LeBron James to Los Angeles: How Good Are the Lakers Now?
The NBA world didn't have to wait too long into free agency for the colossal domino to fall.
— Klutch Sports Group (@KlutchSports) July 2, 2018
Naturally, adding James -- who ranked fourth in our nERD metric this season -- to a 35-win team will make them a better squad, but he isn't the only move the Lakers made over the first weekend of free agency.
How do the new-look Lake Show look as of now?
According to our team nERD metric -- which indicates expected winning percentage for a team based on its efficiency -- the Lakers posted a score of 46.2 during the 2017-18 season. That graded them out as just below a .500 team and ranked them 21st in the league.
As for the individual assets, they struggled. A player's nERD is similar to win shares. nERD indicates expected wins added over a full season if that player were a starter. The Lakers suited up more than 20 players this season, and only one posted a nERD score above 1.0: Julius Randle (4.4).
Randle ranked 41st in individual nERD among players with at least 20 minutes per game last season. Next on the list for the Lakers were Josh Hart (0.9 nERD, 96th in the league) and Caldwell-Pope (0.7, 99th).
Make no mistake: the Lakers' youth will need to improve their efficiency in order to take advantage of the James signing.
The Lakers started 24 different lineups this season, and the most frequent (14 games) included Larry Nance Jr., who had a sterling 5.9 nERD (34th in the league). Two other lineups started 11 games apiece, and both include unrestricted free agent Brook Lopez. Here's how those starting fives stack up in nERD and numberFire efficiency, which indicates point differential if that player were a starter.
This lineup had a net rating of -1.4, yet based on their four-factors, they performed like a 48-win team, according to NBA Math's FATS Calculator. That's not a terrible base for a squad adding a player of James' caliber.
The only difference in the other lineup that started 11 games is that Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram are swapped. That makes a big difference based on nERD, but the lineup didn't fare quite as well.
Despite the boost in nERD, this lineup had a net rating of -9.2 and performed like a 44-win team based on the FATS Calculator. Randle could be on the outs, but the Lakers have a solid, near .500-team base before adding James to the squad.
The additions of McGee and Stephenson can easily raise some eyebrows given their personalities, but McGee was a plus player in 2017-18, with a 3.3 nERD.
Stephenson...not so much. His nERD was -4.5 last season, and he hasn't posted a positive nERD score since the 2013-14 season with the Indiana Pacers.
There's work to be done still.
It's still up in the air. There are more moves on the way, almost assuredly. How impactful those moves will be remains to be seen, namely whether or not they can acquire the disgruntled Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs.
But we know this for sure: adding James's nERD to a 35-win team vaults them up past the .500 mark quite easily in terms of talent. FiveThirtyEight projects the current Lakers roster -- assuming they retain Randle -- for 52 wins and an 11% chance to win the NBA Finals.
If they happen to trade Ingram, Kuzma, Luol Deng, and a first-rounder or two for Leonard, their win projection jumps to nearly 60, and their title odds jump to 22%.
The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has altered the Lakers' NBA championship odds from 20/1 (around a 4.76% implied probability) to 7/2 (around 22.22%), according to Covers.