This week, ESPN began its #SummerForecast where they gave their projections on every team in the league. In going down the Western Conference, ESPN predicted that the Los Angeles Lakers would finish 14th in the conference, winning a total of 26 games.
Last year, the Lakers finished in that same 14th spot in the West, but won only 21 games. After the moves made this off-season, many fans are hoping for more of an uptick in wins this upcoming season with some even believing that the team could even challenge for the final playoff spot in the West.
While it may be too much to expect the Lakers to be in the playoff hunt, the team does look better on paper than the one that finished with only 21 wins. The additions of Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams, and Brandon Bass should pay dividends while improvements from Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle and health from Kobe Bryant should all count for more wins in Los Angeles.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, the Western Conference is loaded and not just at the top. Teams such as Phoenix, Dallas, Utah, and Sacramento will all be tough outs as well, while Minnesota may have the best young core in the league. All of that adds up to the road being rough for the Lakers even with their improvements.
So we asked our panel of experts if they believe the ESPN #SummerForecast for the Lakers of 26 wins was too low, too high, or on the money. This is what they had to say:
Jabari Davis (@JabariDavisNBA): Isn’t it about time we stopped getting all worked up over pre-season rankings? Aside from the fact that they’ve actually proven to be somewhat accurate over these last few seasons, can we finally put the whole “we only reload” mantra to bed for a bit?
The Lakers are currently in the midst of a full-on rebuild and while there is PLENTY to be excited about regarding the further development of guys like D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson (among others), that doesn’t change the reality of this team still remaining in an extremely difficult and unforgiving Western Conference as they rebuild.
Although I think a realistic and attainable number probably ranges somewhere between 30-35, I’m most concerned with the amount of progress and development they show as a team over the second half of the year. Just so long as the team remains headed in the right direction, curbing our enthusiasm when it comes to immediate expectations will probably benefit everyone.
Kevin Chan (@Kevin_Cruiser): I agree with ESPN’s Forecast that the Lakers will likely finish near the bottom in the West. But, I’m less optimistic and I think the Timberwolves might edge the Lakers in the standings which would leave the Lakers dead last in the West.
I’m really worried that the Lakers offense will be stagnant. It will likely consist of Kobe taking contested mid-range fadeaways. Meanwhile Roy Hibbert will clog up the lane which will prevent Clarkson from being able to use his speed to get into the paint. Julius Randle’s go-to offense consists of bull-dozing into the paint with no regard for where the other four men on the floor are. With all these things in mind, I can see a disaster brewing for the Lakers offense.
But the tragedy doesn’t stop there. Last year the Lakers were one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA. In terms of defensive rating, they were second worst and gave up 108 points per 100 possessions. The hope is that Hibbert will help shore up the paint, but he won’t be able to do it all on his own.
The most concerning thing about the Lakers defensively is the lack of an on-ball defender. Let’s look at the starting guards: D’Angelo Russell is a slow-footed rookie who will have trouble keeping up with more athletic guards, Clarkson is at best an average defender and Kobe hasn’t played legitimate defense since 2010. How will the Lakers contain the elite point guards like Westbrook, Curry and CP3?
I hate to sound like a downer but I feel a responsibility to be realistic in evaluating the roster and coaching. I can’t see the Lakers finishing with a much better record than last season (21-61). The silver lining is that a terrible season could work out better in the long-term and the Lakers will be able to keep their top-3 protected first round pick. Never doubt the Tank Commander Byron Scott!
Ryan Ward (@Lakers_Examiner): The Lakers winning only 26 games is definitely a potential outcome for the upcoming season. The team will have a drastically different roster trying to learn how to play with each other while attempting to hold their own in a highly competitive Western Conference.
It won’t be an easy road ahead for head coach Byron Scott who will likely have to experiment with the roster before finding the right rotation. There’s no telling how long that process may take and how many losses the team will suffer until they get it right.
Personally, even though winning only 26 games is very possible, I believe their win total will be somewhere between 30-35 games. A lot of the team’s success and ability to reach this win total will depend on Kobe Bryant’s health. If Kobe is healthy, and the same dominant player that can average 25 or more points per game, 35 wins is a distinct possibility. Bryant’s leadership on the floor and during practice should rub off on young players like Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson as well as the veterans potentially resulting in more wins.
A lot of things will need to come together early on for the Lakers in order to begin to turn it around in Los Angeles. The Lakers do have the talent currently on the roster to make it happen, but players must stay healthy and buy into Coach Scott’s system while Kobe leads the way in what will likely be his last season.
Trevor Lane (@16RingsNBA): The 2015-2016 Lakers find themselves with a solid but unspectacular mix of veterans and young talent. Coach Byron Scott is going to need to very carefully balance the desire to win now by playing the veterans and the necessity of developing young players for the future, something he struggled with last season.
On paper the Lakers appear to be better than last season, with an opening-day starting five that should feature D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Kobe Bryant, Julius Randle (or possibly Brandon Bass…knowing Byron Scott it will probably be Bass), and Roy Hibbert. Still, the ultimate success or failure of the group will partially depend on whether or not they can stay healthy. If key pieces miss large chunks of the season this could go south very quickly, but on the flip side if the youngsters catch on quick and the veterans keep things organized then this could be a sneaky-good team.
On the high side I’m comfortable with projecting 35 wins, not enough to make the playoffs in the West but a large enough leap forward to placate the restless fan base. If the injuries start to mount and the young players struggle then my low projection would be 23 wins, which puts them in the mix with Denver and Minnesota at the bottom of the West.
I’m going to place my final prediction right in the middle of those two numbers, I’m going to say the Lakers win 29 games next year, which makes ESPN’s prediction a little on the low side.
Corey Hansford (@TheeCoreyH): In all likelihood, the Los Angeles Lakers won’t be challenging for a playoff spot this season. That being said, I do believe the roster can win more than the 26 games ESPN projected.
Overall the talent is greater on this team. The veterans like Hibbert, Williams, and Bass have a much higher ceiling than players like Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin. Jordan Clarkson looks primed to build on his impressive rookie season, and adding Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell is also worth some wins even if they don’t figure things out immediately.
Of course, health will be the most important factor for this Lakers team, particularly for Kobe Bryant. If Kobe and the rest of the Lakers can stay healthy, the team should greatly improve its win total over last season. All things considered, I’d predict the Lakers win around 32 games next season.[divide]