September is the only calendar month in which NBA news is hard to come by. For basketball fans, it is a dark time filled with little hope as the season-opener seems infinitely far away. But these slow days have one benefit for those infatuated with the NBA: they allow imaginations to run wild with predictions for the upcoming season. As Lakers fans, we have already begun to do this with visions of D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle beginning their rise to Showtime 2.0 –no pressure– and hopes of Kobe Bryant going out with a healthy and impressive season. But what about predicting the unpredictable, coming up with potential storylines that seem so far-fetched that they would only happen in Hollywood? That is exactly what I’m here for. Here are your 2015-16 bold predictions for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Julius Randle Will Average a Double-Double
Randle is effectively going into his rookie year after breaking his leg in his first regular season game. However, expectations should not be lowered at all for the former Kentucky stand-out. I wrote last week about Randle and his potential to be the next great Laker. If that is to happen, we should begin to see signs as early as this season. Obviously Randle is not actually a rookie but since this will (hopefully) be his first full season let’s compare what this feat would mean to past rookies. According to Basketball Reference, the last first-year player to have averaged a points and rebounds double-double per game was Blake Griffin in 2010-11. Before that, Dwight Howard and Emeka Okafor both accomplished the feat in 2004-05. In fact, since 1993, only five players have posted more than ten points and ten rebounds per game in their rookie season. Clearly it is a remarkable accomplishment, and if Randle can reach those numbers he would be well on his way to stardom.
But while these are supposed to be bold predictions, it is entirely conceivable that Randle achieves this benchmark. The points should easily come, with talented ball handlers and passers around him, not to mention his own ability to beat anyone one on one. The rebounding will be a bigger question mark. However, Randle was a great rebounder in college and even with his below-average size, he should be able to translate that to the NBA level. Plus, playing alongside a teammate like Roy Hibbert –who boxes out diligently despite his lackluster rebounding numbers– should allow him to grab a few extra boards. This may be a bold prediction by historical standards, but I believe Randle has a legitimate shot at doing this.
Nick Young Will Win the Sixth Man of the Year Award
How is this for bold? Lakers fans soured on Young quickly last year after a dismal season. That makes sense considering he was mostly terrible on the court and the fun-loving attitude wears thin when wins are hard to come by. That being said, we have seen Swaggy P, as a Laker, enjoy considerable success off the bench. I’m banking on a return to that form as I believe this is the year we will see him finally take good shots. Young will almost certainly have a decrease in shot attempts due to an influx in scorers on the team, meaning he will be playing alongside other ball-handlers who happen to be better passers than him. This should allow Young to play off the ball and take better shots.
According to NBA.com, Young had an admirable effective field goal percentage of 53.5% on catch-and-shoot shots despite those shots taking up only 24% of his shot selection. I expect the latter number to crawl up with Young mainly playing with Lou Williams, and perhaps Marcelo Huertas, off the bench along with starters Russell, Clarkson, and Bryant, who will all command the ball and find better shots for the eventual award-winner. With greater efficiency will come greater scoring, which is literally the only thing voters look at for this award. Young has a real chance at this as long as the voting panel does not consist solely of dolphins.
The Lakers Will Win 35 Games
Outside of Lakers circles, there does not seem to be much hope for the purple and gold. For example, ESPN’s summer forecast projects Los Angeles to have a record of 26-56, only five games better than last season. While the main focus of this season should be the development of the younger players, most Lakers fans are rooting for a more significant increase in winning percentage. That is entirely possible, if not probable, with the influx of talent added this season. Last year’s team will be adding Russell, Randle, Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass, and Lou Williams, not to mention a hopefully healthy Mamba. Plus, Wesley Johnson is no longer on the team, and that should count as an addition in and of itself.
Not to make comparisons, but this team has a slight Utah Jazz vibe to it. It is a young team that will almost certainly start out of the gate slow, but as the young guys gain their footing, they should be able to finish the season strong. It’s a different situation from the Jazz, of course, as Utah has some established and productive veterans who are better than any current Lakers. But if things click, 35 wins should be attainable and should be the goal.
Larry Nance Jr. Will Posterize Someone
You can count on that sir https://t.co/EPDdS98tGx
— Larry Nance Jr (@Larrydn22) September 8, 2015
Kobe Bryant Will Play At Least 65 Games
This is more of a prayer than a prediction to be honest. I have grown up watching Kobe play basketball. Even when I knew nothing about basketball (even less than now, believe it or not) I could sense his greatness. As my love for basketball grew, so too did my appreciation for the legend. He quickly became my favorite athlete of all time and I have felt blessed to have been able to witness his incredible drive and ability for years now.
That being said, the past two seasons have been quite rough. Since tearing his Achilles at the end of what was arguable his most impressive season, Kobe has been unable to stay healthy, having season-ending surgeries in the next two consecutive seasons. The injury bug and old age have also caught up to him in terms of his ability on the court. I think I can speak for all Lakers fans when I say that it would be incredible to get one last season of Kobe giving us his all and shocking everyone. Beyond that, we want to see him stay healthy for an entire season – likely his last – so that we can get a few more scorching hot fourth quarters, Kobe-glares, fist pumps, jersey-bites and game winners. Here’s to a healthy going-away party for the Black Mamba.