2017-2018 Los Angeles Lakers Preview: The Lonzo Ball Era Begins

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2016-17 Record: 26-56 (14th in West)

Players Added: Lonzo Ball (Draft), V.J. Beachem (FA), Vander Blue (FA), Thomas Bryant (Draft), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (FA), Josh Hart (Draft), Kyle Kuzma (Draft), Brook Lopez (Trade with BKN), Briante Weber (FA), Stephen Zimmerman (FA)

Players Lost: Tarik Black (FA), Timofey Mozgov (Trade with BKN), David Nwaba (FA), Thomas Robinson (FA), D’Angelo Russell (Trade with BKN), Metta World Peace, Nick Young (FA)

Projected Team MVP: Brook Lopez

This is a very tricky evaluation but, at this particular moment in time, the best player on the Lakers roster is Brook Lopez. Yes, the same Brook Lopez that, at least in some way, is viewed as a throw-in along with Kyle Kuzma and salary relief in exchange for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov this summer.

Make no mistake, Lopez may have actually been an afterthought in the deal but the 29-year-old former All-Star remains a tremendous basketball player. He isn’t the sexiest asset on the roster, in part because Lopez is operating on an expiring contract, but his offensive ability will go a long way toward opening things up for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and others. In fact, Lopez’s out-of-nowhere development as a three-point threat (35 percent on 5.2 attempts per game a season ago) could prove quite valuable for a team that could use the outside shooting and he has long been a top-tier offensive player that makes others better on that end.

It is certainly worth pointing out that Lopez has never been a real asset on the defensive end and, given the youth in Los Angeles, that side of things might be an adventure this season. Still, Lopez is the one player on this roster that is unequivocally an above-average starter when evaluating the 2017-2018 season in a vacuum and there is real value in that.

Team X-Factor: Lonzo Ball

Many fans would almost certainly point to Ball, Ingram or even Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as the team’s MVP but there are question marks about all three. It seems wild that Ingram, just one year removed from being a consensus No. 2 selection in the NBA Draft, would be overlooked to some degree but that is the nature of the Lonzo Ball experience.

For many teams, Ingram would be the answer to an X-factor question, simply because of his considerable talent and pedigree. With the Lakers, though, everything suddenly revolves around Ball and he has the star appeal that the franchise always seems to attract. When it comes to his rookie season, there is quite a bit of uncertainty, however, and it is certainly no lock that Ball will be even a league-average player (despite the way he is ranked by top-100 lists) immediately.

Can he defend? Can he create his own shot? Does he have the quickness to break down opposing defenses? All of these are real, legitimate questions and ones that Ball can only partially answer in year one. What we do know is that his passing is potentially transcendent and his impact at the college level was basically immeasurable. Lonzo Ball might be awesome right away and he might be bad in the way that the (vast) majority of rookies are. Regardless, it will be intriguing to watch and consume.

Best Case Scenario:

With a posted Las Vegas over/under in the low-30’s, no one rationally expects the Lakers to compete for a playoff spot this season. There is the hope and, in some cases, belief that Los Angeles will be so appealing that the franchise could lure two max-level free agents (hello, LeBron James) next summer and development from their young pieces would go a long way toward that ability.

It isn’t quite as easy as “Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball need to be fantastic” but, in the same breath, that certainly matters. Pieces like Lopez and Caldwell-Pope can aid in the development of the long-term assets like Ingram, Ball and Randle but wins might be hard to come by, even with some considerable talent. An overachieving season with a win total in the mid-30’s would go a long way toward respectability but the bigger measure will be the play of Ball and Ingram, even if that is unfair.

Worst Case Scenario:

Imagine a world in which Lonzo Ball really struggles as a rookie. Now, add to that a scuffling second season from Brandon Ingram who, by the way, was not a positive asset during his rookie season.

There are “safe” entities with Lopez, Caldwell-Pope and even players like Randle and Jordan Clarkson, just because the NBA world has largely seen what they can be. However, that core won’t take you very far in the loaded West and the prospect of big names considering Los Angeles would be a challenge if the team’s two young cornerstones aren’t flashing signs of greatness in the early going.

The win-loss results aren’t everything but, if you squint hard enough, a season win total in the mid-20’s is possible and that wouldn’t be a great look when accompanied by stunted development.