With the NBA season just a week away and the majority of player movement being done, I’m going to start previewing the teams. Based on my projected order of the standings, we’ll start at the bottom and work towards the top rotating between East and West. Past previews will be linked as well.
Atlanta Hawks | Brooklyn Nets | Charlotte Hornets | Chicago Bulls | Cleveland Cavaliers | Dallas Mavericks | Detroit Pistons | Los Angeles Clippers | Memphis Grizzlies | Miami Heat | Minnesota Timberwolves | New Orleans Pelicans | New York Knicks | Orlando Magic | Phoenix Suns | Portland Trailblazers | Sacramento Kings | San Antonio Spurs | Washington Wizards
LeBron James is a Laker. After dominating the Eastern Conference and leaving behind eight straight finals appearances, LeBron has a new challenge ahead of him in the loaded Western Conference. Promising young players Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart are joined by a plethora of veteran additions in what hopes to be a playoff caliber team. Nabbing LeBron in free agency automatically makes the Lakers the big winners this offseason, but the rest of their free agent signings leave a lot to be desired. Once again the Lakers struck out attempting to acquire a second superstar, and will wait again until next summer. Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley all need the ball in their hands to be effective and are not great three point shooters. Kuzma and Hart seem like they are solid rotation players, and Ball and Ingram both have star potential, but aren't there yet and their development is going to the key for the Lakers success. Never count out LeBron but in the stacked West just making the playoffs would be a successful season.
Offensive Rating 105.9 (23rd)
Defensive Rating 107.2 (13th)
Net Rating -1.3 (21st)
True Shooting Percentage 54.8% (19th)
Assist Percentage 58.4% (17th)
Rebound Percentage 50.9% (9th)
Turnover Percentage 15.2% (25th)
Pace 102.62 (3rd)
Michael Beasley PF (free agency), Issac Bongo PG (draft), LeBron James SF (free agency), JaVale McGee C (free agency), Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk SG (draft), Rajon Rondo PG (free agency), Lance Stephenson SF (free agency), Moritz Wagner PF (draft)
Luou Deng SF, Channing Frye C, Brook Lopez C, Julius Randle PF, Isaiah Thomas PG
Ingram and Ball
Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball are the two young Lakers that might have superstar potential. Lonzo Ball can do everything besides shoot. He's already a plus defender and can facilitate for his teammates. However last season he shot 36% from the floor and 45.1% from the free throw line which is downright awful. Ingram really improved his offensive efficiency and his shooting, shooting a respectable 47% from the field and 39% from the three point line. Ingram still isn't a great defender, but improved to just below league average in defensive real plus minus after being one of the worst defenders as a rookie. For the Lakers to take the next step, LeBron is going to need the young guys to step up.
Point Guard Battle
The battle for point guard minutes is going to go on all season between Lonzo Ball, Rajon Rondo, and Josh Hart. The Lakers aren't expected to make a serious championship run this season, so the number one priority should be developing Lonzo Ball. Hart showed some real promise as a rookie and deserves minutes as well. Rondo has been up and down but really looked good last season with the Pelicans, and is someone that LeBron handpicked to play with. The problem is that the Lakers might be the most competitive with Rondo on the court which is probably going to be LeBron's preference. However more minutes for Rondo means less minutes for Ball and Hart which is going to hinder their long term development. Can LeBron be patience and allow the two young guys to develop? Is Rondo okay with playing only a handful of minutes every night?
Luke Walton came over from the Warriors two years ago, and has implemented their style of playing fast, ball movement, and cutting. LeBron comes over from the Cavaliers, where they played at a very slow pace, worked much more in isolation, and basically ran their offense through LeBron on the elbow. The veterans that came over in free agency are much more suited for the Cavs style of play, as Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley need the ball in their hands to be the most effective. How will Luke Walton integrate the new players into a system that relies on three point shooting and constant movement and cutting? With LeBron being the floor general expect the Lakers offense which was extremely fun to watch, to regress into a slower more isolation based style of play.
Player to Watch: Lonzo Ball
I am not as high on Brandon Ingram as a lot of people, but I do think that Lonzo Ball have a chance to be a special player. Last season Ball was exceptional defensively, ranking third in defensive real plus minus amongst point guards which is outstanding for a rookie. Ball clearly has a high basketball IQ and makes his teammates better. The problem is that Ball's shooting isn't just bad, it's almost unplayable. Free throw percentage is the best indicator of shooting ability and Ball shot just 45.1% from the charity stripe third worst in the NBA (of players with more than 50 attempts). Even Ben Simmons managed to shoot 56%, the only other guard that was under 60%. Ball is never going to be a great shooter, but he has to get his percentages up to at least a below league average level, he simply cannot be one of the worst shooters in the NBA.
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: LeBron James
PF: Brandon Ingram
C: JaVale McGee
PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Josh Hart
SF: Lance Stephenson
PF: Michael Beasley
C: Ivica Zubic
Westgate Projected Win Total: 48.5
Projected Record: 45-37 (6th in Western Conference)