Happy New Year, everyone!
2019 is underway and people are looking to make some changes in their lives, leave bad habits behind and do some big things this year.
The Los Angeles Lakers also have a few significant goals they hope to accomplish in 2019, but they’ll have to take care of some smaller things in order to make it happen.
Here are 19 New Year’s resolutions I would like to see out of the Lakers in 2019, starting with the little things first, working our way towards the major ideas.
1. Get and stay healthy
Okay, this may not be a small thing, especially since this team appears to have some sort of injury hex that they can’t break, but it is the most important. It feels like ever since the train wreck that was the 2012-13 season started, the Lakers have always had at least one key player missing time due to injury. Whenever someone comes back, someone else goes down.
The Lakers just got JaVale McGee back, which is huge for the starting lineup. But they are still without LeBron James for at least probably a few more games and Rajon Rondo will be out for about a month.
For this team to fulfill their maximum potential, they need to not only get healthy, but they need to stay that way. Here’s to hoping that 2019 brings a clean bill of health.
2. Start making free throws
This has been almost as frustrating as the injuries. The Lakers have left a bunch of free points at the line this year by missing free throws. They are dead last in the NBA in free throw percentage at 69.2 percent and tied for 24th in the league in free throw makes per game at 16.1 (h/t Mike Trudell).
Missing free throws is a recipe to lose close games, as the Lakers learned the hard way recently in the loss at Sacramento. They missed seven free throws, including one big one in the final seconds that opened the door for a game-winning three for the Kings.
Making free throws for NBA players seems like a simple fix, but it has been proven otherwise on numerous occasions. The Lakers need to find a way to be more efficient from the line.
3. Hire a Shooting Coach
How do the Lakers not have a shooting coach? I have no idea, but it’s true. They don’t have one.
To me, it is inexcusable for one of the premier sports franchises in the world to not hire a position that is pretty standard for a basketball coaching staff. Maybe the Lakers would be better than 18th in the NBA in three-point percentage and dead last in free throw percentage if they had a shooting coach. Let’s get one on this staff and see if it helps. Things can’t get a whole lot worse in that department right now. So, why not try it?
4. Hire a high five for Josh Hart
Seriously, how many times is Hart going to be left hanging by his teammates? The man just wants to show some love for his teammates and it never gets thrown back his way. Well, maybe he’s just awful at giving high fives, as Pete Zayas (@LakerFilmRoom) broke down earlier this season for Silver Screen and Roll.
Steve Nash was excellent at giving high fives throughout his career. Is there any way the Lakers can bring him back and get him a spot on this staff just for that reason? Hell, make him the shooting coach, too. He still owes the Lakers one after that contract they gave him in 2012, right?
5. Avoid standing and watching LeBron in late-game situations
Another reason the Lakers have lost a few close games this year is because of their late-game execution on offense. Far too many times they have four players standing and watching James try to make something happen in the clutch. Hopefully the silver lining with James currently out is that the Lakers will learn to break this habit in critical moments so that when he returns, they will be a better team in those key situations.
6. Win close games
Speaking of being better in key moments, the Lakers are 6-6 this season in games decided by five points or less. Now, the Lakers are not going to win every close game they encounter. But in a tight race in the Western Conference, two or three games could vault or drop a team a few spots in the standings. Improving their success in close games in 2019 could be vital in not only making the playoffs, but also landing a favorable seed and matchup in the first round. Plus, those are the types of games a team can expect in the playoffs, so learning to find ways to win close games could go a long way in April, May or June.
7. Avoid bad losses
Another thing that would really help the Lakers make up ground in the West standings would simply be to take care of business in the games they should win. The Lakers have been pretty good in this area so far this season, but losses at home to Memphis and Orlando stick out as games that would have them at 23-14 instead of 21-16 right now. It may not seem like much, but again, every game matters in the Western Conference.
The Lakers are currently sixth in the West right now. For perspective on how tight things are in the playoff race, three games is the difference between sixth and third (0.5 back of a tie for first), as well as the difference between sixth and 11th. Every game is important.
8. Improved finishing around the basket for Lonzo Ball
I’m a huge believer in Ball. I love all the different ways he can impact a game and does not necessarily need the basketball in his hands to do it. But something that could help take his game to another level is simply by finishing around the basket. His scoring efficiency overall needs to improve. But if he can at least start finishing shots around the basket, that would be a considerable development. Please, no more of this:
9. Stop fouling jump shooters
The Lakers have fouled far too many jump shooters this season. Obviously, you want to stay attached to a shooter as a defender and contest a shot, but the Lakers need to shake the habit of walking under shooters or bumping them right as they land. Hart is probably the worst offender of this, but other guys have done it as well. This one by Kuzma was costly in a one-point loss. The Lakers need to eliminate this moving forward.
10. More three-point attempts for Brandon Ingram
These next three are all about Ingram. His growth and development are going to play a key role in how far the Lakers can go this season. He needs to figure out how to play alongside James and one thing that could help is being a willing three-point shooter. Ingram has only hit on 31.4 percent from deep this season, but he has only taken two threes per game on average. He shot 39 percent from three last season, so we know that he is capable of being an effective perimeter shooter.
Far too many times, Ingram passes up a good three-point attempt to attack a short closeout where the defense is waiting for him to put the ball on the floor. Taking threes (and hopefully starting to make them at a higher clip) could lead to better spacing for the Laker offense and a shift in coverages that he’ll face. Also, if you are going to take a long two, you might as well just shoot a three. It’s a more efficient offensive approach.
11. Less isolation and pick-and-roll possessions for Ingram
I wrote earlier in the season about how Ingram has been used this season in the Lakers’ offense. The findings were not encouraging, as his more efficient play types were much lower in volume than those that he has shown lower efficiency in. Ingram ranks in the 39th percentile in the NBA as a pick-and-roll ball handler and it is his most used play type this season. He has been decent in isolation possessions, netting 0.902 points per possession, which puts him in the 56th percentile. Not great, but not terrible either.
But Ingram is the type of player that is more effective catching the ball on the move as opposed to a stationary position where he needs to make something happen, unless it is on a post-up (86th percentile offense at 1.075 PPP). The coaching staff needs to recognize this and find ways to utilize him better.
12. More Ingram off-ball offense
As I just mentioned, I think Ingram is more comfortable when he catches the ball in some sort of motion. I also think this is the key to finding harmony on the floor when him and James are out there together. The Lakers’ reluctance to get him more catches on the move has been frustrating.
Ingram has produced 1.4 points per possession as a cutter (72nd percentile) and 1.154 points per possession on hand-offs (87th percentile). The issue is these are both on low volumes. James is going to have the ball in his hands a lot, so getting Ingram more involved away from the basketball should be a focal point offensively moving forward. It should make the game easier for him on that end of the floor as a scorer and a passer.
13. Beat Boston
Lakers. Celtics. Thursday, February 7 at Boston. Do I need to say anything else?
14. Sweep Boston
Saturday, March 9 at STAPLES Center. Let’s get the crowd rocking and send the leprechauns back East with a loss.
Side note: Remember when there was a discussion last year if people would rather have Brad Stevens or LeBron James? Pepperidge Farm remembers.
15. Make the playoffs
The Lakers have not made the playoffs since 2013 and they entered that first round matchup against the Spurs without Kobe Bryant. It has been awhile since the Lakers played meaningful basketball in April. If they stay relatively healthy (LeBron, mainly), they should at least make the playoffs.
16. Earn a top-four seed in the Western Conference
Let’s take the last resolution a step further. Hopefully they can get it rolling before April and climb the ladder in the Western Conference standings to get home court advantage in the first round. Finishing top-four in the West doesn’t guarantee that, but it would likely put them on a realistic path to have a chance at a Western Conference Finals berth.
17. Land another star in free agency
The Lakers have invested heavily in creating cap flexibility for last summer and this upcoming one. They hit it big by luring James away from the Cleveland Cavaliers last July. Now they have the cap space to throw out another max contract this summer. They will undoubtedly pursue the likes of Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and more in free agency. If they can sign another marquee free agent, everything Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have done to set themselves up financially will be a massive success.
18. Trade for Anthony Davis
If the Lakers pair up LeBron James and say, Durant or Leonard, then expect to see them ramp up efforts to acquire Davis in a trade with the Pelicans. There has been plenty of buzz about this taking place already. It feels unlikely that a deal will be made by the trade deadline, but things could heat up this summer as Davis would only have one year left on his contract.
The widely believed notion is that it would require the entire young core of the Lakers being sent to New Orleans to acquire Davis. But superstar trades hardly ever net “fair” or equal return upon initial review. So if a deal is made, it would be interesting to see just how much would be required to pry Davis away from a team that loses leverage the closer we get to the end of Davis’ contract.
In a perfect world, the Lakers have a trio of James, Davis and Durant/Leonard heading into next season. Either way, this summer will be very interesting to watch.
19. Win a championship
This is always the ultimate goal. The Golden State Warriors will be heavy favorites when the playoffs roll around, as they should be. But the Lakers showed on Christmas Day that when they play at the top of their game, they can hang with and beat elite teams. Granted, it is much more difficult to do it four times out of seven, but when LeBron James is on your team, you always have a chance.