Lakers 2014-2015 Season Preview

(Photo: Lakers Media Day Photo)

The 2014-2015 NBA season has finally arrived. The Los Angeles Lakers finished their preseason with a loss to the Sacramento Kings on Friday which placed their final record at 3-5.

The Lakers got off to a horrid start, after their game 1 win to the Denver Nuggets the Lakers allowed an average of 118.3 points per game in their next 3 games, losing all by an average margin of 29.6 points. It got better, if not for a last second tip-in by the Kings’ Ray McCallum in their final preseason game the Lakers finish 3-1 in their final 4 games of the preseason, but as it was, they finished 2-2, but still markedly better.

Injuries

Like last season, the Lakers struggled with keeping guys healthy in the preseason. Steve Nash played in 2 games before sitting down and then being ruled out for the season with a reoccurring back injury. Xavier Henry and Ryan Kelly never saw the court in preseason, Last report on Henry is that he was to fly to Germany to receive Regenokine for his knee which his yet to recover from since he injured it in December of last year. Kelly is still trying to recover from a strained hamstring that has plagued him all preseason; he has been ruled out for the season opener on Tuesday against the Houston Rockets. Nick Young is out with an injured thumb and is scheduled to return in late December. Wayne Ellington, who is still not a lock to make the team, is out with the concussion he suffered in the preseason finale on Friday after knocking heads with Kings’ guard Ben McLemore. Finally, point guard Ronnie Price hurt his knee in Friday game’s when it crashed against the knee of a driving Darren Collison. The report is Price suffered a sore right knee and his availability for Tuesday game is questionable.

Positive signs in Preseason:

The preseason was not all bad. Kobe Bryant seemed to return to form of 2 years ago towards the end, finishing with averages of 19 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 6 games. Most encouraging was Bryant’s performance in the last 3 games where he averaged 26.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.0 steals.

Nine year NBA veteran point guard Ronnie Price who is on a non-guaranteed contract and was a camp invitee with slim chance of making the roster impressed the coaching staff from the outset of training camp. Price’s energy on the defensive end is what has caught the eye of the coach Byron Scott who has been preaching defense since he’s been named the Lakers’ head coach.  Price is now a lock to make the team with Nash being out for the year and appeared to have won a starting job until he sustained the knee injury on Friday.

The player that is most important to the Lakers quick rebuilding hopes is first round pick Julius Randle who had an up and down preseason. Randle had instances of both typical rookie mistakes and flashes of what makes this kid so special as a player. Coach Scott initially got on Randle for his lackluster effort early in the preseason but was then complimenting him for his improvement in that area towards the end. In brief spurts, Randle showed his unique skill set of dribbling ability and adept quickness for a 6’9, 250 pound forward. An area where the coaching staff and Kobe are asking that he improve is his outside shot which should allow him space to take advantage of his amazingly quick first step.

When Jeremy Lin was able to play he was impressive. Lin showed his proficient ability to get in the lane at will during preseason and seemed to have built a strong connection with fellow newcomer Ed Davis who was routinely the beneficiary of Lin passes off pick and rolls plays that resulted in easy shots at the basket. Even in the preseason opener when Lin’s shot was not falling (0-6 from the field) he showed how he can have an impact by dishing out 10 assists. Lin only played in 5 games in the preseason, missing 3 to a sprained ankle he suffered in practice, but in those 5 games he demonstrated why he’ll be a huge part of the whatever success the Lakers acheive this season.

The aforementioned Ed Davis impressed on both ends of the court in preseason and a case could be made that he outplayed Jordan Hill and that he be awarded the starting job at center. Where Davis really excelled was on the defensive end which is a focal point of coach Scott. Davis seemed to block or contest every shot taken at the rim during his time on the court. In 20 minutes per game Davis averaged a team high 2 blocks per game; if we calculate those numbers on a 36 minutes per game basis it works out to an impressive 3.54 blocks per game.  As it stands now, Hill has the starting job and Davis will be the first big man off the bench.

Photo: Brad Graverson/The Daily Breeze
Photo: Brad Graverson/The Daily Breeze
New Faces:

Point GuardJeremy Lin (Acquired from Rockets via trade)

Power Forward: Carlos Boozer (Claimed off the amnesty waiver)

Power Forward/Center: Ed Davis (Signed as a free agent)

Power Forward: Julius Randle (1st round pick)

Shooting/Point Guard: Jordan Clarkson (2nd round pick)

Shooting Guard: Wayne Ellington (Signed as free agent)

Point Guard: Ronnie Price (Signed as free agent)

Lakers Preseason stats (courtesy CBSsports.com)
lakers 2014 preseason stats
Courtesy CBSsports.com
Preseason Standings (Courtesy NBA.com):
2014 NBA western conference standings
2014 NBA West Preseason Standings
Projected Starting Line-up and rotation:

Starting 5 (2014 preseason per 36 minute stats)

PF Carlos Boozer (18.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg)

SF Wesley Johnson (9.8 ppg, 1.74 spg)

C Jordan Hill (14.5 ppg, 12.5 rpg)

SG Kobe Bryant (25.6 ppg, 5.4 apg)

PG Jeremy Lin (17.2 ppg, 8.6 apg)

Projected bench rotation (2014 preseason stats)

PF Julius Randle (8.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg)

C Ed Davis (8.6 ppg, 72.9 FG%)

PG Ronnie Price (8.2 ppg, 5.8 apg*)

SF Nick Young (17.9 ppg, 38.6 3PT%**)

SG/PG Jordan Clarkson (9.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg)

Projected to be outside of rotation

SG Xavier Henry

C Robert Sacre

SG Wayne Ellington

PF Ryan Kelly

PG Steve Nash (Injured-out for season)

*excluded last game where Price played 3 minutes

**2013-14 regular season stats

The 3 most important factors for the Lakers this season:
Photo: Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo: Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

 

Byron Scott coaching philosophy

We are only a few weeks into Byron Scott’s Lakers coaching career and the pundits are already taking shots at some of his decisions. Most notably is his dislike of his team taking 3-point shots which in today’s game is highly utilized to great degrees of success. Scott had told reporters he would like his time to take 10-15 3-point shot attempts per game which would rank towards the bottom of the league. He was true to his word as the Lakers were last of the 30 teams in 3-point shots taken with 82 taken in 8 preseason games; the Dallas Mavs were 1st in preseason with 236. The decision to limit the 3-point shot did not get aided by the results as the offense suffered during preseason, only scoring 94.5 points per game which ranked 26th and shot 44 percent from the field which ranked 18th.

The second point of contention in terms of Scott’s early coaching decisions was with moving in the direction of starting Ronnie Price at the point guard position over Jeremy Lin who had an astounding preseason. Price who showed tremendous amount of energy and tenacity on the defensive end seemed to fit exactly what Scott was looking for in terms of his defensive first approach for the season. Scott never officially named Price the starting point guard for the season but all signs were pointing to him starting considering he was starting Price over Lin in the final preseason games. The knee injury to Price is what prompted Scott to name Lin the starter for the season opener on Tuesday so it appears Lin backed into the starting spot and the starter for the remainder of the season is still up in the air. Understandably so, many have been critical of this move considering how well Lin played in the preseason. Even one of Scott’s biggest supporters and former teammate was not in agreement.

For now Lin is the starter and if he can perform well out of the gate he will make it hard for him to be taken out of the starting lineup even once Price returns to full health. If not the decision to bench Lin in favor of Price, along with the controversial limiting of the 3-point shots will be scrutinized throughout the year if it does not yield positive results.

Kobe Bryant 

The Lakers brass has made the decision that they will attempt to compete for a playoff spot and not go into full on rebuild mode as their historically great franchise counterparts have, the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, The Lakers signed Bryant to a 2 year, 48.5 million dollar extension in part because they believed that he will be able to make a full recovery from this torn Achilles of 2 seasons ago and the fractured knee of last season. If Bryant is able to return to say what he was 2 years ago where he averaged 27.3 points per game, shot 46.3 percent from the field and was named to the All-NBA first team, the Lakers have a shot at making the playoffs assuming the supporting cast can stay healthy and have close to career years. So far so good for Bryant, who got off to a slow start in the preseason but began looking like his normal self towards the end, even exhibiting a lot more of his lift on jump shots that were just not there early on. In the last 3 game of the preseason Bryant averaged 26.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.0 steals; if he can duplicate that during the season and get strong years from players like Boozer, Lin, Hill and Young, the Lakers and Bryant could be the league’s biggest surprise.

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Julius Randle’s progression

If the Lakers are to return to championship contention in the self imposed 3 year window that owner Jim Buss placed on himself and the franchise, they must hit a home run with their first lottery pick since Andrew Bynum in 2005. The Lakers took the 19 year old 6’9, 250 pound Julius Randle out of Kentucky with the 7th pick in the 2014 NBA draft in part because he was closer to being NBA ready than most prospects out of the draft. So far, Randle has showed flashes of brilliance along with moments that remind you he’s a 19 year old rookie. Randle has a unique combination of quickness, agility and dribbling ability to go along with size and strength. He still has a shaky perimeter shot but if he can develop a consistent 15-20 footer, cut down on his turnovers and with that devastating first step for a guy his size should be a path to becoming at worst a very good NBA starter and potentially an NBA All-Star. In order for the Lakers to get really good, really fast, they’ll need Randle to reach the higher projection as a player.

Los Angeles Lakers Most Interesting Games of 2014-15 Season

 Opening Night:

Oct. 28, 2014, Houston at L.A. Lakers (TNT)

First game versus Clippers on Halloween:

Oct. 31, 2014, Clippers at L.A. Lakers

Christmas Game and first game versus Pau Gasol:

Dec. 25, 2014, L.A. Lakers at Chicago

First look at Lebron and new look Cavs:

Jan. 15, 2015, Cleveland at L.A. Lakers

Pau Gasol returns to L.A. to face Lakers:

Jan. 29, 2015, Chicago at L.A. Lakers

Derek Fisher & Phil Jackson return to L.A. as Knicks:

Mar. 12, 2015, New York at L.A. Lakers

Last game of the season:

Apr. 15, 2015, Sacramento at L.A. Lakers

2014-15 printable Lakers schedule
Outlook for the season:

Best case:

If the Lakers can remain relatively healthy, Kobe can return to the form of the All-NBA 1st team guard we saw 2 years ago, which based on what we saw in the final 3 preseason games look he can, and the main supporting cast of Boozer, Lin, Hill and Young have career years, a high 46-50 win season is attainable. The Western Conference is stacked with playoff worthy teams and even in a best case scenario the Lakers could be on the outside of the playoff picture. Last season the 8th seeded Dallas Mavs won 49 games. The Phoenix Suns missed the playoffs by 1 game with 48 wins.

Worst case: 

If the Lakers have another injury plagued season, and so far in the preseason they are not off to a good start, it could be another disastrous season where they miss the playoffs and struggle to top the 30 win mark. The season really falls on the health of Kobe Bryant. If he can play the majority of the season and do so at a high level, the Lakers will compete for a playoff spot, if he misses more than half the games, the Lakers will be end up in the lottery again. Unfortunately, this season the Lakers do not own the rights to their first round pick unless they land a top 5 pick; this is due to trading the pick to Phoenix as part of the Steve Nash trade.

 

Writer & NBA fan who’s been hooked since the days of Magic v Bird. Love basketball debates without it ending in a knife fight. My BBall nickname: “Todo El Dia” (All Day.) Hit me up on Twitter @fullcourtfern or Instagram: @raining3sdotcom