The Los Angeles Lakers young core got tested in a major way during the 2018-19 NBA season with the arrival of LeBron James in free agency.
After a year or two of no real pressure for Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart to bring in wins, things changed quickly.
In order to help with that pressure, the Lakers brought in a number of veterans who had experienced the biggest stages the NBA had to offer. While some didn’t work out the way the team hoped, one player who shined was JaVale McGee, who experienced arguably the best season of his career.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, things didn’t go the way the players hoped as they missed the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean the season was a complete loss for the young core. McGee recently talked with Chris McGee of Spectrum SportsNet about the different level of pressure the young players experienced and he believes they grew from what they went through:
“I feel like they got to experience winning pressure. I feel like the pressure before was ‘just go out there and play basketball.’ They got to experience at least ‘you guys got to win’ pressure. And that’s a different pressure than just going out there and getting it. But definitely, I think everybody stepped up and the growth from the young guys really showed.”
Much was made of the team’s young players struggling with the expectations of winning along with the trade rumors surrounding them, but some of that is overstated as they rose to the occasion for the most part until injuries cut them down.
Ball was playing the best basketball of his career, averaging 13.0 points, 8.1 assists, and 6.4 rebounds in his last seven games before his ankle injury. Ingram looked like an All-Star player coming out of the break, averaging 27.8 points and 7.5 rebounds on 57% shooting in his last six games. Kuzma also had his second-highest scoring month of the season in February, averaging over 20 points per game.
The concern moving forward is their ability to stay healthy. While Kuzma has been fine, both Ingram and Ball have missed huge chunks of the season each of the last two years and Hart has dealt with tendinitis in his knee as well.
As McGee noted, the young players stepped up and the experience they got should serve them well in the coming seasons. Assuming they remain with the Lakers, that pressure won’t be leaving anytime soon so they have no choice but to embrace it.