Addition by subtraction pretty much sums up the Lakers this year. That screenshot above shows how the Lakers performed without Kobe last season and as you can see by their usage rate (USG), it’s going to be a pretty good idea rostering these Lakers guards this upcoming year for as long as they’re priced appropriately. All 3 of Russell, Clarkson and Williams would have been ranked ahead of guys like Karl Anthony-Towns, Pau Gasol, Jimmy Butler and Paul Milsap in USG had Kobe been gone all of last season.
Unlike other franchises who replaced their stars with other high USG players (see: Pau Gasol, Victor Oladipo and Dwyane Wade), the Lakers added nobody of note to replace Kobe. Instead, they added “glue guys” like Luol Deng and Timofey Mosgov to help stop the bleeding defensively (Lakers were ranked 30th last year with a Defensive Efficiency rating of 109.3).
It gets better. They fired Byron Scott (one of the worst coaches in the league for DFS purposes) and replaced him with Luke Walton (the anti-Byron). I don’t know whether it was for tanking purposes or not, but Scott singlehandedly held these young promising Lakers back by giving their minutes away to guys with much lesser value to the franchise (starting Marcelo Huertas and Larry Nance Jr. over D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle for a nice chunk of the season). I actually like Nance as a player but he shouldn’t ever be starting over Randle. Whether Scott was punishing them for some undisclosed matters or just trying to motivate them in different ways, I don’t know and I don’t care. All I know is that it was a lost season for the Lakers (with exception to Kobe’s going away party that everyone was invited to) and the main factor into growing as a player is actually playing, even if there are ups and downs. That’s all about to change.
“The (challenge with Golden State) was to take a good team that had already established themselves and trying to make them great,” Walton said the next day. “With the team in L.A., we need to go down there and build a foundation. … We’re trying to set the foundation for how we want to play, what’s acceptable, the style of play, how we compete — all these things.”
Next season, the wins and losses all start falling on Walton’s record. He has already stated that he plans to run similar offensive style and pacing as the one the Warriors use.
There’s two things in that blurb that really excites me. One, Walton used to term “foundation” twice. The Lakers know they have a solid, young core that has an insane amount of potential. All they were waiting on was Kobe to leave and a coach to get them to reach that potential. They now have everything in place and a chance to build on that ‘foundation’. There’s no reason to hold back at this point. They’ve already done their tanking and drafted yet, another potential franchise changing player in Brandon Ingram (worth noting, the Lakers do have to give up their pick to the Sixers next year if it falls outside of the top 3). They’re going to let their kids play, whether they struggle or flourish.
The second part of that blurb that excites me is how Walton mentions the Lakers will be playing at a similar pace and style to what the Warriors played. This is everything to me. Not only are you going to finally unleash these kids, you’re going to let them run wild. The Lakers were mediocre last year, playing at a pace of 98.0 (16th in the league) compared to the Warriors, who finished 2nd in pacing (101.6) only behind Sacramento. For those of you who are unaware of what pacing means, it’s pretty simple. Pace factor is an estimate of the number of possessions per 48 minutes by a team. So basically . . . the faster you play, the more possessions you’ll have and the more possessions you’ll have, the more opportunities you’ll have to pad up stats like scoring, assists and rebounding.
Based on the makeup of this team, I could definitely see them trying to run a similar offense to what Golden State does. As much as they overpaid for Mosgov, he’ll likely have a similar role to what Bogut brought to the Warriors. Protect the rim, run the pick and roll with Russell and play maybe 18-20 minutes a night. This brings me to my next thought and hope. I think Walton brings a much poorer version of the “Death Lineup” to Hollywood.
Obviously, they don’t have the shooters that GS has but they certainly have some playmakers on the team. Randle is already telling people he wants to be the Draymond of this team and noticeably looks better from three. The biggest difference between the two on the offensive end is certainly the passing ability. Draymond recorded an insane 29.0 assist percentage last year compared to Randle’s 11.0. To be fair though, Green was at 11.9% in his second year so there’s proof that there’s room to grow! Ok, ok . . . that’s just me being a bit too optimistic. We all know there isn’t another Dray in this league but you get the point.
They can run out multiple lineups with Julius playing center and having one of either Nance or Deng play the 4. This would also allow a window of playing time for Ingram once they feel like he’s ready to see significant minutes. You also have to understand that Julius is an elite rebounder for his age and size. If you compare him to the top rookie rebounders from last season, he comes out on top and as you can see in the screenshot below, he’s the only one who doesn’t play center. So if and when the Lakers decide to play him at the 5 (playing closer to the basket with no center to compete for boards), I’d expect a pretty nice increase in his rebounding rate, especially with the pace they’ll be playing at.
So to round it all up, whether the Lakers are efficient or not running this offense and playing at a much higher pace, there will be plenty of stats to fill for whomever is on the court. The’ll be playing from behind, fast and maybe even reckless but they’ll be fun as hell to watch with all that talent, and besides . . . turnovers only count for -.05 points on Draft Kings.
Bold Prediction: D’Angelo Russell wins “Most Improved Player” this upcoming season.