After a five-year playoff drought, the Lakers improved their future last summer with the signing of the best player in the NBA, LeBron James. With a cast of veterans, including some who had championship experience, and a young core filled with potential, James was expected to usher in a new era of Showtime.
But when injuries slowed down King James and others, no one stepped up to save the season.
The 2018-19 Lakers roster ranks as one of the weakest teams assembled around James since his rookie season 16 years ago, just as Shaquille O’Neal finished with the Lakers.
Basketball-reference.com has a stat to explain this with Win Share per 48 minutes (WS/48). This metric attempts to give players credit for how much they each contributed to a win.
By using this statistic, James is most successful when paired with at least one All-Star caliber player, such as Kyrie Irving or Dwyane Wade.
The Lakers deviated from this.
They didn’t sign an All-Star like Los Angeles-area native Paul George. They didn’t get All-NBA center DeMarcus Cousins at a discount. Instead, the franchise whose most successful seasons always include a pair of All-Stars decided to abandon tradition and sign role players such as Michael Beasley, JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson in the hopes of building depth.
McGee and Rondo, both veterans that played big roles on their title-bound teams, needed to bring their championship mentality and lift the Lakers to the playoffs.
McGee’s 7-foot-6 wingspan would dominate in the paint. Rondo’s playmaking would take pressure off James. Stephenson, despite his antics in the past with James, would fire up the bench. The trio couldn’t live up to the hype of the “Meme Team,” and all of their WS/48, save for Stephenson, decreased between 2017-18 and 2018-19.
The young core, which is expected to be a threat in a few seasons, was now on a fast track, thanks to the signing of James. Brandon Ingram needed to be James’ star shooter. Lonzo Ball should be the second coming of Magic Johnson at point guard. Even lower draft picks such as former NBA All-Rookie forward Kyle Kuzma and Summer League MVP Josh Hart exceeded early expectations. The hope for the young core was to continue growing and flourish under the talent of James and the breadth of skills from veterans. That didn’t take place. According to WS/48, not only did none of them contribute to more wins than the previous season, most of them saw their contributions decrease.
Even the depth, which was the main reason for not signing another All-Star, wasn’t there. WS/48 has an average of about .100, and James had at least three teammates above .100 each season he advanced to the playoffs and five teammates above that mark during his NBA Finals appearances in Miami and Cleveland. This season, out of teammates who played in at least 40 games, only McGee and Tyson Chandler broke that mark.
Even though James did have his lowest number of win shares per 48 in a season since his rookie year at .179, expect him to come back stronger. James’ numbers dip when he starts on a new team, but he passes the .200 mark each following season.