Earlier this week, the Las Vegas sports book released the over/under win totals for all NBA teams. Some interesting totals were the Heat at 60, the Clippers at 57, the Rockets at 54.5, and your Los Angeles Lakers at 33.5. The Lakers win total was ranked as the ninth lowest in the NBA with only the Suns, 76ers, Celtics, Magic, Jazz, Bobcats, Bucks and Kings coming in with lower projected win totals. The 8 teams ranked just ahead of the Lakers were the Raptors, Trailblazers, Pelicans, Hawks, Pistons, Cavaliers, Timberwolves, and Wizards. Is Vegas right or wrong on their ranking?
Let’s look back at the Lakers win totals historically. Last season’s Lakers were a massive disappointment and still managed to win 45 games and earn the 7th seed. The last Lakers team to miss the playoffs were the 2004-05 Lakers who went 34-48. The team consisted of Kobe, Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant, Vlade Divac, Chucky Atkins, Chris Mihm, Slava Medvedenko, Jumaine Jones, Brian Cook, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Tierre Brown, and Tony Bobbitt. Kobe also only played in 66 games that season due to injury.
Here are the players the Lakers have this season: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant (who could likely play in 66 games just like the 04-05 season), Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Ryan Kelly, Robert Sacre, Elias Harris, and which ever minimum salary players will fill out the roster. Despite his age, Steve Nash is still a better shooter than anyone that 04-05 Lakers squad had. Pau Gasol despite his age and coming off an injury is still a far superior post player to anyone on the Lakers team. Despite Jodie’s occasional cold streaks, he is still a better three point shooter than anyone on that Lakers team. Nick Young is comparable to Caron Butler at that time; although, Caron was a more complete player, he didn’t have the ability to heat up like Young. The Lakers center rotation was Chris Mihm starting, Brian Grant off the bench, and Vlade only appeared in 15 games due to the fact he shouldn’t have been in the NBA that season. This year’s squad has Kaman, a former All-Star who isn’t nearly as far past his prime as Vlade was, and Jordan Hill, who is a better, cheaper version of Brian Grant.
So how is this Lakers team projected to win less games than that pathetic squad?
For all the talk of the West being incredibly tough this year, the West has been that way since the early 2000s. In 2004-05, 7 teams in the West finished with 49 wins or more, with two others posting 44+ wins. Last year had 5 teams in the West finished with 49+ wins, with 3 others posting 44+. The total wins of playoff teams last season was 424; in 2004-05 it was 426. Even though certain teams like the Rockets are better, on paper, I am not sold that the West will be any more competitive this season than it has been every year.
So what other reasons could the Lakers win total be projected so low? Perhaps it is the fear of the unknown and Kobe’s uncertain return. Let’s face it, if the Black Mamba can’t return until 2014, the Lakers would absolutely struggle to stay above .500 until he returned. But if Kobe returns around Thanksgiving? Let’s say he returns on December 1st, a Lakers home game against the Trailblazers. That would mean missing 17 games, where even if the Lakers went 5-12, would have plenty of time to right the ship and win 29 more games over the course of the entire season. Steve Nash and Pau Gasol’s injuries from last season certainly played a role in this low mark as well. What if Nash plays as sparingly as he did last season? What if Pau misses time because his knees act up again?
Although the win total for the Lakers is low, and most of us fans would expect them to easily hit the 34 win mark, it isn’t hard to see why Vegas felt this way. The top 3 players on the team are old/injured. That usually isn’t a good sign for a team. The West is competitive, but not anymore so than prior seasons. Remember, last season the Lakers were projected to win 59.5 or 60.5 depending on the sports book, and look how that turned out. I don’t do a lot of betting, but I find it hard to believe that a Lakers team with Kobe Bryant on the roster will post the fewest wins of his tenure this season.
I’m taking the over.