Lebron, Lakers and Potential

Lebron James has decided to join the Los Angelas Lakers. Even though it is a move that many have been predicting for months that does not make it any less impactful to the NBA landscape. Since the time this article has been published, the Lakers have proceeded to sign: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (KCP), Lance Stephenson, Javale McGee, Rajon Rondo and Michael Beasley. Interesting personalities sure, but there is a legitimate question of how this group fits next to Lebron without the reliable shooting with the exception of KCP. Apparently Lebron and Magic Johnson have a plan to how these pieces would work together which essentially involves having as much playmakers around Lebron as possible. It is not a terrible strategy and it holds a solid premise. In today’s game a team wants as many players as possible with the ability to dribble, pass, and shoot. It was what helped the Celtics get to a game 7 of the Conference finals this past year and has helped the Warriors the past few years.

The only issue is there may have been better players to be had this free agency. The Lakers are not done making moves and they still have the potential to make their biggest move in obtaining Kawhi Leonard this upcoming year via trade or in free agency 2019. The Lakers only won 35 games last year placing them 11th in the Western Conference. Lebron has consistently shown the ability to elevate any team he is on; however it is fair to ask if the same can happen with the Lakers in a competitive Western Conference.

When looking closer at what the Lakers have to offer in overall talent the team may be slightly more dangerous next season than many realize. This is not a team lacking talented young players. The players they currently have in place are players who have the skillset to be more than just specialists around Lebron. When referring to the Laker’s talented young core, it is in reference to Kuzma, Ball, Hart and Ingram. Kentavius Caldwell-Pope (KCP) is young (age 25) and talented as well; however, he does not quite fit the potential the aforementioned players bring to the table.

Ball, Kuzma, Hart and Ingram have shown the ability to create for themselves and/or for others as well. The success of the Lakers this upcoming season depends on how much the aforementioned players grow. Each individual player has talent that is a fascinating fit next to Lebron. Reports have come out with Lebron expressing a willingness to be patient with this young core unlike his time with the Heat or Cavaliers. If Lebron is willing to be patient, at least for a year, the reward could be great. And each player offers a unique skillset with immense potential to fit next to Lebron.

Josh Hart does not receive quite as much hype as the rest of the young core, though that has changed somewhat since he won Summer League MVP; however, he has shown tremendous talent and growth this summer. He was the third leading scorer of the Las Vegas Summer League and has shown more of his ability with the opportunity. It would not be a surprise if he received significant playing time next season or even a role as starter overtaking KCP, though KCP is good. He offers solid shooting ability and had the highest EFG% (59.7%) on the team last year from catch & shoot shots for players who played 50 or more games, including shooting 40.7% from the three point line.

Ingram improved his sophomore year and it will be fascinating to see the progress he makes his third year in the league. His average PPG, RPG, APG, SPG, BPG, FG%, and 3P% all improved in his second year. His advanced stats also improved as well, showing a higher PER, TS%, WS, BPM, and VORP. While Ingram’s numbers are not excellent, the improvement and flashes he has shown make him a fascinating fit next to Lebron. Ingram is a 6’9 wing with ball handling ability, passing ability and the talent to create his own shot off the dribble. He is also an incredibly young player that has not even turned 21 years old. When looking at players age 21 or younger in their sophomore season who have averaged at least 16 PPG, 5 RPG, 3.5 APG with an EFG% of at least 49%, the only other players in NBA history to average those numbers, aside from Ingram, were Magic Johnson, Nikola Jokic, Lebron James, Chris Webber, and Lamar Odom. If Ingram continues his steady improvement there is no reason why he won’t be one of the best teammates Lebron has ever played with. This season will be a make or break year him.

Kyle Kuzma exceeded all expectations last year as a 27th pick. His three point shooting – which was inconsistent in college – improved to 37% on more than five attempts per game this past year. Kyle Kuzma averaged 16.1/6.3/1.8 (PPG/RPG/APG) on an eFG% of 52.7% from the field his rookie year. The five most recent rookies to average at least 16/6/1.5 with an eFG% of at least 52% before Kuzma were Karl-Anthony Towns, Tim Duncan, Chris Webber, Shaq, and David Robinson. All five of those players were or – in the case of KAT – are perennial All Stars. Shaq and David Robinson are Hall of Famers and Tim Duncan will be a future Hall of Famer. Kyle Kuzma may never quite reach the apex of the aforementioned players; however, the fact that he is even on this list shows he is likely to have a quality career ahead of him. He has proven to be a quality shooter at 6’9″ with enough ball handling ability to make straight line drives to the basket when teams play him too close. He is a talented player who played better than Lonzo for stretches of last year. Lebron has the passing ability to make Kuzma look better than he did last year. A pick and roll combination of Lebron and Kuzma could be deadly.

Lonzo Ball was heavily maligned last season for his lack of shooting and the apparent distraction caused by his notorious father Lavar Ball. Unfortunately due to these factors and an injury-plagued season it took away much of the success he had last year. Lonzo did not shoot the ball well last year but he did do well in almost everything else. Lonzo averaged 10.2/6.9/7.2 as a rookie, the only other rookies in NBA history who averaged at least 10/6.5/7 were Ben Simmons, Oscar Robertson, and Lakers legend Magic Johnson. The Big O and Magic are Hall of Famers and Ben Simmons is considered one of the future faces of the league. Lonzo, despite his success, is considered in danger of losing his spot next year to Rajon Rondo. According to ESPN’s NBA Real Plus-Minus which ranks players by their overall on-court impact Lonzo was ranked 21st of the 97 point guards in the database, Rondo was ranked 46th. While Rondo has shown the ability to step up in the playoffs, based on overall impact Lonzo is the better player despite his poor shooting.

Lonzo’s fit next to Lebron is questionable due to Lebron being at his best surrounded with shooters; however, this is not necessarily a positive for Rondo. Rondo is an improved shooter but the gap between his shooting and Lonzo’s is not enough to make up for the fact that Lonzo is a far better defender, rebounder and close enough as a passer to make up the difference. Lonzo’s versatility provide him the potential to be featured on the Laker’s best lineups next to Lebron this upcoming season.

Much has been made of the questionable veteran signings the Lakers have made. Yet not enough attention has been given to the players the Lakers already had in place. Lonzo, Kuzma, KCP, Hart, and Ingram were valuable contributors to the Lakers last year. None of them will be older than 25 by the start of next season. Though McGee, Rondo, Stephenson and Beasley bring a veteran presence to the team, the young players will likely bring the talent and fit Lebron needs to exceed expectations this season.