Los Angeles Lakers: How Their Youth Can Help Get Them Back to the Playoffs

Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The big story for the Lakers this season is, of course, the addition of LeBron James. LeBron has certainly shown the ability to change the fortunes of a franchise overnight, but he’s still only one player. As great as LeBron is, a return to relevance and success for the Lakers this season will be a team effort.

The Lakers have a very young, but very talented core group of players. All of them are able to contribute to the game in different ways, and they all will need to step up in order to meet the high expectations of such a legendary and iconic franchise. The Lakers added several of veterans on one-year deals to shore up the roster. Those players will definitely factor into Luke Walton’s plans, but that core group of young players will still have a great deal of responsibility if the Lakers want to return to the postseason for the first time since the 2012-13 season.

Any team with hopes of long-term success needs a franchise point guard, and the Lakers believe that Lonzo Ball can be that player. He showed flashes of his advertised ability to make others around him better in his rookie season, where he averaged 7.2 assists per game. Ball also showed that he is a multi-dimensional player with two triple-doubles, the first of which made him the youngest player in NBA history to post such a stat line. Ball’s best work last season came when he was committed to distributing the ball to others, and he had 13 games in which he had 10 or more assists. Due to injury Ball only played 52 games in his first season, but was still impressive enough to make the Second All-Rookie team.

Ball was touted as one of the best passers to come out of college basketball in a very long time, and if he can continue to distribute like he did in his rookie season, it will mean good things for the Lakers. Ball will benefit from having two of the best passers in basketball as mentors, Rajon Rondo and LeBron James. James averaged 9.1 assists per game last season, and is averaging 7.2 over his 15-year career. Rondo has led the NBA in assists per game three times, and even had a 25-assist game last year with the Pelicans.

Ball’s shooting numbers were notoriously dismal last season, but they should improve in his second campaign. With the additions of James, Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson, Ball won’t have to take as many shots – especially as many low percentage shots – as he did in his rookie year. Lonzo Ball will be asked to run the offense and set up other teammates to score this season. Luckily for both him and the Lakers, that’s something he excels at.

The Lakers were surprised by another player they drafted last year, forward Kyle Kuzma. Kuzma was the brightest spot on a Lakers team that finished 11th in the Western Conference with a 35-47 record. Kuzma was tied with both Brandon Ingram and the departing Julius Randle as the team’s leading scorer. His 16.1 points per game were second among all rookies, with only Utah’s Donovan Mitchell ahead of him. He shot 39% from three and nearly 50% from the field last season, and all of that earned him a spot on the First All-Rookie Team.

Kuzma’s size and versatility allow him to create mismatches on the floor. He’s often too big for smaller players to guard, using his frame and strength to get where he wants. For larger forwards, he’s usually faster than them and can get to the basket with ease. He showed that he has the ability to take over games, scoring over 30 points in 4 games last season. His season high was a 38 point effort in a win over Houston, who finished as the top team in the Western Conference last year. Kuzma was extremely efficient in the game, making 7 of 10 threes.

Kuzma should find himself with easy scoring opportunities this season, especially if Luke Walton decides to place him in lineups with players capable of running the offense. Ball, James, and Rondo should have no problem finding Kuzma, whether it be on the wings for open jumpers or in transition for high percentage looks at the basket. Kyle Kuzma had a great rookie season, but with the improvements that the Lakers have made on a total team level, he could have an even better second season.

Josh Hart may not have been the biggest name on the Lakers’ roster, but he was still an important part of their team last season. The late round pick played well in 63 games for Los Angeles last season, scoring in double figures 21 times. Hart’s season-high came in a win over the Clippers on the last day of the season. He scored 30 points in the win and contributed 5 assists and 5 rebounds as well.

Hart also played well in the most recent Summer League, taking home MVP honors for the competition. He nearly shot 40% from three last season, making him a valuable asset for a team without a lot of knockdown shooters. He likely won’t see the 23 starts he had last year, but Hart could be a very important key bench piece for this Laker team.

Finally, Brandon Ingram followed up his rookie season with a very good second year, and he will feature prominently in the Lakers’ plans going forward. His size, frame, and ability to score from several places on the court have brought on inevitable comparisons to Kevin Durant. Ingram certainly isn’t at Durant’s elite level yet, but with the proper growth and development, he could become a very good player in a short amount of time.

Ingram improved his points per game, three-point percentage and overall shooting percentage last year, a good sign for the Lakers’ future. He proved to be a reliable option for the Lakers, scoring in double figures in all but nine games he played in. Ingram was also able to show off his rebounding ability last season, grabbing at least 5 boards in 39 games.

Ingram showed that he can play at his best when the lights are at their brightest. His season high came in a close loss to the Warriors, where he scored 32 points and held his own against the player many consider his closest eventual comparison in Durant.

Ingram will likely be a regular starter for the Lakers this season, even with all of the fresh faces. He’ll need to improve on defense, but a large part of that is simply effort. Having a player like LeBron who will expect nothing less than excellence from those around him could help Ingram to improve even more – on both sides of the ball.