Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Are The Lakers Fo’ Real?

Everyone is so worried about how the Lakers will fit with LeBron, but the question you should be asking is, how will LeBron fit with the Lakers?

 

The Luke Walton Era

The Los Angeles Lakers have been the picture of success in the NBA for many, many years. One of the most highly touted franchises in history, the Lakers have had many legends on their roster throughout history. Whether it was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, or Kobe Bryant leading the team, the Lakers have history found success year after year.

The turn of the decade represents the downfall of Los Angeles. After future Hall-of-Fame coach Phil Jackson retired in 2011, the Lakers made the playoff the next two years while suffering early round exits both years before absolutely plummeting to the bottom in 2013.

Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles early in 2013, limiting him to only 6 games on the season. Kobe never recovered and the Lakers could only muster together 65 wins from 2013-2016. A dearth of talent and inadequate management doomed the Lakers.

After a few lackluster years, Kobe finally decided to retire at the end of the 2015-2016 season and the Lakers decided to turn a new page. As Kobe was clearly on his decline the Lakers had already started piling up assets for the rebuild.

In 2016 the Lakers decided to bring in Luke Walton to be the head coach of their team. A front line of Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, and D’Angelo Russell was set to lead this very young and inexperienced Lakers team through the season. The Lakers predictably struggled, winning only 26 games that season.

In 2017 the LA Lakers took another step forward. After hiring Hall-of-Famer Magic Johnson to be President of Basketball Operations, the Lakers started to tweak the roster as Johnson made a variety of moves including trading away D’Angelo Russell, drafting Lonzo Ball, and trading for Brook Lopez.

All in all, Luke Walton’s Lakers ended up winning only 35 games but had a very promising season. They had 7 players scoring in double digits which included 3 players with 16.0+ PPG. The Lakers were one of the most exciting teams to watch last year and Walton looked like he was the right coach for the future, they just needed that one piece, or two.

 

LaBron and Friends

The Lakers stepped into free agency with a plan. The Lakers had an NBA high $61 million free in cap space, a payroll that included an overpaid Luol Deng and his $18 million a year. With a buyout looming for Deng, the Lakers were looking at a potential whopping $79 million free in cap space.

The Lakers had the cap space to bring in not one, but two max players to their most prestigious franchise. Magic wanted to bring the spotlight back to Hollywood. Going out to catch a fish, the Lakers landed the biggest of them all.

LeBron James.

The Lakers built their team, they made their pitch, and in the end, LeBron signed a massive four-year $154 million to be in Los Angeles. The Lakers signed the biggest piece to the puzzle. LeBron is easily the best player in the NBA and is widely considered the greatest to ever play the game by many.

But obviously, just one player would not be enough to change this team’s fortune. Magic went on to sign key role players Rajan Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, and Michael Beasley. The Lakers also drafted Moritz Wagner and Svi Myhailiuk, two tremendous shooters who will provide immense floor spacing.

The Lakers have a very strong, young core. The additions of the hard-nosed veterans are sure to pay dividends for the Lakers. The question remains, however, what should we expect from these Lakers?

 

What The Lakers will Look Like

So what are the 2018 Lakers going to look like? Pace, pace, pace, and some more pace. The Lakers are going to run fast and hard in transition. Not just your simple up-tempo offense, the Lakers are going to push the ball no matter what the situation is. Off a miss, off a make, off a turnover, whoever has the ball will push the ball down the court and attempt to catch the defense off balance.

And by whoever, I mean whoever. The Lakers are going to play positionless basketball. Whether it’s their PGs, de facto PG LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, whoever, they have the green light from Luke Walton to push the ball down the court and assume the role of point guard.

The Lakers are going to be willing to play 2 point guards, 3 small forwards, any combination of anything, they simply want the best players on the court. In the preseason, the Lakers have employed lineups with Michael Beasley playing the center position, a player who traditionally plays the SF or PF position.

Luke Walton is ready to employ smaller lineups with the Lakers willing and ready to help on defense. Walton is a disciple of Steve Kerr over in Golden State, a team that employs a strong help defensive system. Walton has trained his Lakers to do that exact same thing on defense, playing defense as a team, switching effortlessly, and rotating efficiently.

Of course, to play that sort of system you need the players to do it. Walton puts small lineups with players who can cover multiple positions. Even their starting center JaVale McGee has shown the ability to switch onto guards/forwards and stick with them defensively.

The most highly anticipated aspect of this team is, of course, the addition of LeBron James. You are not going to be watching the dreadful Clevland Cavaliers from last year, this is going to be a legitimate, versatile offense.

You will see a ton of LeBron James post-ups, where he seemingly scores with ease. But the difference in this offense is the motion that the Lakers will be running when LeBron is in an iso. The Lakers will continue setting off-ball picks and getting open so LeBron will be able to hit his teammates for easy baskets.

The impact of LeBron is such that he will elevate his teammates, as he has done his entire career. LeBron will make the most impossible of passes to get his teammates easy baskets. But more than that, he is very cerebral and understands the game. He will hit his teammates in positions where they will succeed.

Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram are sure to be the biggest beneficiaries from this. Watching the Lakers in the preseason, it’s clear to see that Kuzma and Ingram are well on their way to career seasons. Their skill sets are more refined and look more dominant with the ball this season, but it’s their off-ball prowess which will help them succeed.

In this offense, Kuzma and Ingram will get the ball in spots they will succeed. Whether it’s on catch & shoots, pin downs, dribble drives, backdoor cuts, these guys will get to spots where they can create shots and get high percentage shots for their skill sets.

 

This is going to be a very different offense from what you saw the last few years in LA. Luke Walton ran the ‘horns’ set very often, a set where 2 big men played the high post. There was a bunch of things the Lakers could do out of this offense. The double high screen, double pindown handoff for the off-guard.

But this Lakers team will run a completely different offense. They are going to value spacing. Luke Walton will put at least 4 players who can shoot the 3 ball at all times. They are going to run a lot of motion and off-ball screens to get their players better shots.

You should expect to see a lot of unselfishness from this Lakers team. This team will run a ton of handoffs, dribble drives, and 91032312 curl cuts. The curl cut is going to be a HUGE aspect of this offense.

You’re going to see a ton of plays like the one above, where the Lakers wing players will curl around a pick and receive the ball with the freedom to operate. This is a very simple and high percentage play that gives the player receiving the pass an advantage on the dribble drive which can turn into 2 man action with the screener. This will be a staple of the Lakers offense.

For such a pass-centric team, you need a floor general who can make it all happen. Rajon Rondo will be that guy, he will most definitely start over sophomore Lonzo Ball. Rondo is a hard-nosed veteran, who is a physical defender, and one of the smartest players in the league.

Rondo does not do a lot of scoring, but he has elevated his teams everywhere he has gone. The 32-year-old vet loves and understands the game of basketball more than most. He is very cerebral and is one of the best passers in the league.

Rondo is extremely unselfish, he will hit his teammates with beautiful dimes, but at the same time, he will unselfishly pass to his teammates. What does that mean? Rondo will set up the play and hit his teammates in spots where they’re comfortable. This is sometimes more powerful than getting the assist.

While Ball may possess more upside on offense, with some more points and a few more assists here and there, Rondo is clearly the superior option. Rondo’s experience and understanding of how to not do “too much,” sets him apart by miles.

LeBron James and Rajon Rondo will provide an invaluable characteristic, leadership. Rondo and LeBron’s ability in the locker room to rally their teammates to play for each other will be key to such a young, inexperienced team.

 

Final Thoughts

If there’s an absolute it’s that this is going to be a fun Lakers team to watch. An energetic, athletic group of players, the Lakers are going to be one of the best shows night in and night out.

Luke Walton’s imprints will be all over this team. The position versatility and off-ball motion will be apparent to fans quickly. Whether it’s Brandon Ingram playing point guard, LeBron James, or Lonzo Ball, Luke Walton will get the best out of this team.

After watching the preseason games I am very impressed by the prospectus of this Lakers team. A young lineup fueled by Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, and Lonzo Ball should impress and they all should continue to take a step a forward this season. While the vets led by LeBron, Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and JaVale McGee will bring balance to this team.

As there is with any new teams, there’s sure to be some growing pains. But these are players who are willing to sacrifice for each other. As they continue to play together they will learn each other and understand how to play with each other.

NBA fans are all over the place this year. I’ve heard predictions from the Lakers winning the championship to not even making the playoffs. It’s true, the western conference will be a tall task for this team, but they have physical, gritty defenders who will be able to make it tough for teams like the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors to get into a flow.

Watching the Lakers play, looking at their talent and style, it’s obvious to me. Despite a tough, tough conference, the LA Lakers have all the potential in the world to win another NBA championship.

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