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2015-16 Los Angeles Lakers Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2015-16 season.

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The Los Angeles Lakers have been pretty bad for the last few years. And last season, with their top draft pick Julius Randle sustaining a season-ending leg injury in the first game and their cornerstone Kobe Bryant missing a bunch of time, their games weren’t even that exciting. To make matters worse, many of their contests were on national television.

Coming into this 2015-16 season, the script is totally flipped. Bryant and Randle are healthy, they have a slew of veteran contributors joining the team such as Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams and Brandon Bass, and this summer they drafted dynamic point guard D’Angelo Russell second overall.

There are real, legitimate reasons for Laker Nation to be excited for the first time in quite awhile, despite the unlikeliness of this squad solidifying a playoff berth in the competitive Western Conference (even though it is admittedly less deep than in recent seasons).

Basketball Insiders previews the 2015-16 Los Angeles Lakers.

Five Thoughts

The only thing I find myself wondering as the Lakers get set to tip off their 2015-16 season is whether we have already seen the last of Kobe Bryant. Bryant has missed 123 games over the past two seasons and just recently celebrated his 37th birthday. He has played 1,280 career games and another 220 playoff games, so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the end is near. Fortunately for the Lakers, with the ping pong balls landing in their favor, they walked away from the 2015 NBA Draft with D’Angelo Russell—a surefire talent who general manager Mitch Kupchak believes will carry the torch for the franchise after Bryant is officially gone. Russell will join Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson as the pieces that the team will attempt to secure for the long haul, while Lou Williams, Brandon Bass, Nick Young and Roy Hibbert simply hope to give Byron Scott’s team a chance to qualify for the playoffs. In the end, without the acquisition of any game-changing free agent, the Lakers will end up as just another team in the Western Conference attempting to escape the doldrums. And unfortunately, they won’t be successful, at least not this season. Due to some recent trades, the Lakers will have to send out two first round picks over the next few years, but their 2016 first round pick is protected so long as it lands in the top three. I think it is fairly likely that the Lakers end up clocking in as one of the worst teams in the Western Conference this season, though they should have an opportunity to edge out the Sacramento Kings out in the Pacific Division.

5th Place – Pacific Division

– Moke Hamilton

I’m not sure what the Lakers are doing, to be honest. On one hand, they’re assembling an impressive young core that features talented prospects like D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. among others. Then, on the other hand, they’re bringing in veterans like Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams and Brandon Bass who will take playing time away from those young guys. It seems to me that the Lakers aren’t sure if they should embrace a rebuild or continue to add quick-fix veterans. It seems like after missing on marquee free agents this summer, they just added those veterans to save face, act like they’re competing this year and appease Kobe Bryant. I think their best course of action would be embracing the youth movement, since there’s no way that this Lakers team can make the playoffs as currently constructed in the brutal Western Conference. By adding those veterans this offseason, L.A. may have taken minutes away from their young players and hurt their chances of getting a better pick in the 2016 NBA Draft since those veterans will provide marginal improvement (but not enough to actually matter). The worst place to be as an NBA franchise is in the middle of the pack. If you aren’t a contender, it’s better to be a bottom feeder because then at least you can potentially land a star with a top draft pick and develop your young players. Right now, the Lakers find themselves in the middle of the pack and I don’t understand their long-term plan.

5th Place – Pacific Division

– Alex Kennedy

Los Angeles Lakers fans have been in the unusual position of salivating over the potential of their drafted lottery picks the last two years. Now the team’s faithful wants to get back to their winning ways of yesteryear, however, this may require a bit more patience. Sure there were solid pieces added over the summer such as D’Angelo Russell, Lou Williams and Roy Hibbert. The team will also benefit from the healthy return of Julius Randle, who missed all but one game last season. But ultimately the health and effectiveness of future Hall of Fame guard Kobe Bryant will be the determining factor of this team’s ceiling. Optimists believe Bryant is ready to go out with a loud bang. Skeptics point to the fact Bryant has been unable to finish the last three seasons due to injury and the fact that his body can no longer shoulder the load solo. We’ll side with the latter.

5th Place – Pacific Division

– Lang Greene

The Lakers did what they could to salvage an offseason where they unfortunately did not land them any of the tastier fish. While adding Roy Hibbert and Lou Williams for most teams would be a reasonable haul, those guys ended up just feeling like sad consolation prizes in a truly disappointing summer. Getting the second overall pick and using it on D’Angelo Russell was a good deal, though he might not be as immediately dominant as Lakers fans hope. Having Julius Randle and Kobe Bryant back healthy are good things, as well. Good enough to make the playoffs, though? That might be asking a lot. Bryant is golfing his final hole, Hibbert is painfully inconsistent and both Randle and Russell are completely unproven. In an increasingly tough Pacific Division, it’s still tough to see them squeezing into the playoff picture, marginally improved though they may be.

4th Place – Pacific Division

– Joel Brigham

Between the returns of Kobe Bryant and Julius Randle, along with the debut of D’Angelo Russell, there will be no shortage of buzz on the Lakers this season. How it all comes together on the court remains to be seen. The Lakers should be better than their 21-win struggle last season. The additions of Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams and Brandon Bass bolsters their veteran experience and gives them players that can contribute immediately. As always, the potential of the team depends on health.

4th Place – Pacific Division

– Jessica Camerato

Top Of The List

Top Offensive Player: Kobe Bryant

Barring a near impossible addition of a select number of NBA stars, Kobe will be the best player on the Lakers until he retires. With his jumper, array of post moves and ball fakes that juke his defenders out of their shoes and make up for his waning athleticism, along with his veteran savvy and killer instinct, Kobe is the quintessential, prototypical offensive superstar. A healthy Kobe is the best offensive player on the team. Any game, anywhere, he can drop 50 points.

Top Defensive Player: Roy Hibbert

While he isn’t in his All-Star form from his early days in Indiana, Hibbert and his 7’2 frame instantly becomes the best defensive big man in a Lakers’ uniform. The “King of Verticality” will patrol the paint for Los Angeles and would hypothetically close the book on the Lakers’ reputation as basically five Spanish Matadors that invite the opposing team to drive to the hoop. No more “Olé!”

Top Playmaker: Jordan Clarkson

Obviously Kobe could fill up most of these categories, but we’ll put a young, emerging player here. The youthful Clarkson can fill it up himself, but also can get his teammates involved. His long wingspan and hops help him get deflections and initiate the fast-break for the rest of his team. It is going to be really interesting to see how the 23-year-old Clarkson will build off of his strong rookie year. He has more experience, but the point guard battle between Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell will be quite intriguing. Who is going to start between the two of them? Will they play significant minutes together? Which one will finish games beside Kobe in the backcourt?

Top Clutch Player: Kobe Bryant

How could the most clutch player on the Lakers not be Kobe? With the game on the line, who else on their team would you want shooting the ball? The Black Mamba, and it’s not even really close. Kobe is a transcendent talent that we are lucky to have been able to watch. All NBA fans should just want him to be healthy all year and have some flashes of his prime years over the course of the season. We don’t know how many years of Kobe we have left, so we have to relish and cherish him while he is still playing.

Top Unheralded Player: Julius Randle

There was a significant amount of hype for Julius Randle before last year. Then he broke his leg in his NBA debut, which sure tempered the crazy expectations. Now all the hype is on second overall draft pick D’Angelo Russell, Clarkson and the incoming veterans. Randle shouldn’t be left out of the conversation. The Lakers now have a talented guard rotation and as a big man, a healthy Randle will be able to show off his tremendous skills and make an impact in the post this season.

Top New Addition: D’Angelo Russell

Russell is going to be electric for the Lakers. They haven’t had this talented of a point guard since… maybe Derek Fisher in his prime (we can’t count Steve Nash since he was never really healthy). Russell seems to have embraced what it means to be a Laker and looks primed to have a great rookie season (as he recently told our Alex Kennedy). He beats out the veteran acquisitions (Hibbert, Williams and Bass) mostly based on his superstar potential. Russell is the future of the Lakers. Once Kobe retires (and not until then), Russell will be the face of the franchise. He is dynamic and will certainly contribute to the uptick in the number of Lakers wins this upcoming season.

– Eric Saar

Who We Like:

1. Lou Williams: Williams is a better version of Nick “Swaggy P” Young. He can be that awesome spark off the bench and gives the Lakers some long-range shooting, which they lacked last year (if Coach Byron Scott lets him shoot from deep with enough volume to make a difference).

2. Brandon Bass: Bass will really help the Lakers as a free agent addition. He is a blue-collar guy who works hard, sets screens, rebounds well and defends his position. He’s a little better than just that, but those characteristics in a player who also has some offensive ability and versatility, along with his experience, will be an asset to Los Angeles.

3. Nick Young: Swaggy P isn’t a bad NBA player, but the problem is he has been forced into a bigger role than he should really fill on a team. With the addition of Lou Williams, the drafting of Russell, along with Bryant and Randle’s improved health, the Lakers won’t have to rely so much on Young and he should flourish this upcoming season as a result. He does have some playmaking ability, he can certainly shoot and is definitely a great “bad shot” maker.

4. Ryan Kelly: Sort of in the same vein as Nick Young, Kelly has been thrust into a larger role than he’s suited for. The 24-year-old stretch-four is perfectly suited to be one of the last bigs off the bench, not a starter or key contributor. With the addition of Hibbert and Bass, as well as a healthy Randle, Kelly gets moved down the depth chart and can pick his spots, flourishing in a suitable role. His shooting will certainly help, as he is by far the best shooter in the Lakers’ frontcourt.

5. Larry Nance Jr: Nance Jr. will be another youthful addition to this diverse Lakers squad. Since being drafted, he has worked on his shot. Nance Jr. impressed during the Las Vegas Summer League with his athletic blocks and dunks, so he should be exciting to watch in the paint. For more on Nance Jr., check out Alex Kennedy’s wide-ranging interview with him from earlier this year.

– Eric Saar

Strengths

Los Angeles finally has some shooting and playmaking ability on its roster. The Lakers need it, as they were 26th in the NBA in effective field goal percentage last season.

The Lakers actually have some solid guards now. With Bryant, Russell, Clarkson, Williams and even Young, it’s a pretty decent rotation. They’ve improved their shooting by adding Williams and Russell over last year, and of course a healthy Kobe helps in that area as well. All these playmakers mean one of them should “go off” every game, giving the Lakers an offensive boost.

– Eric Saar

Weaknesses

Even with the addition of Hibbert, this defense is still going to be pretty bad. Last year they ranked second to last in the NBA in opponents’ effective field goal percentage. Just adding Hibbert and a handful of negative to average defenders won’t sway that too much.

While good near the basket, Hibbert is still really slow. Bass is around league-average and Robert Sacre, Randle, Kelly and Tarik Black are young and unproven defensively. With Hibbert and Bass, their rebounding should improve, but it still won’t be great.

– Eric Saar

The Burning Question

Will the Lakers surprise everyone and make the playoffs?

Doubtful. Even though there are a couple spots open in the West with Dallas and Portland getting significantly worse, the Lakers would still have to leapfrog teams like the Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings, which is unlikely. However, there is finally (a realistic) reason for optimism and excitement in Lakerland again – a reason to watch all those nationally televised games: all of the young talent and a bright future.

There are no guarantees, but in a year or two there is a solid chance that the men in purple and gold can make the playoffs. The Grizzlies will likely be worse (Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol aren’t getting younger). The Thunder may be broken up (who knows where Kevin Durant decides to go, although he may decide to stay in Oklahoma City). It remains to be seen what will happen to the Rockets too, as some key players (including Dwight Howard) approach free agency.

The Lakers are probably still a few seasons away from meaningful contention, but with a growing core of young players, the future is brighter than it has been in recent years.

– Eric Saar

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