When I was growing up, I played a lot of sports video games: Madden, NBA 2K, FIFA, maybe some NHL here and there.
Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
These are the names that have dominated the NBA for the most part of three decades as the legendary purple and gold experienced period after period of sustained success. However, since their last championship in 2010 and the decline of the great Kobe Bryant, it’s been a tough couple of seasons for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Since then, the likes of Golden State and Cleveland have taken over the NBA landscape.
After finishing in the bottom three of the Western Conference for the past four seasons, this has easily been the worst period ever experienced by the franchise. Placed in one of sports most intense markets, criticism has come from all angles for this team as people simply aren’t used to a losing Lakers team.
Despite the struggles of the past four seasons, things are beginning to turn around for this famous franchise. With Magic Johnson at the helm they have already built the foundation of an excellent young roster. By no means am I saying that this team will have any major effect on the title or even the playoffs race this year, with a 25 to 35-win season more than likely.
However, the direction this team is beginning to take is extremely positive and with the right moves made by their front office, we could be seeing the next NBA dynasty forming before our eyes.
Let’s start from the top.
Having been granted the number two pick in the past three NBA drafts, the Lakers have acquired some great talents through the likes of D’Angelo Russell (now on the Nets), Brandon Ingram and most recently Lonzo Ball.
Ingram and Ball are the two that have been given the task to lead this new Laker era, with all other decisions based around what suits the play of these two guys. In his second season, Ingram has shown flashes of greatness with his length and ability to score resulting in him being likened to Warriors champion Kevin Durant.
Although he has yet to truly reach his potential as of yet, Ingram has earned his position in the Lakers’ starting line-up and in these first nine games has really emerged as one of the teams leaders. Standing at 206cm with a 221cm wingspan, Ingram is showing signs of a breakout season averaging 15.3 points a game on a 45.7 FG per cent.
These are extremely promising numbers and if he can continue to improve his shot and his body develops further he will without a doubt be a scary prospect for opposition teams in years to come.
The second key to the new-look Lakers is Lonzo Ball, the epitome of showtime basketball. Renowned for his running and gunning play style and unbelievable passing skills and court vision, Lakers fans everywhere were excited when his name was read out by Adam Silver in the number two spot.
Son of loudmouth LaVar Ball, Lonzo has received a lot of attention in his short career and after ten games things aren’t exactly going to plan. After an excellent summer league to which he was awarded MVP, the UCLA prodigy has only managed to average 8.8 points per game on a lousy 29.9 FG per cent and 23.4 per cent from downtown.
This underachieving start has seen many question whether he will be a star, as he lacks the aggression and motivation by other rookies around the league such as Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum, Dennis Smith Jnr and Lauri Markannen. Despite his slow start, I am not so quick to judge Lonzo as his assist game has been very solid and while running the point the team has performed above expectations with a 5-5 record.
Give the young man time and he will work out how to perform at an NBA level and be the franchise star that can take this famous franchise back to where it belongs.
Following the two franchise cornerstones of Ingram and Ball, the Lakers have a number of other promising options that provide both scoring and defence. The most exciting of these in my opinion is young Kyle Kuzma, who after being selected 27th in the 2017 NBA draft has become one of the biggest surprise packets of the season thus far.
Averaging 15.4 points per game over the first ten matches of the season on 56.3 FG per cent and 33.3 per cent from beyond the arc, Kuzma has already shown he has the potential to be one of the best scorers in the league.
Whether it be through his excellent ability to drive and finish or his outstanding outside shot, Kuzma will provide the Lakers with a lot of diversity at the four spot in coming years and will complement Ingram and Ball very well in what is shaping to be a very solid top three for the purple and gold.
Everything about Kuzma’s game epitomises showtime, and will definitely thrill crowds at the Staples Centre for years to come.
Along with Kuzma, the Lakers also possess some excellent scorers such as Jordan Clarkson and Kentavious Caldwell Pope who as back court and wing players can take over the scoring load from the teams stars and get buckets when the team is in a slump.
Clarkson in particular has proven himself to be one of the best sixth men in the NBA, and if he stays in LA will be crucial in leading the second unit.
On the defensive end, Julius Randle has proven himself to be very capable with his size and ability to score in the post and defend around the rim as well as on the perimeter being invaluable to the make up of this roster.
Like many Lakers, Randle has really impressed so far this season as coming off the bench he has averaged 11.6 points and 6.7 rebounds on 18.6 minutes per game. If he continues to improve and finds his way into this starting lineup he could turn into one of the games best defenders and be an excellent role player for this run and gun team.
Even though the Lakers are littered with young talent, all teams need some veteran presence to teach the young guys how to gel together and win. This is something that has been provided by former Brooklyn Net Brook Lopez at the centre position, as he has become the leader of this young team.
Averaging 16.4 points a game, Brook has been serviceable at the five so far this season, as he hopes to use his nine years of NBA experience in helping the likes of Ball, Ingram, Kuzma and Randle develop into quality players. Andrew Bogut and Corey Brewer also provide this veteran presence of the bench and although they are not getting much game time are valuable in teaching the young players and contributing key moments when on the court.
Although these players will not be around when this team peaks, they are still critical to its make up and will definitely help the Lakers become a winning franchise once again.
With a solid young roster in place it is critical that a franchise have the right men in place off the court to help develop the team further. The Lakers are looking very good in that department as well, with former Golden State assistant Luke Walton running the team very well as the head coach.
Although his record thus far has been very average to say the least, he has been able to create a post Kobe culture to which the players seem to have bought in to. He is also very good at nurturing his young players and making key moves when the games are at their tightest. From a managerial standpoint, Magic Johnson has come on board as President of Basketball operations and done a very good job.
Having started this idea of show time basketball and winning five championships and three MVP’s with the franchise, he knows exactly what it takes to win and how to get there.
The final thing that I feel will help the Lakers develop into a future dynasty is the LA market, as free agents will be attracted to coming to an up and coming team in one of the worlds biggest and brightest cities.
With the lights of Hollywood shining bright, marquee free agents such as LeBron James and Paul George have been linked to joining the team as early as next season. With a large amount of salary cap space, the Lakers are in a position to make a number of aggressive trade moves and put together a championship quality roster as early as next year.
So, having just embarked on the 2017-18 NBA season things are looking good for the purple and gold as they have built a core group of players that will potentially bring them back to championship glory in years to come.
It is unlikely that the team will make the playoffs this season let alone challenge for a ring, however if they can sign some free agents and keep this team together. Expect to see the Los Angeles Lakers surge back into NBA relevance in the not to distant future.