Los Angeles Lakers: What’s a fair expectation for 2018-19?

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 14: Lonzo Ball #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers shakes hands with LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers after the game at Quicken Loans Arena on December 14, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Lakers 121-112. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 14: Lonzo Ball #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers shakes hands with LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers after the game at Quicken Loans Arena on December 14, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Lakers 121-112. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Breaking down what the NBA should expect from LeBron James, his supporting cast and the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2018-19 season

Speculation began running wild the minute it was announced LeBron James would leave Cleveland – again – to join the Los Angeles Lakers. Stars from all around the league were rumored to be joining LeBron in Lakerland, those rumors ultimately failed to materialize.

In the wake of losing out on a second star to pair with James, the Lakers signed several veteran players to surround him with. Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley all have their merits and caveats.

Rondo is a former all-star and champion, although his star power has dimmed in recent years due to legitimate concerns over how his ball dominant, 3-point resistant style of play fits in the modern NBA. He has improved his marksmanship from outside since leaving the Celtics but still registered a below average clip from beyond the arc last season.

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Stephenson was an integral piece to the Pacers squad that made consecutive conference finals appearances, actually being tasked with guarding LeBron more than any other Pacer. His time away from the Pacers has been…unfruitful, to say the least.

JaVale McGee is fresh off being a crucial role player for the back-to-back champion Golden State Warriors. He is the prototypical center for the modern NBA, a long, lanky rim protector who can run the floor and finish at a high rate. The list of bone-headed plays committed by McGee may be second to none, though.

Michael Beasley is a scoring machine when given the minutes and usage, but expecting him to do anything else at this stage of his career may be short-sighted. The minutes and touches just may not be there for him to make a big impact. These are all players who can contribute to a team, but the Lakers may not be the right place for them to make the impact they are capable of.

At this point, the starting unit is still up in the air for Los Angeles. James is clearly entrenched in one of the forward slots. McGee seems like a lock to start over rookie Moritz Wagner and sophomore Ivica Zubac.

Ingram improved significantly last season and certainly seems likely to start over Stephenson, Kyle Kuzma or Michael Beasley. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will likely get the nod at SG over Josh Hart or Stephenson.

Former second overall pick Lonzo Ball was clearly expected to start at PG until Rondo was brought on board, Coach Walton has stated the starting spot was up for grabs and both Ball and Rondo could start on opening night.

Which leads to the question, who is the best shooter in the starting unit? Just going by percentage Brandon Ingram and his 39 percent outpaces everyone else’s mark from last season, although he only hit 40 total 3-pointers all of last season and still holds a career mark under 33 percent.

KCP sits right behind him at 38 percent while hitting over two a game, but has shot under league average in his first four seasons with the Detroit Pistons and is only two years removed from shooting 30 percent.

LeBron is next with 36 percent, he is also only two years removed from shooting 30 percent, as arguably the biggest weakness in his remarkable career it’s unfair to expect the future Hall of Famer to improve much in that regard.

Regardless of who ends up starting at the point, both Rondo and Ball are career 30 percent shooters from downtown, despite the formers improvement in recent years. In a league more and more reliant on 3-pointers, deploying a starting line up consisting of no elite, and arguably all below average shooters is begging opponents to pack the paint and let you fire away from deep.

It appears the Lakers made note of LeBron’s frustrations at a lack of playmakers in Cleveland and tried to surround him with nothing but ball handlers at the expense of the shooters he’s been accustomed to. After nearly a decade spent surrounded by elite shooters, LeBron is going to be required to change his game.

Since James’ return to Cleveland, his team hasn’t been outside the top five in 3-point attempts and hasn’t been outside the top three in 3-point makes. It isn’t logical to continue that style of play without the personnel to accommodate it.

LeBron will have a hard time complaining about a lack of playmakers with this team, though. He, Ball, and Rondo are all at their best while running the offense. Lance Stephenson could be added to this list as well. While its unlikely all four will share the court for extended periods, it’s still a legitimate question if there is enough ball to go around.

James, Ball, and Rondo were all top 10 in assists and near the top of the list in passes per game and time of possession. It may not be possible for them all to coexist, even two of the three sharing the floor would eat in to each others time with the ball, limiting their effectiveness.

The same question was raised with Chris Paul and James Harden. The dynamic duo put those doubts to rest quickly in Houston but they both boast above average 3-point shooting to create space for each other, not to mention the space created by the players they are surrounded with. The Lakers starting five will not have that luxury this season.

Even their bench isn’t exactly brimming with established shooters. Last year, rookie Josh Hart may have been the best of the bunch at 39 percent, Kyle Kuzma was also a solid shooter as a rookie at 36 percent. The sophomores will need to build on their first-year success to help their team this season.

Outside of the second year duo, things start to get a little hazy. Incoming rookies Moritz Wagner and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk were great shooters in college, with the former shooting nearly 40 percent in his final two seasons and the latter shooting well over 40 percent in his final three seasons for a powerhouse Kansas team. They looked comfortable with the NBA arc in summer league, but have yet to match up against quality defenders. It’s anyone’s guess how their shots will translate.

Beasley has hit over 40 percent of his treys over the last two seasons for the Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks but on only 0.5 makes per game. He has never been a consistent shooter from beyond the arc with seasons of 41 percent and 23 percent under his belt. Predicting which version of Beasley the Lakers will see is an exercise in futility.

Alex Caruso, one of their two-way contracts, has been lights out while playing in the summer league for the organization over recent seasons but over 37 the games he suited up for the real Lakers squad he’s only managed to shoot 30 percent.

No team made the playoffs last season without at least one player hitting over 40 percent of their 3-pointers, most of them had multiple players hitting 40 percent or more. The Lakers don’t employ a single 40 percent shooter from last season.

The team to beat, the Warriors, deployed five players who shot between 42-46 percent, if you can’t unleash five elite shooters (nobody else can) you better be willing to make up for it with multiple above average shooters on a very high quantity of shots like the Houston Rockets did. The Lakers don’t seem to have the personnel to accomplish either.

LeBron is going to be 34 this season. The majority of players who step on an NBA court retire before they turn 34. Expecting him to carry a lesser supporting cast to the playoffs at his age, let alone make a deep playoff run as some fans are expecting, is unfair to James.

This will be the first time since 2008 that LeBron won’t start the season alongside a fellow all-star. It comes at a time that the Western Conference is, arguably, the most competitive it has ever been.

This is not the East anymore. James will still have the Lakers competing for a playoff spot, but it is very possible that they miss out on the postseason entirely. The blame will not be on him, he joined a rebuilding team.

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Good news though Lakerland, although the front office did strike out on bringing in another star this offseason, they have maintained their flexibility for next year. If Deng is stretched they could possibly free up enough for two max players to come in and help LeBron and the young core. It would be hard to envision that team missing out on the playoffs, even with LeBron being 35.

Lakers fans are as optimistic as they have been since the signing of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. They might want to temper their expectations though or they may end up being upset at the outcome for their team next season. One thing is for sure, the Los Angeles Lakers are finally interesting again, and that’s just good for basketball.