Lakers’ young guns target playoffs?
How the breakout play of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma has the young Lakers dreaming of the playoffs
It didn’t take Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka long to remake the Lakers’ baby big 3 into their own liking. In less than a season, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma have replaced D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and Jordan Clarkson as the trio of future stars around whom the Lakers would rebuild. After a shaky start, the Lakers’ young guns have started to hit their stride and are suddenly dreaming about starting a big run and making the playoffs.
And who could blame the young Lakers’ stars for dreaming of the playoffs? While struggling to win due to youth and inexperience, they just went head-to-head with the Warriors, Rockets, and Mavs, the three best teams in the league, in four straight games and held their own. While their only win was breaking the Rockets 14-game win streak, the Lakers could have won all four games if they had made their free throws and/or executed down the stretch.
With 20-year old rookie Lonzo Ball, 20-year old second year player Brandon Ingram, and 22-year old rookie Kyle Kuzma suddenly starting to play like they hoped when they drafted them, the Lakers appear ready to complete the dismantling of the trio of young guns from the previous front office regime. Russell is already gone and the Lakers have made no secret of their intention to trade Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson to clear up cap for next summer.
Make no mistake. These young Laker stars are hungry and growing up fast right in front of us. Polarizing 20-year old rookie point guard Lonzo Ball has transformed his shooting and season from bust to beast. 20-year old second year small forward Brandon Ingram has shown he can hold his own against Kevin Durant. And 22-year old rookie Kyle Kuzma came out of nowhere to become the Lakers’ leading scorer and everybody’s surprise ROY candidate.
The Lakers’ baby big 3 had a breakout party over the last 4 games. Lonzo Ball averaged 17.3/7.0/6.5/1.3/1.0, Brandon Ingram 17.5/5.3/5.3/1.3/0/5, and Kyle Kuzma 27.5/8.5/2.3/0.5/0.8 points/rebounds, assists, steals/blocks per game. That’s a combined 62.3 points, 20.8 rebounds, 14.1 assists, 3.1 steals, and 2.3 blocks per game. And they did this while playing against the 3 best defensive teams in the NBA led by stars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
After a bruising December schedule highlighted by a just completed 4-game stretch where they held their own against the league’s three best teams, the Lakers season record stands at 11–19 with 52 games remaining to play. Having weathered the 6th toughest schedule through the first 30 games, the Lakers have 28 home and 24 away games remaining. They also will play 28 games against teams not projected to make the playoffs in their conference.
The sudden realization that they can play with the best of the league will hopefully motivate the Lakers to play the rest of the season like the playoff team they hope to become. To make the playoffs, the Lakers will need to win 12 or 50% of the 24 games remaining against top-8 teams and 21 or 75% of the 28 games remaining against non-top-9 teams. That would give the Lakers a 44–38 record, which would have been a #7 seed in the West last year.
Can a pair of freshly minted 20-year olds in and a brash 22-year old rookie with a total of 1 professional season under their belts actually engineer such a dramatic turnaround and lead the Lakers to their first playoff in over 5 years? The answer to that starts tonight as the Lakers have to prove that they can continue to play at an elite level against teams like Portland Trailblazers, who come into the game with a 16–16 record, which is good for #7 in the West.
If the Lakers want their playoff dreams to come true, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma must continue to have breakout seasons and play at the same level tonight as they did against the Cavs, Rockets, and Warriors.