Since LeBron James joined the Los Angeles Lakers at the beginning of the free-agency period, he has gained some supporting teammates with unique track records in the league. With these additions along with James, there is not a consensus on this Lakers team’s fate at the end of the season.
On August 3rd, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton annual team projections for wins and playoff standing with all thirty NBA teams. To many readers’ surprise, Pelton’s projections had the Lakers at the cusp of being in the playoff picture in ninth place with 41.2 wins. This is just a 6.2 jump in wins from the 2017-2018 season for Los Angeles.
Pelton explains in his article that this Lakers team was hit with an adjustment with the new players that joined the team and that 55 percent of their minutes are played with the returning players. James also took a hit in his RPM dropping from plus-5.0 to plus-2.7. This was similar to James’ first year with the Miami Heat in which his RPM took a hit from plus-8.7 to plus-4.8. With a possibility that his RPM would drop to 4.0, the Lakers could land the eight spot in the Western Conference.
The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook oddsmakers predicted that the Los Angeles Lakers would be a playoff team. The oddsmakers determined that the Lakers would obtain 48.5 wins amidst the loaded Western Conference. In his first year with the Miami Heat, that 2010-11 team improved to 11 wins in comparison to the 2009-10 team who finished 47-35. In his first year back with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2014-15 season, the Cavs improved by 20 wins. With James in Los Angeles, the Lakers could improve by 13 wins from their 2017-18 record of 35-47.
With James on this Lakers team, his production could either slow down or stay the same. Last season James had a stellar year in his 15th year at age 33. In January, he averaged 23.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 7.4 assists in which it was a down month for him as the Cavaliers’ record was 6-9. He also ranked 20th overall in total NBA minutes played in games. In March, he also averaged 31 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 9.4 assists.
James fitting in with the young Lakers players and the rest of the newly acquired players will be interesting. With ball-handlers like Rajon Rondo and Lonzo Ball, James would not need to take on the facilitator role as much this season and that could lessen his production just a bit. He has the “playmakers” that he wanted to be around so, with those players around him, the team can be able to do better than last season.
This team is now with players who possess high basketball IQs, versatility, toughness, and energy to play a fast pace to be able to compete and contend in the Western Conference. Rondo is an experienced ball-handler and floor general who has championship and playoff pedigree. Lance Stephenson is known for his antics but he brings a toughness that compliments this team. JaVale McGee also flourishes in an environment that allows him to work well in the paint.
The young core on this team with Ball, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, and Brandon Ingram is one that is fit fundamentally to play with LeBron James. Last season, Ingram and Kuzma led the team in scoring while Hart was the best three-point shooter for the team along with containing the ball on the boards.
With James leading the way, this team will be able to make some noise in the West and be better than they were in years’ past. Many have doubts but this team can come together and prove them wrong.
It will just take some time as it normally would in the first year of trying to be competitive in the West.
The Lakers do have a solid chance of being in the postseason mix come April 2019. With these projections, the Lakers could see themselves in the middle of the pack of the top eight teams in the West. It will take time for this team to adjust but there is a real chance that the Los Angeles Lakers will make the postseason.