What’s the ceiling for this Laker team?
How LeBron James has the young Lakers rising fast in the power rankings and dreaming of a lot more than just the playoffs
When you have the greatest player on the planet playing at his peak prime, the sky is the limit and that’s the attitude LeBron James and the young Lakers have embraced as they rise in the standings and ignite championship dreams.
The Lakers are currently tied with the Clippers for the fourth seed in the West and rising rapidly in media power rankings. Since acquiring Tyson Chandler, the Lakers have won 13 of 17 games, playing the league’s fourth best defense. That performance catapulted them into the league’s top ten teams. Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, and CBS Sports currently rank the Lakers as the 7th best team in the league while Yahoo Sports has them 9th and The Athletic 10th.
While a work in progress, the Lakers with LeBron have established a strong identity as a team. They play fast and selflessly, attack the paint relentlessly, protect the rim ferociously, and shoot the three ball better than expected. They play at the fourth fastest pace in the league, pushing the ball relentlessly even after made baskets. They’re second best in the league in points scored in the paint. They have the league’s 9th best defense and 14th best offense.
Meanwhile, the Lakers’ front office is working hard to acquire playoff-proven two-way wing Trevor Ariza to give coach Luke Walton a defensive weapon to slow down deadly midrange scorers like DeMar DeRozan or Kevin Durant. With the West in chaos, the idea that LeBron could actually lead the Lakers to an NBA championship this season suddenly doesn’t seem so impossible. The Lakers’ front office knows this and won’t stand pat in the face of opportunity
The Western Conference playoff standings are in chaos at the one-third mark of the season with the Lakers, Clippers, Grizzlies, Mavs, and Kings replacing usual playoff contenders like the Blazers, Pelicans, Spurs, Jazz, and Rockets. While the latter teams still have time to make a playoff push, there’s no doubt the NBA is undergoing a major power shift in its standings with the Warriors less invincible and new contenders emerging in both the both Conferences.
The fact the Lakers are playing well and rising fast despite still having issues to resolve is a testament to the power of having the best player in the game. Forget those worries about Father Time slowly sneaking up on LeBron James. James is playing faster, scoring more points, and playing fewer minutes than ever before in his career. He’s having an MVP season, averaging 28.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.3 steals, and 0.8 blocks in 34.9 minutes per game.
Meanwhile, the questions about who on the Lakers’ eclectic roster fits and who doesn’t are starting to be answered. Kyle Kuzma appears to be winning the competition to be the Lakers’ and LeBron’s best fit as a secondary scorer, Josh Hart seems to be solidifying a role as the team’s starting shooting guard and best three point shooter, and Lonzo Ball’s slowly solidifying his role as the quarterback and major reason for the Lakers’ greatly improved defense.
The only member of the Lakers’ young core who doesn’t seem to be a fit starting and playing with LeBron is Brandon Ingram, whose season has been slowed by both an early fighting suspension and recent high ankle sprain. Even though Ingram’s struggled when playing with LeBron, he remains a critical piece for the Lakers because he has the most upside of their young core and could be the centerpiece of a mega trade for Anthony Davis.
So what’s the ceiling for this Lakers team? That’s a question we’re likely to learn the answer to the next two months. The Lakers are rising fast in the standings and power rankings and could accelerate that ascension if they’re able to trade for Trevor Ariza, get Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram back healthy, and continue to see Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart grow their games and develop better chemistry and synergy with LeBron James.
Despite the chinks in their armor, the Golden State Warriors are still the one team the Lakers and every other contending team have to somehow beat. But the genie’s clearly been released from the bottle and the Warriors no longer seem like a slam dunk to threepeat, which opens the door for the Lakers and other teams in the West to believe they have a legitimate chance to win an NBA championship this season. Make no mistake, LeBron knows all of this.
LeBron and the Lakers began the season with a goal of making the playoffs and setting the stage for a second superstar next summer. That’s all changed now as the new ceiling for this Lakers team is their 17th NBA championship.