Lakers’ fans have legitimate reasons to be excited this season. Whether it’s the prospect of watching a healthy Kobe, finally getting Julius Randle back, seeing if Jordan Clarkson can make another leap in his growth, or watching D’Angelo Russell develop there’s a newness and fresh feeling heading into this campaign. And because the last few seasons have been such horror shows, the light at the end of this particular tunnel seems even brighter.
The sense of optimism really is palpable. The fans are ready for this team to take a step forward and the players, coaches, and front office seem to all believe they will do just that. Remember, it’s not just the players mentioned above, it’s the additions of veterans Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams, and Brandon Bass who add to this feeling the team can improve by a fair amount. This group, more than the last few season’s outfits, feels like a team. Yes there’s redundancy and there are depth questions at a couple of positions, but overall, you’d be hard pressed to find any fan who doesn’t feel better about this team than the one last year or the year prior.
Include me in that bunch, too.
Now is where I remove the blanket from the puddle of water on the floor and place it right on your shoulders. If you polled experts, the Lakers are still slotted to be one of the worst teams in the league. When stating this team will be better than last year, they agree it will be — just not by very much. And when the bar to clear is as low as a 21 win dumpster fire, improvement is a relative term. Especially when placing it in the context of the rest of the league.
While I do not know if the #ESPNForecast prediction of 26 wins will be accurate, I do have my own concerns about issues that could plague this team. Even if I forget for a moment my long held concerns with the head coach, there are several issues I’ve been mulling over that I cannot seem to escape as being issues worth diving deeper into.
And since I love bullet points, here we go…
*In Russell, Clarkson, Lou Williams, and, reportedly, Marcelo Huertas the Lakers have a group of guards who all do their best work as ball-handlers in the pick and roll. And while Byron Scott seems willing to adjust his offense to run more of this action (he did so last year with Clarkson), one has to wonder if pairing those guys with Roy Hibbert is the best option. Hibbert isn’t the most fleet footed big man, but he may be asked to run to the top of circle or extended wing multiple times in a single possession to set and reset screens to try and free up the guards. If Hibbert cannot thrive in a P&R heavy offense, but the team needs him defensively, how does that balance shake out?
*Who will guard the other team’s best wing player? I’m not just talking about Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, or James Harden here. Players like Dwyane Wade, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Joe Johnson, and Paul George populate nearly every roster in the league. These guys are major threats and, many times, the focal point of their team’s offensive attack. In years past, the Lakers started a wing opposite Kobe whose focus was primarily on defense (Ariza, Artest, even Wes Johnson). This year, the Lakers are likley to start Jordan Clarkson next to Kobe. So, does Kobe take the challenge to guard these players? Does Clarkson give up size and strength — especially in match ups against natural SF’s — to guard them?
*Speaking of Clarkson, how does he manage the transition from PG to SG? I’m as high on the 2nd year guard as anyone. I think his combination of quickness, athleticism, and, most of all, his desire and ability to learn from his mistakes and apply new things to his game bode well for his career. However, the physical advantages that helped him be effective against point guards will be reduced when facing shooting guards and, in some cases, small forwards. How will he manage bigger players closing out on him, contesting his jumper, and bodying him up on drives into the paint? How will do chasing bigger players off screens or banging in the post with players who outweigh him by 15-20 pounds?
*Can this team help the helper well enough to defend at an adequate level? I’m on board with the talk that Hibbert’s skill set as a rim protector filling a major need. However, I think back to Dwight Howard’s lone season with the team and have a lasting memory of Dwight consistently pointing the finger at his teammates wondering where his help was. I get that Dwight’s frustration was partially with himself — he was clearly not recovered from his back injury and was not anywhere near the terror defensively he was with the Magic — and that he could have handled himself better in general (his demeanor did not endear him to fans or, I’d imagine, his teammates). But, it would be silly to say that Dwight was off-base in questioning the integrity of the team’s defense. He would often be in the right position to help on penetration only to have a teammate be late or ill-positioned to cover his back. This led to the Lakers still giving up a ton of paint points even with Dwight patrolling the middle. Needless to say, Hibbert would very much like for their not to be an encore of this scenario. The question is, will his teammates — many of them young and inexperienced or older/not very good defensively — be able to help him avoid it?
No one can know for certain how this will play out. The questions above could all be answered in the affirmative in the Lakers’ favor with things working out well on all fronts. However, it is probably more likely some of these concerns end up coming to fruition and damaging the team’s chances at winning games.
Again, I’m all for being hopeful about his upcoming season. And regardless of how any of the above questions are answered, I do believe the team is headed in the right direction. But, a deep dive into any team’s chances will reveal real questions worth pondering. The Lakers are no different and while no one really wants to be the bearer of bad news, here I am.