machine last season and he should be able to replicate that same level of production again. What makes this season different will be Brook Lopez’s ability to hit three pointers and stretch the floor to help Randle do work inside. He will now have space to drive off the dribble and work down low on the block to score. Randle also had the most dramatic body transformation out of anyone on the team. He came into training camp shredded and said he is in the best shape of his career. Expect Randle to be one of the best players on the team and lead the team in rebounding next year.

Sophomores

Stephen Zimmerman

Relatively unknown 7’0″ big man who was drafted by the Orlando Magic out of UNLV last season. He is going to have trouble making the Lakers active roster. He is most likely going to be playing for the Lakers G league affiliate the Defenders this season.

Ivica Zubac

After Zubac became a fan favorite in his first summer league, it was hard to expect him not playing a major role this year. However, he had a very disappointing Summer League this year. He looked lost and had trouble scoring offensively. He bounced back well with a couple of strong performances in pre-season. But with free agent acquisitions Brook Lopez and Andrew Bogut in the mix he is going to have to fight for playing time. It should be interesting to see who gets the bulk of the minutes at the center spot because the Lakers want to try small ball line ups trying Nance and Randle at the center position as well.

Brandon Ingram

This is the most interesting player to watch this season for the Lakers. He should be the most improved player by far on the team and quite possibly the league. His rookie season was a disappointment to say the least. But he bounced back strong at the end of the season and looked like a completely different player. Watching Ingram in Summer League and pre-season this year compared to last year is night and day. He looked like a deer in the headlights last season and this year he looks confident and ready to break out. Ingram is going to start at small forward and should improve on his scoring numbers from last season. He fine tuned his jump shot in the off-season. And according to Lakers Reporter Mike Trudell, was said to be in the Lakers facility more than any other player this summer.

Rookies

Alex Caruso

The surprise performance by Caruso in this years Summer League landed him a one year contract with the Lakers. When Lonzo Ball is off the floor, he looked like he can run the offense . Three point shooting is one of his strong attributes as well. He is more likely going to end up in the G league, but he could see some playing time if an injury happens throughout the season.

Thomas Bryant

The 42nd pick in the draft looked great in Summer League showing great energy off the bench. He even knocked down the open jumper when given the opportunity. On defense he showed his ability to block shots and protect the rim. This is something the Lakers desperately need after ranking 30th on defense last season. Bryant will have trouble making the rotation in a very crowded Lakers front court. However, he looks like a promising young player moving forward.

Josh Hart

Hart looked like a player with great potential while staring at Villanova for four years. He helped the Wildcats take home the National Championship in 2016 and was named a consensus All-American in 2017. Hart was limited in Summer League and pre-season due to injury, so it’s hard to say how well he projects into the NBA or how much he will play. The Lakers hope he can become a solid three and D guy for them and become a rotational piece at the shooting guard spot.

Kyle Kuzma

Kuzma showed potential to possibly be a solid NBA player in college, but he shocked everyone with how well he played in Summer League. After dominating the game, he even took home the award for Summer League Championship MVP. The moment he stepped on the court with Ball, they showed great chemistry and that they can run the fast break well together. What makes him a special player is that he has the ability to defend multiple positions on the defensive side of the ball with great quickness and length at 6’9. He will help the Lakers on that end where they much need a shut down defender on the wing to go along side KCP. He should push Nance, Randle, and Ingram for minutes this season if he continues to play well.

Lonzo Ball

In Lonzo’s first press conference, Magic Johnson said “he expects Ball’s Jersey to be hanging in the rafters when his career is over.” That should tell fans all they need to know about the expectations for Ball going into this season. That is something he has dealt with his whole life having Lavar Ball as a father. He will have every opportunity to exceed expectations this year being given the keys to Lakers offense starting game one of his rookie season. His passing and court vision will make his transition into the NBA smooth. Ball will help create the share the ball culture Luke Walton is trying to implement with the entire team. Look for Ball to lead this Laker team in assists this season and to lead all rookies in that category as well.

Free Agent Acquisitions

Andrew Bogut

Bogut will be injured to start the season. Once he is good to go he should be a solid addition at center. Maybe Bogut can help teach a young team how to play defense at the NBA level and help them protect the paint. He will be a solid option to back up Brook Lopez and will add much needed veteran leadership to a young locker room.

Brook Lopez

Lopez came along in the trade that sent De’Angelo Russell to Brooklyn Nets. He will definitely help the Lakers win games right away. Lopez will help the Lakers immensely on offense. He is perfect to play a stretch 5 and give either Randle or Nance more room to move inside the paint. Lopez might be the Lakers best three-point shooter on the roster since the departures of Russell and Young in the offseason.

 

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Perhaps the most underrated addition to the Lakers this offseason was KCP. He steps in and right away becomes the Lakers best perimeter defender. Hopefully he will rub off on the rest of the Lakers guards and can help them become better defenders. He brings a much needed gritty attitude and energy that has been missing from the Lakers since Metta World Peace stopped playing for the team. What makes Pope’s signing most interesting is that he has the same agent as Lebron James. This allows the Lakers to plan for the future and possibly bring the king to LA next summer in free agency.

 

The Lakers, like most young teams will struggle to win on a nightly basis. They could sneak up and surprise a lot of teams as well. Lonzo Ball brings a buzz to Los Angeles that the Lakers franchise hasn’t had in quite some time, so eyes will be on this team all season long. They might not reach the lofty expectations Lavar has set for them saying they will reach the playoffs. But hopefully this young Laker team will prove enough this season to attract a major free agent or two next offseason.