Lakers: Early Western Conference 2016-17 Record Predictions

Jun 21, 2016; El Segunda, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers new head coach Luke Walton talks to the media during a press conference at Toyota Sports Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 21, 2016; El Segunda, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers new head coach Luke Walton talks to the media during a press conference at Toyota Sports Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

Even with low expectations heading into what would ultimately be Kobe Bryant’s final season, the Los Angeles Lakers severely underperformed this past year.

Now, with the changing of the guard, things are a bit different for the Lakers.

The Purple and Gold have a new coach and a new air of confidence heading into he 2016-17 NBA campaign. With a bevy of young talent and an enticing new play style, Lakers may finally have the tools to compete in the 2016 NBA landscape.

But just how much will the Lakers be able to contend with a stacked Western Conference this upcoming season?

Well, according to ESPN’s Summer Forecast, not much. Their 2016-17 NBA projections have the Lakers winning just 25 games and finishing dead last in the conference for the second consecutive year.

While it’s easy (and oh so cathartic) to rail against the the sports media giant, their predictions aren’t too far off here. Make no mistake, the Lakers will certainly improve in 2016, but remember, this is a team that lost a whopping 65 games last year, so the term “improvement” is going to be pretty relative.

Still, there are reasons to be encouraged, as Mitch Kupchak and company have made some serious upgrades offseason. The addition of second-overall pick Brandon Ingram is huge, and his presence will be felt immediately. With a 7’3” wingspan, the former Blue Devil should provide instant relief as a versatile scoring option and an ideal perimeter defender.

Add D’Angelo Russell and the rest of the young core, who have continued to make significant strides this offseason, and there’s no doubt that this roster will produce at a higher clip than a year ago.

Then there’s Luke Walton. The 37-year-old will surely be a breath of fresh air compared to the stench that’s lingered from the worst season in franchise history. His relatable persona and contemporary play style makes him the perfect fit for the Lakers’ dynamic young core and a polar opposite of Byron Scott, who often sounded more like a no-nonsense movie dad than an actual NBA coach.

As for their competition, well they’re in the West, and the the West still has a majority of the top-tier teams. This rebuilding Lakers’ squad won’t be expected to conquer the mighty Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs (although THIS happened last March), so it’s the lower ranks of the conference that should be on their radar.

The Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves have both improved from this summer, adding promising rookies Jamal Murray and Kris Dunn, respectively. The Wolves are loaded with young talent and are widely expected to make strides next season while Denver will continue to improve after notching nearly twice as many victories than Scott’s Lakers a year ago.

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Another lottery team, the New Orleans Pelicans, won just 30 games in an injury-plagued 2015-16 campaign, but will almost assuredly exceed on that total as Anthony Davis, Tyreke Evans, and Eric Gordon return next season.

Teams like Phoenix, who won just 23 games a season ago, and Sacramento, who won 33 games but now have a roster loaded with questions marks, should be squarely in the Lakers’ sights in 2016.

Although, judging by last year’s results, Russell, Ingram, and the rest of the Purple and Gold certainly have work to do if they want to leap frog any of these teams in the standings. They were swept by the Kings in four regular season games while going just 1-3 against Phoenix. They also lost three of their four games against Denver and two of their three against Minnesota.

To put it succinctly, there are only a handful of teams that the Lakers should expect to beat consistently next season, and they’ll need to take advantage. If they can do that, I expect somewhere around 27 wins and perhaps a 13th place finish in the Western Conference.

It’s a far cry from a playoff run, but it’s certainly a start.

Next: Could the Lakers Have Taken the HEAT in 2011?

Check out the table below for our full Western Conference projections.

2016-17 Western Conference Projections
1Golden State Warriors6616
2San Antonio Spurs5923
3Los Angeles Clippers5428
4Memphis Grizzlies5032
5Utah Jazz4834
6Oklahoma City Thunder4438
7Portland Trail Blazers4438
8Dallas Mavericks4240
9Houston Rockets4141
10Minnesota Timberwolves3844
11New Orleans Pelicans3448
12Denver Nuggets3250
13Los Angeles Lakers2755
14Sacramento Kings2656
15Phoenix Suns2458