Can the Lakers really make playoffs?

Comparing the Lakers 2017–18 starting lineup with the starting lineups of their five main playoff competitors

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Kevin Pelton of ESPN projects the Lakers to win just 33 games this season, which would place them 13th out of 15 teams in the Western Conference and result in their missing the playoffs for the fifth year in a row.

I believe Pelton’s projection, which is based on Real RPM stats, doesn’t account for the synergistic impact Lonzo Ball and his selfless sharing of the ball and style of play are going to have on the Lakers’ offense. I believe the Lakers are going to surprise everybody and make the playoffs this year. I also believe a comparison of the Lakers starting lineup with the starting lineups of their playoff competitors will clearly show the Lakers can win the match up.

While leapfrogging 5 spots to earn the #8 playoff spot and a first round matchup against the Champion Golden State Warriors might appear to be an impossible task for the Lakers, there’ve been so many dramatic roster changes in the West this offseason that there’s now parity in the conference after the top 5 teams. Specifically, the Lakers, Blazers, and Nuggets have all improved their teams while the Jazz, Clippers, and Grizzlies lost ground.

Here are my comparisons of the strengths of the Lakers starting lineup with the starting lineups of the 5 NBA teams the Lakers will need to leapfrog to earn the #8 playoff spot in the Western Conference:

  1. #12 MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (34.6 wins). The Grizzlies overachieved last year to win 43 games and finish #7, losing to the Spurs 4–2 in the first round. The improved Lakers should beat the slower Grizzlies 3 of the 4 times they play this year by outrunning them. KCP and Randle should enjoy huge mismatch advantages over Selden and Martin while Ball, Ingram, and Lopez hold their own against Conley, Parsons, and Gasol.
    ………………………….
    PG: Lonzo Ball = Mike Conley
    SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope > Wayne Selden
    SF: Brandon Ingram = Chandler Parsons
    PF: Julius Randle > Jarrell Martin
    CE: Brook Lopez = Marc Gasol
  2. #11 DALLAS MAVERICKS (34.6 wins). The Mavs struggled last year winning only 33 games and finishing #11 and missing the playoffs. The Lakers should be able to win 3 of their 4 games against the slower Mavs this year like the Grizzlies by relentlessly pushing the ball. KCP and Lopez should dominate against Curry and Noel while Ball, Ingram, and Randle be able to hold their own against Smith, Jr., Barnes, and Nowitski.
    ………………………….
    PG: Lonzo Ball = Dennis Smith, Jr.
    SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope > Seth Curry
    SF: Brandon Ingram = Harrison Barnes
    PF: Julius Randle = Dirk Nowitski
    CE: Brook Lopez > Nerlens Noel
  3. #10 PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS (43.8 wins). The Blazers won 41 games and finished #8 last season, getting swept by the Warriors in the first round. The Lakers will have to work hard to beat the Blazers 2 of the 3 times they play them this year. While Ball could struggle against Lillard, I think Ingram and Randle will dominate Harkless and Vonleh while KCP and Lopez will hold their own against McCollum and Nurkic.
    ………………………….
    PG: Lonzo Ball < Damian Lillard
    SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope = C. J. McCollum
    SF: Brandon Ingram > Mo Harkless
    PF: Julius Randle > Noah Vonleh
    CE: Brook Lopez = Jusuf Nurkic
  4. #9 NEW ORLEANS PELICANS (44.2 wins). After trading for DeMarcus Cousins in mid-season, the Pelicans won 34 games and finished 10th. With Jrue Holiday healthy, I view the Pelicans as the Lakers’ toughest competition for the #8 playoff spot. In the end, I think Lonzo and the Lakers speed will drive them to win 3 of the 4 games they’ll play against the Pelicans. KCP and Ingram should dominate Moore and Hill while Randle and Lopez will have their hands full with Davis and Cousins.
    ………………………….
    PG: Lonzo Ball = Jrue Holiday
    SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope > E’Twuan Moore
    SF: Brandon Ingram > Solomon Hill
    PF: Julius Randle < Antony Davis
    CE: Brook Lopez < DeMarcus Cousins
  5. #8 UTAH JAZZ (44.7 wins). With Gordon Hayward, the Jazz won 51 games, finished 5th, beat the Clippers in 7 in round 1, but were swept by the Warriors in round 2. With Hayward gone, I think the Lakers will beat the Jazz 2 of the 3 games they meet this year. KCP, Ingram, and Randle should have the advantage over Hood, Ingles, and Jerebko while Ball and Lopez should be able to hold their own against Rubio and Gobert.
    ………………………….
    PG: Lonzo Ball = Ricky Rubio
    SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope > Rodney Hood
    SF: Brandon Ingram > Joe Ingles
    PF: Julius Randle > Jonas Jerebko
    CE: Brook Lopez = Rudy Gobert

While head-to-head matchups don’t determine who gets into the playoffs, the Lakers need to beat the teams they’re competing with for that last playoff spot if they hope to have any chance of sneaking into the playoffs. I’ve projected the Lakers to win 13 of the 18 head-to-head matchups with their competitors. If they can do that, they have a good chance of winning the#8 playoff spot and hopefully a shot at jumping up to #7 to avoid the Golden State Warriors.

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