The Western Conference is still run by the Golden State Warriors with the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs right on their tails. However, there is a team that no one will see coming. The Los Angeles Lakers have made the necessary moves to avoid another 26-56 season. The Lakers have endured a major makeover but their two most important positions were given the upgrade need to reach the next level. The Lakers selected PG Lonzo Ball after trading D’Angelo Russell while getting back Brook Lopez in the process.
While Ball has garnered much of the headlines in Los Angeles, it’s actually the play of Lopez that will determine if 2017 will be a success or failure for the Lakers.
Lopez is a great post scorer, something the Lakers desperately needed. However, his defense and rebounding will be the main focus. For a player who stands 7-0, and with such nimble feet, Lopez has been a major disappointment in those areas. Unlike his twin, Robin Lopez, Brook has never averaged more than nine rebounds in a season. That’s astonishing considering he plays in the post 90 percent of the time with players not as quick as he is.
Lopez can take an entry pass and leave a defender standing in cement but when it comes to boxing out– he looks completely lost. For the Lakers to succeed, Lopez must do better. The Lakers ranked 17th in the NBA in rebounding, 28th in blocked shots and 26th in assists in 2016. To be honest, Lopez is not projected to change those numbers much but that doesn’t mean he can’t.
The Los Angeles Lakers have a rich tradition with their bigs and a few lessons from the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Shaquille O’Neal could change the way Lopez looks at the game. But Lopez has played with one of the best defenders in NBA history and still was mediocre at best with Kevin Garnett by his side. Lopez will play opposite Julius Randle and his 13 points and nine rebounds. Randle will take some of the rebounding pressure off Lopez but the anchor of the defense will still fall on his shoulders.
If Lopez can up his rebounding to 10 per game he can be the spark to get the Lakers running ‘Showtime’ again. Ball has the motor to push the ball up the floor and with athletic players like Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram and Lopez, the Lakers should be a fun team to watch in the open court. However, defense leads to fastbreaks and this is where Lopez will be asked to earn that $22M.
It’s no secret that as the Lakers quality in big men faded, so has their record. They went from Andrew Bynum to Pau Gasol to Roy Hibbert to Timofey Mozgov. Now it’s Lopez.
Lopez is no stranger to being the face of a franchise as he was in Brooklyn. However, the atmosphere will be much different in The Staples Center than it was in Brooklyn.
With the demise of the Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz, and the Memphis Grizzlies, the Los Angeles Lakers have a shot to play beyond an 82-game schedule. While Ball will be under the microscope this year— it’s Lopez who will be the deciding factor.