New-look Lakers an early surprise in young NBA season

At first glance, one may look at the Los Angeles Lakers' current record this season (10-12) and think nothing of it. They are a young team currently sitting at 2 games under .500, and a young team that just dropped their last two games. Nothing to see here, right? Not quite. While it's true that the Los Angeles Lakers are not going to grab headlines like a triple-double-averaging Russell Westbrook or the Kevin Durant-equipped Golden State Warriors, the fact remains that the 2016-2017 Los Angeles Lakers could be a sleeper team this season, and, if the first 20+ games are any indication of how the rest of the season will go, Laker Nation has to be pleasantly surprised with their purple and gold.

How the Lakers are doing it

Lets face it, as soon as Kobe Bryant retired, there was a sense that the purple and gold would be destined for lottery-land for the foreseeable future. Granted, while a 10-12 record is hardly topping the Western Conference, it's much better than most people (fans, players, and analysts alike) could have predicted for the Lakers through the first 22 games of this young season. Currently, the Lakers are the 9th seed in the highly competitive Western Conference. However, considering that the purple and gold have had one of the toughest schedules so far, it wouldn't be so far-fetched now to say that the Lakers just might have a shot at making the playoffs this season. So, how are they doing it?

  • Coaching staff: aside from his own pedigree as a player, and high Basketball I.Q., head coach Luke Walton is also a former Laker that understands what it means to play for the purple and gold, and understands what it means to put on the uniform. Along with this, Walton coached the Golden State Warriors through "the streak" last season while Golden State head coach Steve Kerr was sidelined with injury. Ultimately, Luke has his players believing in themselves. They have all bought into the system, and it's paying dividends out on the floor.
  • Bench production: the Lakers have something this season that they haven't had in more than 20 years -- a productive bench. All throughout the Kobe and Shaq/solo Kobe/Kobe and Pau era, the Lakers have always been starting 5-heavy, with very little to show coming off the bench. There were a number of years where LA had Lamar Odom coming off the bench as a 6th man, however, that does not even compare to the level of bench production the Lakers are producing so far this season. The Lakers' second unit is led by Lou Williams, who is averaging a cool 17.5 PPG. Luke Walton has been adamant about keeping his bench lineup consistent, with players like Jordan Clarkson, Rookie Brandon Ingram, Larry Nance Jr. and Tarik Black. Williams by himself is a starter anywhere else in the league, and yet, he has been coming off the bench to great effect.
  • Youth development: while last year was primarily Kobe Bryant's retirement tour, this year is the first year without KB24, and the first year in the post-Kobe Bryant era. Having said that, the young players on the roster seem to have really embraced that, and stepped up to the challenge that that requires. On top of which, these players have really taken ownership of the Lakers as their team now, and not just a franchise stuck in the shadow of Kobe's greatness -- because that shadow is too large to ever measure up to. Instead, these new-look Lakers are playing their game, their way, building their chemistry as a team, and bringing the fans a truly exciting brand of basketball to watch.

The future

It's likely that the purple and gold are still a year or two off from really competing and making a deep run in the Western Conference, however, they are certainly a sleeper team this season that could easily surprise the basketball world.

Either way, Laker basketball is in good hands moving forward.

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