Cutting Through the Lakers’ Hype!
Assessing what’s fact and what’s hype when evaluating the chances of the Los Angeles Lakers winning their seventeenth NBA championship
With the start of the 2019–20 season less than 30 days away, every NBA team is undefeated, tied for first place, and basking in preseason hyperbole promising breakout seasons, playoff promises, and championship parades.
So before the 2019–20 season begins, let’s take a close look at some of the prevalent assumptions Lakers fans have been reading in the glass-half-full articles from team pundits and writers to see what’s fact and what’s hype. Here are some of the most common positive assumptions cited as reasons Lakers fans should expect their team to compete for their seventeenth NBA championship and the percentage of each assumption that’s fact or hype.
1. Lakers have the best player on the planet. Fact or Hype?
After being voted the #1 player in the NBA for eight straight years, LeBron James was suddenly dropped to #3 by ESPN in their list of the top 100 NBA players for 2020 behind #1 Giannis Antetounmpo and #2 Kawhi Leonard. The argument for elevating Giannis and Kawhi over LeBron is specious and based on the fact James suffered his first major injury last year which led to his missing the NBA playoffs for the first time in thirteen straight seasons.
The truth is LeBron James is still the best player in the world. The problem was he lacked support. The Lakers went 9–18 without LeBron while the Raptors went 17–5 without Kawhi and the Bucks 4–6 without Giannis. LeBron averaged 27.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8.5 assists in 55 games compared to Giannis’ 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists in 72 games and Kawhi’s 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in 60 games.
With the summer off for the first time in thirteen years plus Anthony Davis and stronger supporting cast, look for a healthy King to reclaim his throne. LeBron James is still the best player on the planet. 90% fact, 10% hype.
2. Lakers have the best superstar duo. Fact or Hype?
After a summer of blockbuster trades and free agency signings, there are now five teams with legitimate superstar duos, including the Los Angeles Lakers with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Clippers with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Houston Rockets with James Harden and Russell Westbrook, Golden State Warriors with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and Brooklyn Nets with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Of these five duos, the Lakers’ James and Davis are the only duo that includes two of ESPN’s top-five players in the NBA. Additionally, James and Davis are also the only duo that’s currently healthy and fits positionally. The Warriors’ Curry and Thompson and Nets’ Durant and Irving won’t play together until next season due to injuries while the Rockets’ Harden and Westbrook and Clippers’ Leonard and George play the same position.
The Lakers haven’t boasted a superstar duo as dynamic as LeBron James and Anthony Davis since the days of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. James and Davis are the league’s best superstar duo. 90% fact, 10% hype.
3. Lakers have stabilized the front office. Fact or Hype?
There’s no question the Lakers’ front office was a dysfunctional mess under Magic Johnson last season and the virulent fan and media criticism was justified as the team caromed from one disastrous decision to another. Johnson’s lack of experience running a franchise, inability to build a roster around LeBron James, and failure to unite the franchise as an organization seemingly took the franchise to the brink of disaster before he resigned.
Fortunately, owner Jeanie Buss did not panic under intense fan and media pressure and made what turned out to be a savvy decision to give general manager Rob Pelinka the power and opportunity to turn things around. Pelinka was able to pull off a mega trade for Anthony Davis, revamp the coaching staff with Frank Vogel and key veteran assistants, and rebuild the roster with veteran shooters and defenders to complement LeBron and AD.
The great job Pelinka has done resurrecting the Lakers’ front office in less than six months has been miraculous and silenced the doubters and critics. Rob Pelinka has stabilized the Lakers’ front office. 90% fact, 10% hype.
4. Lakers have a deep and talented roster. Fact or Hype?
The good news is Rob Pelinka and the Lakers’ front office have smartly focused on building a deep and talented roster with veteran players who can shoot or defend. The bad news is that only a few of them can do both. The problem for the Lakers was that many of the players they coveted were not willing to wait until Kawhi Leonard made his decision and ended up signing with teams for more than what the Lakers could have afforded.
Having said that, Pelinka and the front office did a good job considering they had to try and land Kawhi and every player they signed was an elite three-point shooter or former All-Defensive first or second team player. Because Rob actively included both LeBron and AD in the decisions as to whom to sign, the roster has an good chance at being able to develop strong team chemistry and a high upside despite many question marks.
How deep and talented the Lakers’ roster will be depends on the veteran players staying healthy, coalescing as a team, and enjoying career years. The Lakers have a deep and talented roster. 50% fact, 50% hype.
5. Lakers have a much better coaching staff. Fact or Hype?
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. The Lakers decision to hire Frank Vogel as head coach instead of Tyronn Lue was partly lingering dysfunction and partly serendipity in Lue demanding a five-year contract. While Ty Lue might have been the ideal coach for LeBron James, Frank Vogel is the perfect coach for Anthony Davis and the physical defensive oriented team Rob Pelinka and the Lakers’ front office want to build.
While the Lakers hope to ride LeBron James to multiple championships, the trade for Anthony Davis is as much about the future of the franchise as the present, which is why they were unwilling to give Lue a five-year deal. Whereas Walton and his staff were ideal to coach a team of budding young stars, Frank Vogel and his veteran assistants are a much better fit for the veteran roster Rob Pelinka and the Lakers’ front office have assembled.
Unlike Walton, Vogel has embraced surrounding himself with former NBA head coaches as assistants and overdue moves like hiring a shooting coach. The Lakers have a much better coaching staff. 75% fact, 25% hype.
6. Lakers will be a top-ten 3-point shooting team. Fact or Hype?
Magic Johnson’s critical mistake as the Lakers’ president of basketball operations was his failure to surround LeBron James with the elite three-point shooting that had enabled him to win three NBA championships. Pelinka made sure not to repeat the same mistake when he took over the reins of the Lakers’ front office as he made acquiring proven three-point shooters, along with experienced defenders, a key goal in free agency.
The result was a roster with five players who shot better than 40% on wide-open threes last season, including Danny Green, Quinn Cook, Troy Daniels, Avery Bradley, and Alex Caruso, who was the only Laker to do so last year. The Lakers had the fifth worst shooting percentage on wide-open threes in the league last year, which allowed opposing teams to clog the paint and prevent LeBron James from having critical space to attack the rim.
Last year, the Lakers made only 33.3% of their threes, which was second worst in the league. This year, they should shoot over 36% and be top-ten. The Lakers will be a top-ten 3-point shooting team. 75% fact, 25% hype.
7. Lakers will be top-five defensive team? Fact or Hype?
In hopes of building a top-five NBA defensive team, the Los Angles Lakers have signed 26-year old potential DPOY candidate Anthony Davis along with five veteran teammates who are former NBA All-Defensive players. Among these six teammates, Anthony Davis won All-Defensive honors three times, LeBron James five times, Dwight Howard five times (and DPOY three times), Avery Bradley two times, and Danny Green one time.
The bad news is none of these awards were from last year and many were from several years ago. Davis’ last defensive award was from 2018, Green’s from 2017, Bradley’s from 2016, James’ from 2014, Howard’s from 2012, and Rondo’s from 2012. The good news is many of these players have struggled with injuries but are now healthy. Playing in a defensive oriented system for a veteran head coach like Frank Vogel should also help.
The Lakers finished last season with 108.9 defensive rating, ranked #13. With a 106.0 defensive rating this year, the Lakers would be in the top-five. The Lakers will be a top-five defensive team. 75% fact, 25% hype.
8. Lakers have a wide-open path to a championship. Fact or Hype?
Because of Kevin Durant’s departure in free agency and Klay Thompson’s injury, the 2019–20 season will be the first in five years that the Golden State Warriors won’t be heavy favorites to win the NBA championship. Suddenly, the path to the NBA title is wide-open with as many as seven teams considered to have a legitimate chance to win the championship, including the Lakers, Clippers, Rockets, Bucks, 76ers, Warriors, and Jazz.
Golden State’s misfortune has dramatically changed the landscape and blown a fresh breath of championship hope across the league, which should make this one of the most exciting and unpredictable seasons ever. The sudden wide-open opportunity to win a championship was obviously one of the major factors behind the blatant and unfettered tampering, free agency frenzy, and crazy sign-and-trades that dominated this summer.
Winning the NBA championship this season will require a perfect storm of good health and fortune for the Lakers but opportunity is clearly knocking. The Lakers have a wide-open path to a championship. 90% fact, 10% hype.
9. Lakers will beat the injury jinx and stay healthy. Fact or Hype?
Last season the Lakers lost 219 player-games due to injury, which was an average of 2.6 players missing every game, more than any team in the NBA. The snake-bitten Lakers had five players who missed at least 20 games. More importantly, three of these players were the Lakers’ leaders and star players, including starting point guard Lonzo Ball, starting shooting guard Brandon Ingram, and superstar starting small forward LeBron James.
The nightmare wave of injuries derailed what had started out to be a very promising season for the Lakers, who were 19–14 and a top-four team in the West before LeBron James went down with an injury on Christmas day. Unfortunately, the Lakers’ hopes to avoid the injury bug this season have already taken a big hit with DeMarcus Cousins torn ACL and a couple of small ones with Kyle Kuzma’s and Talen Horton-Tucker’s leg injuries.
Whether the Lakers can avoid the plague of injuries to key players that doomed last season will be the major factor in their championship quest. The Lakers will beat the injury jinx and stay healthy. 50% fact, 50% hype.
10. Lakers will win the NBA championship. Fact or Hype?
Had Kawhi Leonard signed with the Lakers rather than the Clippers, the purple and gold would have had the greatest superstar Big Three in history and been odd on favorites to win their seventeenth NBA championship. While that unfortunately didn’t happen, there are still lots of solid reasons why Lakers’ fans should be optimistic things will be fine because their team has a legitimate opportunity to compete for a championship this year.
The Lakers do have the best player on the planet in LeBron James, the best superstar duo in the league in James and Davis, a rising front office star in GM Rob Pelinka, a veteran defensive genius in head coach Frank Vogel, a potential top-ten three-point shooting team and potential top-five defensive team, a wide- open path to the championship, and a 50/50 shot at a deep and talented roster that could possibly beat the injury jinx and stay healthy.
While ESPN and the prognosticators seem to be favoring the Clippers and Bucks over the Lakers, Vegas still favors the Lakers to take home the ring. The Lakers will win the NBA championship. 50% fact, 50% hype.
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