NBA 2014-15 Power Rankings Preview: #26 Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers get Kobe Bryant back on the court this year. He won't be on board with tanking. But should they?

This NBA offseason has been very eventful, and we’re only a few short weeks away from the start of team training camps. To help bridge that gap for hoops junkies, we here at numberFire will be rolling out our projections for next season in the form of team previews, starting at 30 and going all the way to number one. We continue today with the 26th-ranked Los Angeles Lakers!

The prestigious L.A. Lakers had a season to forget last year, ending with 27 wins, which was even two wins higher than their Pythagorean Wins. The Lakers had a total of 24.2 win shares on their roster, but are only returning 12.4 of them from last year. In simpler terms, the Lakers are returning only 51.2% of their production from last year. They did have a big offseason, acquiring Jeremy Lin from Houston and Carlos Boozer from waivers, but this is the Western Conference. Those guys won’t move the needle much this year, and the Lakers are staring at another tough season.

numberFire Metrics

Projected Record: 31-51
Western Conference Rank: 14th
NBA Rank: 26th
nERD: 35.4
Playoff Chances: 7.45%
Championship Chances: 0.00%

And here is where Laker fans go crazy after seeing that we only project the Lakers for four more wins, despite adding Lin, Boozer, and a healthy Kobe Bryant. If they were in the East, Kobe might be able to drag them to a couple more wins. But the West is brutal, and even if Kobe has a miraculous Tim Duncan-like season at his age, the Lakers will still be scrapping to get to 30 wins. Speaking of Kobe - our championship odds don’t exactly bode well for him getting that sixth ring and matching MJ anytime soon.

Player Movement

Notable Additions
Julius Randle (via draft)
Ed Davis (via free agency)
Jeremy Lin (via trade)
Carlos Boozer (via waivers)

Notable Losses
Pau Gasol (free agency)
Jodie Meeks (free agency)
Jordan Farmar (free agency)
Chris Kaman (free agency)
Kent Bazemore (free agency)

Merely getting back Bryant on the court will make this team more competitive, but at some point the Lakers will need to think about their long-term future. Julius Randle may be a fine player, but the Lakers would be much better off letting him development and going after a top-five draft pick this year. If it’s out of that range, it goes to Phoenix, and the Lakers are in trouble.

Three Burning Questions

What can we expect from Kobe Bryant?
The list of guards who have had a 7.0 win share or higher season at 36 or older is pretty short: John Stockton, Reggie Miller, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, and Sam Cassell. That would be the list Kobe would be joining if he wants to put up All-Star caliber production. He’s with a new cast of characters this year, and he is without an All-Star big man safety blanket for the first time since, well, ever. So what can we expect? Unfortunately, probably not the same Kobe.

Should they try to compete with veterans or development young players?
This one is easy: young players. As mentioned above, the Lakers only keep their first round pick this year if it’s in the top five. It is highly improbably the Lakers will be good enough to get the pick out of the top-10. So, to pull a Detroit and lose a pick that good is poor management. However, the signing of Carlos Boozer, the trade for Jeremy Lin, Kobe’s personality, and the history of their owner gives no hope that they will do the smart thing and go after the pick. I know the Lakers have historically been able to attract a superstar free agent, but if they don’t, this will be a bad franchise for the next many years.

How good can Julius Randle be in Year 1?
Randle is still very young – he doesn’t turn 20 until late November – so he has plenty of time to develop. The question will be how much time he’ll actually get on the court. If the Lakers are trying to win, they’ll probably give a lot of time to Boozer and Jordan Hill at the expense of Randle’s development. Either way, rookie teenagers don’t often get above replacement level, even with time. Randle has all the skills you want from a power forward—we just might not see them this year.

Fantasy Hoops Stock Watch

PG/SG Kobe Bryant (Yahoo O-Rank: 34)
I’m not quite sure how Bryant is listed by Yahoo as a point guard, but the important part is the shooting guard eligibility, which is the shallowest position in fantasy basketball. If we can assume that Kobe will be at the level of two years ago where he put up 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 6.0 assists a game, Kobe deserves this ranking. That’s a big if, however, and he still carries injury risk. I can’t blame players for taking the upside of a still-elite Kobe, but he’ll probably get drafted much higher than this ranking. As such, I probably won’t have him on any of my teams.

PG/SG Jeremy Lin (Yahoo O-Rank: 115)
This ranking is low for me. When Lin was a starter for the Knicks, he averaged 14.6 points, 6.2 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. Now that Lin is gone from Houston and the ball-dominant James Harden, his numbers should go up. Granted, he’ll probably have a lot of turnovers, but he will also be a cheap source of assists, which are hard to get in the later rounds of drafts. I’ll be targeting him this year.