Los Angeles Lakers: What Should Be The Win Expectancy?

In the last three NBA seasons, the Los Angeles Lakers haven’t necessarily been savages.  Their 93-153 record (.378) represents something that Lakers’ supporters never have patience with.

A drought.

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Winning just 37.8 percent of their games since the 2012-13 season, the Lakers fit right in with some perennial bottom-feeders:

  • Hornets/Bobcats:  97-149 (.394)
  • Lakers:  93-153 (.378)
  • Pistons:  90-156 (.366)
  • Timberwolves:  87-159 (.354)
  • Kings:  85-161 (.346)
  • 76ers:  71-175 (.289)
  • Magic:  68-178 (.276)

One thing the Lakers have always had on their side is somewhat pathetic.  They’ve always had the leverage of saying “At least we’re not at the bottom.”  It’s true, as five franchises have been worse over the last 246 games.

But, this isn’t the standard Los Angeles has held itself to throughout history.  Being slightly better than some of the worst organizations, and most troubled rosters isn’t something to be proud of.

Jeanie Buss and the Lakers want an expeditious recovery, with the team being mentioned in the same class as the Western Conference playoff teams.  The difference between Jeanie (financial side) and the basketball operations team (Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss) is that only one understands the reality of the situation.

Byron Scott reacts to a play during the third quarter of the game against the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena. The Sacramento Kings defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 102-92. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

On the surface, of course the majority owner of the team (Jeanie) would expect the Lakers to catapult into the playoff picture in a hurry.  In the franchise’s history, you rarely see a handful of years where the Lakers are irrelevant in May and June.  But, in reality, the Western Conference is too unforgiving.  It won’t allow the Lakers to sniff the 8th seed, regardless of how quickly their youngsters (Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, and Julius Randle) grow in the next eight months.

When the New Orleans Pelicans were able to fly their way into the West Playoffs last season, it was only due to severe injuries to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.  If Oklahoma City’s dynamic duo didn’t miss 70 combined games, it’s a no-brainer that the Thunder’s win total would’ve exceeded 50.  They still won 45 games under those circumstances, with the Pelicans taking the 8th seed on a tie-breaker.

Therefore, if the Thunder were in the playoff race (with over 50 wins), that means the Mavericks would’ve claimed the 8th seed … at 50 wins.

Does anyone with a fair-minded head believe these 2015-16 Lakers have a chance at running up the win total to 50?

If “yes” is your answer, I seriously suggest putting down the bottle.  Nothing good happens anymore when you’re drunk, as Ty Lawson would coincide.

Instead, the city of Los Angeles should consider this coming season as the first true stepping stone.

Everyone believed it would be a step in the right direction once Julius Randle was drafted in 2014, along with Mike D’Antoni leaving the organization. It was all supposed to be an enjoyable season, with a new rookie proving himself, Kobe coming back from an injury-plagued year, and Byron Scott running the show to preach “defense” to his new group.

Everything backfired.  It was all shot to hell when Randle broke his leg after 14 minutes of playing time.  Adding to the fire was Kobe tearing his rotator cuff after shooting an unbearable 37.3% from the field in 35 games.  To add to the laughing stock of a season, Byron Scott didn’t make any progression for this team — their defensive rating remained 110.6 from the previous year, and all Scott did was lower their 3-point attempts from 24.8 per game, to 18.9.

In terms of league ranking, they lowered from 2nd overall in 3-point makes per game, to 25th.  The Lakers went from scoring 2,322 points off 3-pointers with D’Antoni, to just 1,596 with Scott.

In today’s style of play, perhaps someone would like to explain how losing 726 points from beyond the arc is a good thing?  

For this reason, the mood around Los Angeles has now been split.  Half of the city likes the idea of Scott coaching this unit, since he’s a firm believer in discipline and was a successful player himself.  The other half would be in favor of a more analytic-driven coach taking over the reins.

Because, in all honesty, things are going to change when Kobe Bryant hangs up the No. 24 jersey.

When Bryant is gone, this team will no longer have any “old-fashioned” components left on the roster.  He’s the only one on the team over 31 years old, and some would say that he’s holding back the team from entering the “new age” of basketball — one filled with analytics, speed, efficiency …. and defense.

With one more season left until Bryant is scheduled to retire, the Lakers are finally headed towards progression.

It’s not every day the Lakers are able to produce an All-Rookie First Team.  In the 53 years of the All-Rookie Team’s existence, there’s only been 11 years in which a Laker rookie has been selected to the first team.  Jordan Clarkson fits into that special class:

Everyone that’s able to tame their expectations should realize something about the Lakers’ newest rookie, D’Angelo Russell.  While Russell is very likely to end up as the 12th Laker on the list after his rookie season, it’s going to take some time for him to blossom into a superstar.

Someone once told me, “All-Star caliber point guards aren’t born every day.”  That is certainly the truth.  But, they also aren’t born in a day.

Russell had trouble adjusting to tougher defenses in the NBA Summer League, turning the ball over on 27.4 percent of his total possessions. He was one of the highest turnover-rate players in the Summer League, and he has just three months before he’s facing veteran defenses on a nightly basis.  Nobody should expect Russell to come close to what I call “Chris Paul territory,” which includes having an assist percentage above 30%, and a turnover percentage below 10%.

Instead, Eric Bledsoe territory seems like an accurate forecast for Russell — an assist percentage close to 25%, with a turnover percentage close to 14%.

Because of the extensive learning curves this team will have to fight through with three young starters — Clarkson, Russell, and Randle have an average age of just 20.7 years — the win expectancy for the Lakers shouldn’t be above 35 games.

Winning 33 games next season, the Lakers would be right in the middle of the bottom-half of the West.  That’s not a great place to be, considering you either want to be a playoff team, or horrifically bad in order to solidify great draft position.

33 wins would be a 12-win improvement from last season, and that kind of jump usually signifies a great turnaround for the future.  Which teams experienced a 12+ win turnaround this past year?  Teams that have bright lights ahead:

  • Milwaukee:  26-win improvement
  • Atlanta:  22-win improvement
  • Cleveland:  20-win improvement
  • Golden State:  16-win improvement
  • Boston:  15-win improvement
  • Utah:  13-win improvement

If the Lakers want to make an immediate stomp on the Western Conference’s core, 33 wins should be the realistic goal.  It may not be what Byron Scott or the millions of crazed fans want to hear, but you can pretty much guarantee that a 29-win improvement isn’t happening with this team (that would be 50 wins, which is the amount I expect the West’s 8-seed to have).

There are a dozen or more factors that go into how many games Los Angeles can claim next season.  Among those are injuries to the lineup, Roy Hibbert‘s ability to remain an NBA center and not fade into the shadows mid-way through the season again, and the grueling schedule.

The Lakers have to deal with a competitive Pacific Division, as they have four annual meetings with the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns, and Sacramento Kings.  The only embarrassing team of that mix is Sacramento, a team that hasn’t been over 30 wins since the 2007-08 season.

Still, that’s 16 total games against either the NBA champions with Stephen Curry, the dangerous Chris Paul-led offense, a skilled backcourt in Phoenix, or DeMarcus Cousins trying to eat your soul.

It doesn’t get easy in the West, even if you’re going against the Northwest Division.

Rudy Gobert (27) tries to block the shot of Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson (6) during the fourth quarter at EnergySolutions Arena. Utah Jazz won the game 94-85. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

There will be an amelioration in the win department for the Lakers next season, if Byron Scott can finally get a grip on how to coach in the new era.

To quantify the amount of expected wins right now, the area should be around the 27-33 win total.  They are just two or three years away from re-entering the prime class of the West, unless poor decision-making in the front office sets them back.

Until then, temper the expectations.

Expecting too much in a hurry, without moderation, is what ruins a season.  For young players that are trying to grow, you don’t want their early seasons to be ravaged with unfair pressure.

For the Lakers to screw up this new path handed to them … the whole organization would have Kobe calling people “idiots.”

Step one was drafting Randle and Clarkson.  Step two was drafting Russell and polishing the backcourt.  Step three is to let go of Kobe, as hard as it may be.  Step four?

Tread lightly.