Answering the Lakers’ playoff prayers

Analyzing how the Lakers can leapfrog the five teams standing between them and the Western Conference Playoffs

Using Real RPM stats, Kevin Pelton of ESPN famously projected the Lakers to win just 33 games this season, a 7-game increase over last year’s 26 wins but still the 13th fewest wins in the West, ahead of only the Suns and Kings.

Considering Pelton’s projections for the Lakers’ last two seasons were spot on, the Lakers would appear to need a miracle to leapfrog five teams and jump from 13th up to 8th to make the playoffs in the Wild West this season. But this is the NBA where anything is possible and, since Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have taken over the helm of the Lakers, the impossible seems more and more possible as good news and good fortune favor the Lakers.

I believe Lonzo will win NBA ROY and transform the Lakers just as Jason Kidd did for the 1994–95 Mavs, who improved their record from 13 to 36 wins, a 23 win turnaround. The stats behind Jason Kidd’s transformation of the Mavs’ offense provides an easy-to-follow road map for how Lonzo Ball will transform the Lakers’ offense. Simply stated, Kidd’s Mavs won 23 more games by playing faster, sharing the ball, and shooting and scoring more.

Ironically, the Mavs under Kidd didn’t shoot the ball better or defend better. Their effective shooting percentage was only up slightly and points allowed per game a little higher due to the pace. But with Kidd pushing the offense, the Mavs jumped from 18th to 6th in pace, 27th to 11th in assists, 18th to 1st in shot attempts, and 27th to 15th in points scored. They didn’t really shoot better or improve their defense but they scored 7 points more every game.

And that is exactly the formula the Lakers will follow to win 23 more games than last year, which would raise them to 49 wins, good enough last year for the 6th seed in the Western Conference. While it’s going to take a couple of years for the Lakers to become an elite team defensively, Lonzo Ball gives them a unique opportunity right now to transform themselves into a top-5 offense by being better at pushing, sharing, shooting, and scoring the ball.

To become a top-5 offense and make the playoffs, Lonzo Ball and the Lakers will have to replicate what Jason Kidd and the 1994–95 Mavs accomplished and increase their pace and points scored per game while not allowing any more points on defense. I believe this year’s Lakers can increase their points scored from 104 to 110 per game while holding points allowed per game to 110. I also think they can increase their assists from 21 to 25 per game.

Considering the similarities between Lonzo Ball’s and Jason Kidd’s games and the upgrades the Lakers have made at every position, I don’t think Lonzo and the Lakers winning 23 more games than last year is out of the question. It will surely require Lonzo Ball to have the kind of transcendent rookie year that Jason Kidd had as well as Brandon Ingram and the rest of the retooled Lakers roster having break out individual seasons.

With Lonzo Ball relentlessly pushing and sharing the ball and creating the selfless team-first chemistry Luke Walton wants, the Lakers have a real chance to surprise everybody and make the NBA playoffs this year.

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