Coming into the 2019-20 NBA season, there was guarded optimism about the Los Angeles Lakers. Obviously, the All-Star duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis is one of the best in the league, but what about the rest of the team?
Can Kyle Kuzma make the leap and become the team’s third All-Star player? Will the role players be able to fill in the gaps and fit together? Was Frank Vogel the right choice to lead this team as a head coach? Who is the point guard?
Needless to say, the 2019 NBA preseason brought some positives and negatives to light but without a doubt, it gave a glimpse into what the Lakers are capable of when clicking on all cylinders. It is still just the preseason, but it was hard to not get excited in watching some of the highlights.
Now with the regular season upon us, it is time to take a look at what lies ahead for this Lakers team with legit championship hopes for the first time in almost a decade.
A Vogel-coached team is known to be stout defensively and the Lakers look to be following that notion so far. They gave up 103.5 points in the preseason (ninth-fewest during this stretch), a mark that would have led the league last season.
Additionally, the Lakers allowed teams to shoot just 40.4 percent from the field while recording 5.8 blocks and 10.7 steals per game — all of which ranked in the top-10 of the league during the preseason. By all accounts, it will be the defense to carry this team throughout the season.
Avery Bradley is at the head of that mindset as he brings an attitude and toughness at the point of attack that rubs off on the rest of his teammates. From the moment Bradley picked up Stephen Curry full court in the first preseason game, it was clear things were different on this team.
Danny Green is a different kind of perimeter defender, but no less effective and he will take on the opposing team’s best wing, allowing James to roam and make plays. Players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and even Alex Caruso are also solid perimeter defenders giving them multiple options.
Even more daunting is the team’s paint defense. With Davis, JaVale McGee, and Dwight Howard roaming the paint, there is always a ton of length and athleticism to alter shots at the rim and control the boards. With the league going smaller for the most part, the Lakers countering with so much size gives them a massive advantage in the paint now.
Offensively, things will obviously run through James and Davis. The pick-and-roll between those two is borderline unstoppable, especially with Davis’ improved passing.
James has never had a weapon like Davis to work off of and he took full advantage in the preseason. It seems as if James will be the team’s nominal point guard and him averaging over 10 assists is a legit possibility now.
Davis has all of the tools to dominate the game. The 26-year-old showed off his inside and outside proficiency and playmaking ability. James said they would be crazy not to run things through Davis and by all accounts, he is right.
McGee and Howard lingering around the rim for easy lobs or putbacks just makes the Lakers more dangerous and Davis did an excellent job finding them. Overall, the Lakers were dominant inside and led the preseason in points in the paint. However, the biggest question for the offense is whether their three-point shooting will carry on consistently.
The Lakers shot 34.8 percent from the three-point line in the preseason which is an improvement from last season, but still slightly below league average. Green, Bradley, and Caldwell-Pope will be relied upon mainly to space the floor as will Kyle Kuzma once he returns from injury, but this will be the difference in the offense going from good to great.
Speaking of Kuzma, his return from a stress reaction will be closely watched. Kuzma represents their best chance at a third All-Star player on this roster. He will also likely operate as the team’s sixth man and bring a huge scoring boost off the bench. Their best closing lineup will probably feature him along with Davis and James in the frontcourt, so getting him back to build chemistry is extremely important.
Speaking of which, what the Lakers rotation will be is completely up in the air at this time. The most likely starting lineup seems to be McGee, Davis, James, Green, and Bradley. James operates as the point guard with Bradley and Green providing defense and floor spacing.
How Vogel will utilize his bench will be worth watching in these first games. Howard as the backup big man is set and Kuzma will be a big part once he returns as well. However, the backcourt has a multitude of options and who is the best among them is anyone’s guess at this time.
Caldwell-Pope brings solid shooting and defense at his best, but has been wildly inconsistent in his Lakers tenure so far. Rajon Rondo brings leadership and playmaking, but is a major negative on defense. Quinn Cook and Alex Caruso also had promising moments in the preseason and Troy Daniels is probably the best shooter on the team.
The road to the 2020 NBA Finals for the Lakers will not be easy. The Western Conference is absolutely stacked with the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, and Golden State Warriors all having championship aspirations now.
Additionally, veteran teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder and young promising teams such as the Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Sacramento Kings will provide nightly tests for the Lakers.
If the Lakers ultimately reach their potential, they will be one of the best teams in the league and could find themselves on the road to a championship. However, Los Angeles will have to overcome a lot of obstacles along the way.