Sunday, April 22, 2018

Pros & Cons of the Lakers' 2017-2018 Season

As a Laker fan, this recent season was a mixed bag, as there are both things to be bummed and happy about.  Let me elaborate.

Con: For the fifth straight year, they finished with a losing record and haven’t made the playoffs.  I used to subscribe to the thought of anything less of a championship is considered a failed Laker season.  At this point, I just want them competing in the post-season again.

Pro: Their record improved by nine games from last season’s.  That’s enough for them to finish as the tenth worst team, compared to being the third worst team last season.  Yay, I guess.  Still, it’s also worth noting that the Lakers significantly improved as a defensive team, from being dead last in the league last season to having the 12th best defense this season.  At one point, they were even in the top five.

Con: The injury curse continues.  Seriously, it seems like somebody put a hex on the Lakers.  In the past years, the Lakers have always been significantly hindered by injuries.  I believe that the Lakers would have had better records – especially this season – if most, if not all, of their key players have been perpetually healthy.

Con: Lonzo Ball is no Magic Johnson.  As far as rookie season goes, he probably had a solid one.  But considering the bafflingly high hype for him, he did not live up to what’s expected, that is, he was going to be an instant superstar as a rookie, like how Magic was or how Ben Simmons has been.  Now, I don’t hold these absurdly unfair standards against him.  Nonetheless, for a rookie that has been given the opportunity to be a starter, play 34 minutes a game, and take almost 11 shots a game, I wish he had done better than shooting 36% from the field and an abysmal 45% from the free throw line.  Though there were some stretches where he did shot the ball particularly well, he never truly made himself a threat from behind the arc.  Yet he took nearly six three-point-shot attempts a game, and that is what’s unacceptable.  The bottomline is, my only problem with Lonzo is not that he sucked at shooting three-pointers, but that he kept shooting in volumes from the outside when he sucked at it.  He should have adjusted his game when his shots weren’t falling by driving more.
Pro: Lonzo Ball is a net positive for the Lakers.  Yes, despite not becoming an instant superstar, he nonetheless showed that he has the potential of becoming one.  His amazing court vision and passing abilities effectively stir good ball movement.  He rebounds and defends quite well.  Besides shooting, he’s really good at everything else.  And save for his treys-to-drives ratio, he has been generally smart with his in-game decisions.

Pro: Brandon Ingram showed tremendous growth as a sophomore.  He’s not yet an All-Star caliber player, but considering that he almost looked like a bust for most of his time as a rookie, his performance this season is worth getting excited about.  Several times during the season, he had exciting all-around-superstar-in-the-making moments, impressing as a go-to scorer, closer, lockdown defender, and playmaker.

Pro: Kuuuuuzmania!  The Lakers picked Lonzo Ball with the second pick, but Kyle Kuzma, whom they picked with the 27th pick, proved to be their best rookie.  He stayed in college for three years, which probably made him NBA-ready from the get go.  But beyond that, he’s had the greatest display of finesse, savvy skill set and killer mentality in a Laker since Kobe Bryant.  As a result, he became a scoring ace for the Lakers, and during the first third or so of the season, he was not only the team’s top scorer, but its best player as well.  He would eventually finish the season in a three-way tie with Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle as the Lakers’ first placer in scoring (16.1 points per game).  He also earned himself the records of “most three-pointers in a season by a Laker rookie” and “first rookie to ever have 1,000 points, 400 rebounds, and 130 three-pointers.”  Hopefully, he’ll also get to develop as a playmaker and defender next season.
Pro: Along with Kuz and Lonzo, Josh Hart completed the Lakers’ fantastic haul from the 2017 draft.  He’s not necessarily as valuable as the other two rookies, but he has proven to be a very solid rotation player.

Pro: After four years in the league, it looks like Julius Randle has finally had his breakthrough.  The 7th pick of the 2014 NBA Draft was arguably the best Laker all in all this past season.  At offense, he earned buckets by bullying his opponents inside.  At defense, he could guard any player regardless of size and position.   At the end of the regular season, he was the only one in the NBA who averaged 16.1 points, 8 rebounds, and 2.6 assists while shooting 56% from the field.  If the rate of his progress carries over and holds for next season, he’ll probably be looking at his first All-Star selection.

Con: Nevertheless, Lakers’ future greatness is just in theory.  Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Julius Randle are potential superstars and champions.  But that’s just it.  It’s still potential at this point, not actual.  Kyle Kuzma may be the steal of the draft, but he’s no Donovan Mitchell, the 13th overall pick who is already leading his team in the playoffs.  Brandon Ingram may be a superstar-in-the-making, but the guy who was picked over him, Bill Simmons, is already a bona fide superstar who is also leading his team in the playoffs.  The Lakers may have a young promising, core, but other teams with young promising cores – like the Celtics and the Sixers – are already making noise in the playoffs.  Sure, there may be a realistic chance of glory getting achieved soon by these young Lakers.  But until it actually becomes a reality, it will remain a fantasy.  Remember, the Lakers used to have a superteam some seasons ago and it looked to be a guaranteed championship season.  However, it turned out becoming a complete disaster.  As proven by that heartbreaking season, things – knock on wood – could easily go wrong in a snap for what’s only promising on paper.
Con: Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson got traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers.  They were fan favorites, and I really wish they’ve managed to become part of that supposed Laker championship on the horizon.

Pro: Isaiah Thomas was surprisingly a worthwhile addition to the Lakers.  Business-wise, the Lakers-Cavs trade was, well, wise.  It was a win-win for both teams.  Still, again, Nance and JC were fan favorites.  In addition to this, IT was bringing some baggage with him.  There was even a report that he was refusing to come off the bench.  It was looking like he would prove toxic to the Lakers’ locker room.  However, once he was in a Laker uniform, he actually embraced his sixth man role and thrived.  Sure, there were some negatives when he was playing – especially on the defensive end – but the positives he brought in the offense outweigh them.  Plus, his sassy, cocky personality – which I initially thought was going to be a distraction – actually served the team well on court.  It’s not certain if he’ll come back to the Lakers next season, as he will be a free agent.  I probably would want him back, as long as it’s for a reasonable contract – rather than the max deal he’s hoping for – and he continues to be fine with being a bench player.  But it’s likely that that the willingness for such a role was only good for this season, and that he still sees himself as a deserving max-contract starter for the next season.  If so, well… “IT, thank you for your services but no deal.  Good luck on your next endeavors.”

Pro: They got rid of Timofey Mozgov’s absurd contract.  It came at the cost of giving away D’Angelo Russell.  But I eventually got over any saltiness I might have felt when the assets that the Lakers got in return – Brook Lopez and the pick that allowed them to draft Kuzma – proved to be extremely more beneficial.

Con: Luol Deng’s, however, is still on the books.  Yeah, yeah.  He’s a positive veteran presence in the locker room and all that.  But such contribution is not worth a 72 million dollar contract.  It’s an insane stumbling block for the Lakers moving forward.
Pro: Luke Walton is still head coach.  There were some rumors that Lakers are looking to fire him and replace him with David Fizdale (as a move to lure LeBron to the Lakers).  Thankfully, that didn’t happen.  For, despite my frustrations with him during the season, I’m now all in with Coach Luke.  It seems to me that he truly has a firm understanding of what the future of basketball is, and it is his vision and savvy that will lead the Lakers back to the top.  I could be wrong.  But that’s just my gut feeling, based on how he handled this team last season.

Pro: The Lakers’ good relationship.  They are drama-free and appear to be genuinely getting along well with each other – especially the young ones.  And I think Coach Walton has a huge part in developing this environment, which he likely learned when he was still with the Warriors can yield tremendous benefits.

Pro: The young Lakers’ attitude.  They are confident but teachable, and have always shown eagerness for greatness.  Kuzma perfectly worded it in his exit interview: “As a team, it’s definitely very optimistic… for us… BI, and Zo, and J-Hart, and me… hopefully, we grow into something special… If guys [max-contract free agents] want to come here, they come, but if not, we’re not depending on that.  We want to be those great players, max level guys. We just think about how can we make the team better.”

Con: Magic Johnson and the front office are looking to lure LeBron James, Paul George, and/or Kawhi Leonard to the Lakers.  If LeBron comes, he’ll make everything all about him.  If LeBron and PG come, it means the Lakers won’t have enough money to pay for Randle.  In addition, the growth of the young guys will be hindered since the two superstar veterans will want to have most of the pie for themselves.  And if Kawhi Leoard comes, it means that the Lakers have traded one or two of the young guys for him – a move which I am strongly against (unless, it’s for Ball, and Deng goes with him.)  I prefer for the Lakers to wait for the 2019 free agency, since I believe that the young guys deserve to have another season to run things by themselves, and that the 2019 free agents (e.g. Klay Thompson) are better fits to how the Lakers are built.

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