According to Kobe Bryant, the Lakers can make the playoffs. While I don’t doubt Kobe has a closer view of the Lakers than I do, this may be a situation where looking at things from a distance might provide a better view.
Last season the Lakers had the fourth-worst record in the league. The only bright spots for the team were Jordan Clarkson playing well as a second-round pick and the prospect of a high lottery selection. The good news is that they managed to move up to the second pick in the lottery. They used that pick to choose D’Angelo Russell as their point guard of the future.
In addition to drafting Russell, the Lakers have brought in Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams and Brandon Bass during the offseason. They’re also returning Kobe and Julius Randle from injury. While these players will certainly add to the Lakers’ roster, they all need to play to the top of their potentials if the Lakers want to crack into the upper half of the Western Conference, and it’s just not likely to happen.
Let’s start with Bryant, as this team will be Kobe-centric for as long as he’s on the roster. A Lakers playoff run starts and ends based on the health and ability of Bryant. The team needs a vintage Kobe season to be successful, but from what recent history has shown us, that Kobe may not exist anymore.
Bryant will be entering his 20th NBA season while coming off season-ending shoulder surgery, his third straight season-ending injury. Bryant has played in only 41 games in the past two seasons, and even if he manages to stay healthy, his play in those games hasn’t been reassuring that he can regain his old form. Kobe’s field goal percentage last year dropped to 37.3 percent, down from his career 45 percent shooting. If he wants to make the playoffs, Kobe needs to stay healthy and play better or he’ll be shooting the Lakers out of games rather than back into them (playing the facilitator role would help).
The Lakers also need a sizable youth injection from Randle and Russell. Randle was injured in the first game of the season last year and will be a rookie in all but name this season with only one game of NBA experience. The Lakers will need these two to step up in a big way to make them a competitive team. The problem, of course, is that neither has significant NBA experience. There’s a reason we don’t expect rookies to contribute right away; the transition to the NBA is the biggest jump in skill level these players have likely ever seen, and expecting them to adjust immediately is unrealistic.
The veteran additions the Lakers made are somewhat promising. Although Indiana couldn’t give Hibbert away fast enough, he should provide the Lakers with a good interior presence on defense, something that was really lacking last year. If Byron Scott wants to play old-school basketball, he’s got a good model of an old-school center in the former Pacer. Hibbert looked like he was going to be one of the league’s best centers only a few years ago, and if he can bring back even some of that shine, it’ll do a lot to help the Lakers’ chances. Unfortunately, it’s possible Hibbert entered the league a few years too late and that his style of play might already be outdated in today’s NBA.
As for Bass and Williams, both should add good depth and solidify the team’s rotation. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to fix this team’s problems. The Lakers’ two best players are Kobe, a 36 year-old whose last three seasons ended with major injuries, and Hibbert, whose last team gave him away for a second-round pick. The Lakers have some quality rotation players and intriguing young talent, but that won’t be enough to make the postseason in the loaded Western Conference.