How Far Can LeBron Take The Lakers This Season?
LeBron James proved last year that he's still the best player in the world.
He was second in the NBA in regular-season triple-doubles with 18, and he willed his subpar squad to reach his eighth straight NBA Finals before his season ended, once again, at the hands of the Golden State Warriors.
Their is no doubt that the Los Angeles Lakers will be better in 2019 with the addition of LeBron, but how high is their ceiling in year one?
There are several positives when you consider LeBron's current situation in LA …
Possibility to maximize minutes/career
The Lakers are a young team on the rise, and they finished three spots out of the playoffs last season. With players like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma, LeBron has more young talent around him than he ever has.
With this kind of help, LeBron isn't going to have to put up a triple-double every night to barely pull out a victory like he had to last season. He has help around him, and he won't have to take the ball up the court every single possession like he has in the past. He can even play off the ball if he wants.
For example, Lonzo became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double last season and has already shown off his incredible passing ability. He's a pass-first point guard who should pair well with LeBron and his ability to free himself from his defender.
A pick-and-roll with Lonzo and LeBron sounds absolutely deadly to me.
LeBron won't have to work as hard as he did last season for his team to be successful, and that's a big plus considering he's entering season No. 16.
Another positive that comes with LeBron playing off the ball is that it allows other players to establish their own rhythm, something we saw his teammates in Cleveland struggle to do last season on multiple occasions.
Extreme small ball
The Warriors created the “death lineup” with their “Hamptons Five” recently, but the Lakers want to take it even a step further.
In their own version of the death lineup, they want to start Lonzo at the point, Hart at guard, Ingram at small forward, Kuzma at power forward and LeBron at center.
We know LeBron can play all five positions on the court, but pair him with four young, versatile players and it could be something special. It will be interesting to see how LeBron will do when he spends most of his time in the paint on offense instead of on the perimeter.
I think it's a given that LeBron will be a more versatile center than Draymond Green, which has me excited to see how good this lineup can be.
The Lakers should definitely make the playoffs in 2019, but there are still some concerns with how they will coexist as a squad.
Where are the shooters?
The Lakers were second to last in the NBA in terms of three-point shooting percentage last season.
Frankly, the whole roster looked like Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Along Came Polly.”
Lonzo, Hart, Ingram and Kuzma all shot under 40 percent from deep last year, and that's concerning.
The Cavaliers could have been a lot more successful last year if they had players who could consistently hit the deep ball. LeBron could draw two defenders at will, and then he would kick it out to an open teammate who would miss the open three pointer.
Acquiring shooters was a task that the Lakers' front office should have addressed in free agency, but instead they signed Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley. Each of these players shot less than 40 percent from deep last season and are not known for their three-point shooting.
Granted, the Lakers did draft some shooting ability this offseason in Svi Mykhailiuk and Mortiz Wagner, but it's unknown how much playing time they will initially receive over the veterans.
Without shooters surrounding LeBron, it definitely affects how far I think the Lakers can go this year.
The notorious West
With the addition of DeMarcus Cousins this offseason, the Warriors are the clear favorite to win the NBA Finals in 2019, and I think that's exactly what's going to happen.
While the Lakers didn't sign any sharpshooters this offseason, they didn't make any boneheaded decisions either. Stephenson, Rondo, Beasley and McGee are all on one-year deals, making them easily tradable if necessary.
Next offseason is when it matters for LeBron and LA. Players like Cousins and Klay Thompson will be free agents, and the Lakers are going to pursue them.
It isn't about now for the Lakers, it's about the next couple of years.
So, how far can LeBron take the Lakers in 2019?
As far as they can go without meeting the Warriors.
LeBron got the Cavaliers to the Finals by himself in 2018, and I feel like he's going to get more help from this Lakers squad in 2019. I think LA can beat teams like the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder, but no one is going to beat the Warriors in a seven-game series.
I'm expecting a conference semi-finals or conference finals exit for the Lakers this season.
LA is a team on the rise, and the addition of LeBron is going to take them to a different level. Just don't expect LeBron to add to his ring collection in his first year out west.
This article was originally published on @jdajani