Lights. Camera. Action.
With the Lakers bringing in LeBron James and a supporting cast of NBA vets fit for reality tv, this upcoming season will be nothing short of a movie. What movie genre it will be is nearly impossible to predict. It could be a comedy where the rest of the league laughs as LeBron drags a core of unprepared young players to the eighth seed. A horror film where some of the villains of Lebron’s playoff past attempt to destroy his team from the inside. Maybe this season could be a blockbuster like Creed with this new roster exceeding expectations.
Here are four make or break factors for the 2018-2019 Los Angeles Lakers season.
The LeBron and Ronzo dynamic
This is the first time in NBA history that three of the previous season’s top ten leaders in assists per game are on the same roster. LeBron has never been paired with a point guard with passing vision comparable to his, and now he has two. How he handles this will be very intriguing. Will he really be ready to give up a large portion of the playmaking duties?
In the limited LeBron minutes in the preseason, we saw a lot more of him playing off-ball, running through screens, as well as running in transition, starting, dishing and finishing on fast breaks. Will this hold up for a whole season? Only he can answer that. LeBron’s bread and butter was action at from the top of the key last playoffs, often isolating or calling for a pick. It’s hard to break old habits, and probably even tougher to ask Superman not to play hero ball.
Rajon Rondo and Lonzo Ball will obviously have to make adjustments to play with the King. How will they be able to remain viable offensive threats when the ball isn’t in their hands? Aside from the occasional lob to Lonzo, Rondo and Lonzo don’t necessarily have the off-ball tools to scare an NBA defense with their inconsistent/consistently bad outside shooting. It will be interesting to see what’s more noticeable: what they bring to the table or what they take away. Either way, expect to see plenty of hockey assists like the assist at the five-minute mark of this video.
Brandon Ingram has to make THE LEAP (and Kuzma’s gotta make the hop)
Ingram has to be the clear second best player on the Lakers this season. Last season he showed he was a capable playmaker, shot nearly 40% from 3, and guarded the best wing on the opposing team most nights.
With LeBron and Rondo on the floor, Ingram is a devastating off-ball threat with the ability to score from anywhere off the catch. Where Ingram really needs to prove himself is when LeBron is off the floor. Can he remain efficient and build on what he was building last season? That’s where we’ll find out if he’s made the leap or not.
While Kuzma isn’t due for THE LEAP this season, he definitely needs to show a little bit of growth. He doesn’t necessarily need to increase how much he’s scoring but he will need to be more consistent.
Who’s the captain now?
Will this remain Luke Walton’s team through the entire season? Just last season, Lavar Ball stated Walton had “lost the locker room.” While it’s unclear how true this is (I mean C’mon it’s Lavar Ball), a young, laid-back coach might not be the ideal fit for this new era of showtime with King James.
Luke Walton is going to have to be able to manage a demi-god, his ego, a supercomputer with a history of attitude problems, three “Shaqtin’ A Fool” hall of famers, and a crop of young talent day in and day out. He’s got a lot on his plate to say the least. How will he divvy up the Ronzo minutes once he’s sick of the endless supply of bricks that come with them playing together? How will he react if Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley start slap-boxing after practice? Most importantly, how does Walton react to LeBron when he resorts back to pick and rolls at the top of the key?
Who’s playing center?
The center spot is where the Lakers are most vulnerable. While Javale McGee will provide athleticism starting at the five, the spacing and playmaking are seriously lacking with him on the floor.
To compensate for the lack of playmaking and shooting, Walton has been running his own version of the Warriors death lineup with James and Kuzma playing the role of big men. While this lineup has the pros of increased spacing, switchability, and pace, it leaves them without strong rim protection and rebounding. Skilled bigs like Marc Gasol and Nikola Jokic will have a field day against Kuzma. This forces Walton to pick his poison.
Enter Lakers rookie Mo Wagner. While the German rookie is unproven at the NBA level, he has the potential to provide both spacing and rim protection at center.
I am by no means saying Wagner is ready to start at center, but he could find himself playing valuable minutes throughout the season.
Catch LeBron James and the new-look Lakers season debut against the Portland Trailblazers tonight on TNT at 10:30.