The Los Angeles Lakers are in unfamiliar territory entering the 2016 season. For the first time in almost two decades, there will be no Kobe Bryant entering training camp, no more trash talking, and no more Mamba Mystic. Maybe it hasn’t hit me yet, maybe it never will but for the Lakers it has to hit quick and they must get it over as fast.
The Lakers are young, not 76ers young but they have a ton of youth on the current roster. Jordan Clarkson is entering his third year, Julius Randle his 2nd full season and D’Angelo Russell his 2nd, but the youth can be a gift and a curse. The one advantage they have on other young players in the league is, they had the opportunity to work with, and learn from one of the best players in NBA history. They got to witness his work ethic, how to handle the media and fans, and hopefully some of it rubbed off because they are going to need all the help they can get.
The Lakers will be better than most expect. Their lineup is not Summer League level; some players can, will, and have contributed over their short careers but keep in mind since their arrival it’s been all about the Mamba. Now it’s their time to shine and shine they will. Russell no longer has to concede to Kobe on the floor, he can run the offense the way he wants, and no longer has to look over his shoulder to see if Byron Scott is ready to pull him.
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His backcourt mate, Clarkson will benefit the most with Kobe gone. Not calling him the next Mamba but Clarkson needs to be free to roam, and with Kobe playing alongside him it slowed his growth. If Clarkson is given the green light this season, he can easily top the 20 ppg plateau. But what do the Lakers do with their top pick, Brandon Ingram? I suggest maybe go small ball with Randle at the 5, Deng at the 4, Ingram at the 3, Clarkson at 2 and Russell at 1. It may work, but if it fails then go back traditional with either Ingram as the second option off the bench. Ingram is the player I am antsy to see. I believe he will be the X-factor to the Lakers season. He has all the tools to be a star, not the next Kobe but he can come close if he’s dedicated enough.
The frontcourt, at first glance, looks questionable, but the Lakers are pretty solid there. When news broke surrounding the free agent signing of Timofey Mozgov I was shocked, but how much worse can he be than Roy Hibbert? Here is what everyone forgets when it comes to Mozgov. When he first arrived in Cleveland, he averaged 25 minutes per and produced to the tune of 11/7 while shooting 57 percent from the floor.
If he can manage 30+ minutes for the Lakers, we should see a per of 15/10. Not a bad signing after all. The other new addition is SF and Luol Deng, coming over from Miami. Deng is a solid veteran that should move into the leadership role vacated by Kobe. But unlike Brandon Bass and Metta World Peace, Deng will be a major contributor on both ends of the floor. Last but not least is the explosive and highly-talented Randle. Last season Randle was a model of consistency on the low block and with Scott gone, and Mozgov protecting the paint we shall see him increase his per from 11/10 to 20/12. That’s the growth I’m expecting for Randle
The 2016 Lakers will make some noise, may not be playoffs loud but they will turn a few heads in 2016.