Through 10 games of the season, there's no doubt that this Lakers team is one of the very worst in the league... worse than almost anyone could have imagined, pretty much.
On the eve of the season, the SS&R crew gave its collective outlook on just how the team would fare this season. Obviously, circumstances have changed since then: Julius Randle and Steve Nash are both done for the season, with Ryan Kelly's hamstrings making it look increasingly likely it's a lost season for him as well. Xavier Henry looks like he's still affected by off-season knee surgery and it remains to be seen how effective Nick Young will be upon his return. Put this all together? The Lakers are the worst in the Western Conference and one of the two worst teams in the league.
That being said, looking at the team as it's currently constructed, what is your new high-water mark for wins at year's end? How much does a soon-to-return Nick Young change that calculus?
Given the dismal start that the Lakers have gotten off to, it would be understandable if some did not see any way that they will win another game. However, I am going to use this space to make a bold prediction: the Lakers will win up to 19 more games this season for a total of no more than 20 games (with the under being the more likely outcome).
The start to the season has lowered my expectations slightly, but I saw the writing on the wall before the season began. This team just did not realistically have the horses to compete night in and night out in the Western conference, even before they lost Julius Randle and Steve Nash for the year.
As much as I love Nick Young, his return is not enough to move the needle for me for a couple of reasons. For one, he is recovering from an injury to his shooting hand, which will likely take him some time to adjust to. Additionally, the Lakers' main problem has been on the defensive end, where they rank 30th in defensive efficiency. Swaggy made the leap into a willing and not actively hurtful defender last season, but Tony Allen he is not. He could probably help the Lakers slightly on that end when he spells Kobe, but not enough to stop the profuse bleeding. Lastly, even on offense I am not sure how much Young can improve things while the whole team is constrained by an offensive philosophy that is destined to fail. Lakers fans should hunker down for another long year.
I think 20 is around the high end of what they could accomplish. I don't think Nick Young will help that much in terms of actual wins, but I am excited to have him back nonetheless. Swaggy, love him or hate him, certainly can make games more entertaining. Believe it or not, I actually think where Young will help the most is in taking some pressure off Kobe. Having another player that can create his own shot on the floor should put a lot less stress on him. The team, however, is still going to be one of the worst defenses of all time unless something changes, and Nick Young obviously does not improve the team on that end. 20 seems about what this team could accomplish, but hopefully the team is able to finish second to the 76ers in the tank standings.
Jahlil Okafor and Emmanuel Mudiay are pretty nice.
The Great Mambino
Before the season, I predicted 25 wins would be this team's high water mark. However, that was with a healthy Julius Randle and Ryan Kelly in the mix, as well as limited contributions from Steve Nash. Now, seeing as Randle and Nash will not suit up at all this season and with Kelly dealing with a hamstring injury that will keep him out until January (and perhaps beyond that, as notoriously sticky as those injuries are), 25 wins may be entirely too high.
This team is absolutely horrific on defense, with little hope in sight. Even with line-up changes, I'm not sure those incremental differences will be enough to elevate a team that's 3 entire points lower than the 29th ranked team in defensive efficiency (for context, 3 points above the 29th team is the 26th ranked team). They're so, so bad defensively that until major adjustments are made, this team is just not going to be competitive night to night. Moreover, I'm not sure how to grade out an offense that's a shocking 14th in offensive efficiency, especially when a majority of their 4th quarters are played against second stringers. We saw this on full display this past weekend when the Lakers played a good part of the last frame against the Spurs and Warriors third units. This is all to say that as bad as the numbers look, I think this team is actually even worse than that.
Nick Young's return will certainly help the team on both ends of the floor, especially offensively. He'll give the Lakers a single, solitary three-point option that's above league average (I need to see more than 28 attempts from Jeremy Lin to determine he's above average) and the floor spacing that the team desperately needs. Defensively, Young at least knows what to do and works hard, though he's more than likely nothing more than mediocre on that end. However, this team is lagging so far behind in point differential (-10.5 ppg, and again, that's with teams playing a lot of subs in the last quarter), that I don't think Young, coming off a major shooting hand injury, will be able to contribute immediately and help create wins.
In short, this team is worse than I imagined, and I imagined the worst team in Lakers franchise history. Woof.
This team is headed to a dark place that I never would have guessed. Once Julius Randle went down in Game 1 the entire outlook on the season changed, and what looked like a team that had some pieces here and there, along with reasons to be excited even in losses, suddenly looked like something even bleaker than last season. The defense is horrendous and the offense is about as bad, even if the numbers say otherwise. The eyes tell me it's hard to watch.
So a new win-mark for this team? Something closer to 27 now. The Lakers have had one of the toughest schedules in the NBA, but just considering how poorly they've played thus far, it may not have made much of a difference had it been any easier.
But Nick Young! I don't know how much Swaggy P will move the needle, but considering it's currently slammed in the danger zone, it'll move a bit. Young was very good last season, and the Lakers' lack of production from the bench will change immediately. The thing is, how much will it matter on a team this bad? Mitch Kupchak awarded Young a long-term contract, and even if he plays similarly to the way he did last season, that may not matter until further down the road a bit. On the other hand, Young getting back on the court makes the Lakers infinitely more enjoyable to watch and should provided a nice pick-me-up to both the team and fans.
I originally gave a tally of 25 wins for this team, and while it might be prudent to reduce this total to around 20 or so given their performance so far, I'll grant some leeway and stand by my original total. The team more or less has the profile that most of the people here prognosticated: terrible on defense, continuously plugging away with a horribly inefficient offensive scheme, and utterly dependent on Kobe Bryant, for good or ill, to produce everything. If anything, it's rather surprising how well the team has reflected those expectations and it's hard not to put a fair chunk of these issues at the foot of the coach managing this rudderless ship in Byron Scott. Brought in to restrain Kobe's worst excesses and supposedly implement a defensive identity, Byron has failed to deliver on either goal and appears no closer to achieving either than he did at the start of training camp.
Again, these set of facts would appear to provide a decent argument for providing a lower number of wins in my prognosis, but Nick Young's return is the last expected significant factor that might change the team's fortunes in a significant manner. He will provide a desperately needed shot creator and will hopefully take some minutes away from an incredibly burdened Kobe, thus increasing Kobe's efficiency and that of the team since he'll be providing the spacing the team needs to function on offense. We shouldn't get too far ahead of ourselves with regards to what Young can bring, especially since he won't improve the Lakers' putrid defense either, but given that he'll be taking minutes away from assorted flotsam such as Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry, and so forth, it's hard not to have a noted positive impact.
The fly in the ointment is Byron, as it is incumbent on him to properly use Young's strengths analogous to how Mike D'Antoni managed to do so last season. As we've seen so far, his capabilities on both ends have been heavily scrutinized and been more or less indicated to be lacking, which may make any of these perceived positive factors rather moot. All this noted, it's hard to misuse Young that much and Byron has indicated that Young will have full license to shoot, so we'll see how that affects the product on the floor.
I guess I am eternally too optimistic when it comes to guessing the Lakers' win-loss record each year. I am on the verge of losing an over/under bet with The Great Mambino for the second year in a row, with no end in sight. Before the season started, I was adamant that we would be better than last year, both in terms of quality and wins on the board. My logic was this: I figured that Scott was going to have these guys playing a little better on defense, Kobe was going to be back, and the Lakers wouldn't miss Pau that much. I talked myself into thinking Boozer wasn't THAT much of a downgrade and that adding more depth in the backcourt would make up for the fact that we would struggle to guard any team with talented offensive players at the wing positions.
Well, I was unequivocally wrong and the guy who thought it would be smart to take the over on 27 wins would now be thrilled with 20. Nash is out for the year, Young hasn't played yet, Ryan Kelly is hurt (again), and the Lakers look like a much better bet to lead the league in injuries again (three-peat baby!) than anything else. Nevermind how many games I want them to win with my brain (that protected top 5 pick to the Suns is looking more and more secure by the day), my heart is not prepared to have a race to the bottom with the 76ers.
Looking forward, I think 18 games is a realistic watermark for this team. Young will help -- on both ends believe it or not -- as someone who can take some of the scoring pressure off of the Mamba and will at least try on defense. He was not the minus last year on D that many people thought he would be, although he is far from a lockdown defender. The Lakers simply can't be this bad for 82 games -- they will gel enough to beat some bad teams and surprise some good ones -- but it just doesn't seem realistic for them to even sniff at last season's win total. At this point, it is as much about pride, professionalism, and effort as anything else. How long will this Lakers team try night in and night out when they are clearly overmatched from a talent perspective? How long before they totally tune out Byron Scott? I never thought that these were the key questions to answer this season, but our prized rookie is out for the year and here we are. Let's surprise some people, purple and gold.