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3 Observations from the Lakers’ Opener

Kevin Sullivan/Zuma Press/Icon Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers have only played one of their 82 games for the 2015-16 season, but after only 48 minutes of action, the foundation of some tough narratives are already forming for fans in Lakers Nation after a 112-111 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

  1. Kobe Bryant will look young and old all season long.

At 37 years of age and beginning his 20th season with the Lakers, Kobe Bryant surpassed John Stockton’s NBA record for most seasons played with one franchise.

Now to the good news.

For someone like myself who’s watched Kobe his entire career, it was still exciting to watch him do his thing and create looks for himself against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Although he shot 13 three-pointers, there were times, specifically in the second quarter, when Kobe looked like a 27-year-old All-Star instead of a 37-year-old taking the victory lap of his career.

Regardless if you were or weren’t impressed by Kobe’s 20th season debut, one thing for certain is that he’s way higher than the 93rd-best player in the NBA, although he’s obviously not the elite player he once was.

Now to the bad news.

From a team perspective, despite the Lakers having a bright future and some good young players to build around, Kobe at 37 is still the best player on the team. That’s a bad thing.

Kobe can no longer finish at the rim, and despite his great skill set, over half his shots against the Timberwolves were contested. He took 14 contested shots (per SportVU), and of his 24 total shots, 20 came outside of the paint:

Shotchart_1446227303111

His only assist came with 31 seconds left in the game.

If this trend continues, the Lakers will lose 60-plus games for the second year in a row.

  1. D’Angelo Russell must show why he was the No. 2 pick 

Unlike fellow draftee Karl-Anthony Towns, Russell’s NBA debut wasn’t memorable at all, and it shows just how much work he has ahead of him. As the man who calls himself “D-Loading,” he at times looked like a kid who was intimidated by the bright lights which come with being on stage at Staples Center while getting to start his first NBA game.

In Russell’s defense, Bryon Scott inexplicably had him playing off the ball most of the game, which isn’t the reason the Lakers drafted him so high. As a result, Russell only had a few trips down the court where you could see his high basketball IQ and elite point-guard skills.

One thing which stood out over the preseason is how passive Russell plays when on the court at the same time as Kobe. I don’t care that Kobe is one of the best players to ever lace them up – if you’re a lottery pick you can’t go 10 to 15 minutes of court action without taking a shot.

The 19-year-old rookie must figure out a way to carve out an offensive rhythm for himself where he can consistently be a playmaker and grow throughout the season. If Russell doesn’t average double figures and at least four assists (which isn’t much), this season will definitely be a failure for the No. 2 pick of the 2015 NBA Draft.

Besides needing to be more assertive on the offensive end, one hole which stands out the most in Russell’s game is the lack of defensive effort.

Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin routinely abused the young rookie on the defensive end. Rubio torched him so bad he finished with a career-high 28 points to go with his 14 assists.

These glaring holes in Russell’s game must improve if he wants to make any impact during his rookie season, otherwise he’ll find himself starting and not finishing games a lot more. The good news is it appears Russell will take on more of a playmaking role moving forward, so hopefully he embraces it.

  1. The Lakers will not win more than 30 games

As somebody who’s watched the Lakers closely since 1996 when Mr. Bryant made his NBA debut, I know what a playoff team looks like.

This 2015-16 Lakers team is so far from being a legit playoff contender that not even Jack Nicholson believes they’re going to be good. The fact that Kobe is still the best player on the team at this stage of his career is ridiculous and unacceptable.

Although Julius Randle showing some potential in his first legit NBA action was a good sign, the Lakers have way more negatives than positives, which likely won’t change much throughout the year.

In addition to Kobe being their best player, the fact the Lakers don’t have a consistent second option or low-post presence to go along with their consistently atrocious defense is why they’ll lose more than 52 games for the third consecutive year.

Lakers fans must accept the harsh reality that for the first time in franchise history, the boys in the purple and gold will be out of the playoffs for the third consecutive year.

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