As the Los Angeles Lakers head into a new year, hopefully they can find the positive vibes the franchise had to begin the 2017-18 campaign. 2018 is a brand new opportunity for the team, and the perfect time for the entire organization to focus on how to improve from where they are now.
They only have a few short months left of the season, their proving ground to the rest of the league that things are turning around withing the franchise. The trade deadline on February 8 is also a big target the Lakers, and us from afar, have circled on our calendars.
A strong start to the season has been marred by an ugly stretch featuring injuries, the Lakers going winless in Los Angeles through December, an “air out” meeting, and losing eight of their last nine games.
So, here are five resolutions for the Lakers to consider so 2018 can be better for all of us.
Address the lack of true point guard depth on the roster
The Lakers have three true rotation guards on their roster in Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jordan Clarkson. Only one of them, Lonzo, actually provides any true point guard utility. The Lakers’ already-questionable offense is crumbling even further without Ball, as we’ve seen in the few games without him in the lineup. There’s still two to go without him, at least.
The front office is already reportedly active in the trade market, with their top priority still set on creating more salary cap space for the summer of 2018. In that process, hopefully they can acquire some sort of budget answer to adding an actual point guard in the mix behind Lonzo.
So, please, when you’re shopping the soon-to-be restricted free agent Julius Randle, and Lou-Williams-disciple Jordan Clarkson, consider finding some help at point guard in the interim to help smooth out some obvious roster imbalances.
Produce tangible improvement from free-throw and three-point line
The word around the roster is they’re shooting free-throws and perimeter jumpers before, during and after practice, but the results still aren’t showing it. The Lakers are shooting a league-worst 68.9 percent from the not-so-charitable stripe, absolutely crushing the thin margins they’re already working with as a young team trying to find its footing.
They’re also last from three-point range, shooting 32.5 percent as a team from downtown. Here’s a look at their overall team shooting chart, by hex map and shot zones:
Somehow, someway, the team has to turn that number around. Magic Johnson already said the plan is to add a “shot doctor” to their personnel, but there’s obviously no time to waste at this point. Get that person in the building now so they can observe and get integrated into the day-to-day routine, even if they aren’t deconstructing and rebuilding shooting forms midseason.
That emergency flare in the sky is not a drill. Send help.
Cut down turnovers
This is a simple one, and every team around the NBA can roll the film and walk away from the session feeling exactly the same way. Who doesn’t cringe after the 10th turnover of the game? The Lakers are coughing up the rock 16.3 times per game, 25th in the league.
This resolution was brought to you by this little number from Brandon Ingram during the Lakers’ loss to the LA Clippers Friday night:
On the other hand, this is a chance to highlight that Lakers’ rookie point guard Lonzo is in a pretty interesting group of first-year ball-handlers. Ball is in the top-five in the list of all rookies in NBA history who averaged at least 30 minutes per game, dished at least four assists per game and turned the ball over less than three times per game. Just below Ramon Sessions, naturally:
Top-10 Rookies in NBA history averaging a minimum of 30 MPG, 4 APG, < 3 TO/G
It’s actually a pretty interesting list to check out, with some interesting names among the 73 rookies who’ve accomplished such a statistical marvel. Big shout out to Basketball-Reference.com as always, and to Brian Shaw for making the cut.
Cutting down turnovers also means less fast break opportunities for the opposition, which means a better chance for the Lakers to get back to playing the kind of effective defense that had them competing throughout November. Who doesn’t want their team to value possessions even just a little bit more next year?
Don’t do anything dumb at the trade deadline. (This is a lot harder than you think)
The Lakers have telegraphed to the league exactly what they’re trying to pull off this summer. The NBA hit them with the fattest fine in NBA history for tampering ever because general manager Rob Pelinka sent one too many moneybag emojis to Paul George’s agent, which sums it up succinctly enough.
There will be a trade market for Randle. There will be a market for Clarkson. There will be a market for Ingram. There will be a market for Kuzma. The front office is going to have a world of options in front of them, and still have a need to clear salary space for two true maximum-level slots.
Their books are still close to the mark they need to be at, even if they have to resort to outright renouncing Randle and all of their free agents to get as close as possible to that golden number in free agency. Taking on random additional salary — something this front office has aggressively said they have no intention of doing — would be problematic, but doesn’t seem like something Magic and Pelinka would consider at this point. That would fly in the face of what they’ve been building toward.
The temptation will be there to swing for the fences and acquire a star now once the trade deadline comes, and that’s where it could get choppy around the deadline. The Lakers have resisted parting ways with premium packages of their players to land their superstar immediately thus far, but the pressure may be there to get it done for a tangible piece in the present as another lackluster season presses on. Having a bird in the hand ahead of what they hope is a very successful pitch to an additional star could be too attractive an option to pass up.
Heck, that actually might be the right thing to do for all we know, which goes to show that the Lakers are going to have some tough decisions to make over the next two months. Their conviction that free agency will be their turning point this summer will be tested, and the path they will take to get there will become clear by the end of it. It always takes two sides to tango, of course, but we saw the lid pop over the last year with George, DeMarcus Cousins and Jimmy Butler all finding new homes.
Who knows what the state of the trade market will be when general managers around the league are in the kitchen cooking with fire.
Beat the 2013-2014 Lakers record of 27-55 (.329)
Here we are, looking at the win-loss column in a season that’s supposed to be about development. Think of the kids!
Yeah yeah. This is a season where the entire fan base has no reason to cheer for anything but improvement and wins, the ball and chain of lottery odds lifted. This team is on pace to end with the fifth-worst winning percentage in franchise history (.324), trending just a notch worse than the 2013-14 Lakers — aka the Post-Dwightmare Lakers.
The Lakers would need to win 17 of their next 48 games, a .354 winning percentage through the remainder of the season to reach such lofty goals. As superficial as it may be, being able to say “this is the best Lakers team over the last five seasons” does have a nice ring to it. Right?
Happy new year, everyone. On to 2018, which hopefully features more Lakers wins than 2017 did.