We’re inaugurating our NBA player projection system, CARMELO, with 2015-16 season previews for every team in the league. Check out the teams we’ve already previewed here. Learn more about CARMELO here.
An organization so often filled with endless Southern California sunshine is in the midst of its darkest era. The Los Angeles Lakers posted a franchise-worst 21-61 record last season and struck out on their top targets in free agency for the third straight summer. They need another star (Kevin Durant in 2016? Russell Westbrook in 2017?) to replace Kobe Bryant, who may or may not be gone soon. D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson are promising, but — like all young players — need time to grow. For now, the Lakers are expected to miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season, the longest postseason drought in their history. FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO projects them to go 27-55:
And if they’re too good this season, they could lose their 2016 first-round draft pick, which is top-three protected, to the 76ers. No doubt, the winningest franchise in NBA history — and the league’s most glamorous team — is at its most crucial crossroads. The Lakers must tread carefully or else face an extended stay in the league’s cellar.
Here’s what CARMELO projects for the Lakers’ key players:
After Kobe Bryant’s three consecutive season-ending injuries, no one knows what to expect from the guard, now in his 20th (and quite possibly final) season in purple and gold. CARMELO pegs Bryant as the 236th best player in the league. But can he stay healthy? How many minutes will he play? How many games must he sit out to rest? Will he defer to the Lakers’ rising young stars? All question marks. The only certainty is that he’ll go out guns blazing, especially when the game is on the line.
The 19-year-old has superstar potential, that we know, especially after Lakers coach Byron Scott mentioned D’Angelo Russell in the same breath as Magic Johnson and after Bryant recently called Russell “one of the best playmakers in the game.” Russell will probably pile up some head-shaking turnovers in a quest for jaw-dropping highlight passes, but that’s OK. After all, it seemed like every team in the NBA had an elite point guard, and now it seems like the Lakers (potentially) have one too.
A broken leg in his season debut robbed Julius Randle of his rookie season. But throughout this preseason, he has looked like the Lakers’ best player. Bryant routinely calls him an “animal,” and Roy Hibbert called him “the future face of the NBA.” He’s got a ways to go, but the talent/physical package is there.
Jordan Clarkson rose from unknown second-round pick to All-Rookie first team selection, but that all came when the Lakers were decimated with injuries and the season was already lost. If the high-flying combo guard can improve on last season, then the Lakers will know they’ve truly found a diamond in the rough.
Once the most dominant defensive center in the NBA, Roy Hibbert was dumped by the Pacers for next to nothing, and now he’s trying to revive his career in a contract season. No pressure. The Lakers don’t want him to worry about points — just about stopping opponents from scoring them at the rim. If he can show shades of his former self, then the Lakers landed a steal. CARMELO, however, is skeptical.
“Swaggy P” spent the bulk of last season in Scott’s doghouse, and it’s not clear whether their partnership will be any different this time around. Nick Young is a fearless gunner — sometimes too fearless — but minutes will be hard to come by as the Lakers look to develop their young backcourt. That said, remember when dolphins tried to kill him and steal his girlfriend, Iggy Azalea? Classic.