NBA Season Preview 2019-20: The 5 biggest questions for the Los Angeles Lakers

EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEPTEMBER 27: From left, Los Angeles Lakers Kyle Kuzma, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo gather for a photo during the team"u2019s media day in El Segundo on Friday, Sep. 27, 2019. (Photo by Scott Varley/MediaNews Group/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images)
EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEPTEMBER 27: From left, Los Angeles Lakers Kyle Kuzma, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo gather for a photo during the team"u2019s media day in El Segundo on Friday, Sep. 27, 2019. (Photo by Scott Varley/MediaNews Group/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images) /

In preparation for the upcoming 2019-20 NBA season, it’s time to take a look at five critical questions for the Los Angeles Lakers this year.

1. Explain why depth is not going to be the problem everyone thinks it is.

Well, for one, they have LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

As simplistic as that sounds, having two top-10 players greatly increases the Lakers‘ margin of error compared to last season, when James suffered a groin injury on Christmas Day that sent them into a death spiral.

If James or Davis misses extended time this season, the Lakers will still have a top-tier superstar at their disposal. And unlike last year, when the Lakers bafflingly attempted to build around LeBron with non-shooting playmakers, this year’s iteration of the squad features plenty of 3-and-D threats to surround the two superstars.

Danny Green is a career 40.4 percent shooter from deep and earned a second-team All-Defensive nod in 2016-17. Avery Bradley, who has been drawing rave reviews at training camp, has two All-Defensive appearances under his belt and has hit 36.4 percent of his triples across his nine-year NBA career. Jared Dudley and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope likewise bring some 3-and-D pop off the bench, while Quinn Cook, a career 41.8 percent 3-point shooter, should feast off dribble hand-offs and catch-and-shoot opportunities.

The Lakers’ frontcourt depth is a slight concern in the wake of DeMarcus Cousins‘ torn ACL, but they do have both Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee to soak up minutes at center if Davis insists on playing the 4 full time. Kyle Kuzma could also moonlight as a small-ball 5 once he returns from the stress reaction in his foot that sidelined him at the start of camp.

If head coach Frank Vogel organizes his lineups correctly, the Lakers have the potential to field a potent nine- or 10-man rotation. And when the playoffs roll around and Davis is more willing to play the 5, the Lakers could be downright deadly with three shooters around Davis and LeBron.

2. Dwight Howard’s second go-round with the Lakers turns out to be totally                              .

Not as awful as the first? A high bar to clear, I know.

Although Howard is in the midst of his latest annual contrition tour, there’s reason to think this time genuinely might be different.

For one, the Lakers only signed him to a nonguaranteed contract that “comes with a clear message,” according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski: “Disrupt this team — and you’ll be gone.” Howard reportedly “sold himself as an eight-time All-Star who had hit ‘rock bottom,'” according to Wojnarowski, “and promised that he’d humbly accept a lesser role of rebounding and blocking shots for the Lakers.”

If that sounds familiar, that’s because it should. He said the same thing upon joining the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Hornets, yet he wore out his welcome on both teams in only one year.

The Lakers afford Howard the chance to prove he isn’t just spouting empty words.

If he starts alongside James and Davis, he’ll earn a one-way ticket out of L.A. by demanding post touches. If he comes off the bench—perhaps with Rajon Rondo?—he could help anchor the Lakers’ second unit on both ends of the floor.

Howard’s second go-round in L.A. may come down to how the Lakers utilize him. If they bring him off the bench alongside Rondo and put him in a position to avoid his worst instincts, he could become an invaluable contributor in a lesser role.

3. What’s the Lakers’ best five-man unit?

Avery Bradley, Danny Green, LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma and Anthony Davis.

Please note the absence of Rajon Rondo in that starting lineup.

In July, Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported that the Lakers were “heading into the 2019-20 season with the intention of starting LeBron James at point guard.” However, head coach Frank Vogel quickly refuted that report at the time, and Rondo played alongside James and Davis in a scrimmage during the Lakers’ first day of training camp, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.

James has long been a primary creator on offense, so starting a ball-dominant non-shooter like Rondo alongside him makes little sense. Surrounding him with Bradley and Green, both of whom can fill low-usage three-and-D roles on the perimeter, is a far better fit.

Vogel tinkered with a five-man lineup of James, Davis, Howard, Bradley and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope that “had their way” with the second unit during camp, per McMenamin, which suggests a number of starting spots are up in the air. But once Kuzma returns and Vogel has everyone at his disposal, a five-man lineup of Bradley, Green, James, Kuzma and Davis presents the sort of two-way upside that could make the Lakers devastating.

Davis likely won’t log many minutes at center during the regular season to reduce the wear and tear on his body, but the best Lakers lineup will feature him as a small-ball 5. James should operate as the de facto point guard, while Kuzma can provide enough complementary scoring to help prevent any cold spells if Davis and James get double-teamed.

We not see this five-man unit much until the playoffs, but this should be the Lakers’ version of the Golden State Warriors’ “Death Lineup.”

4. How many regular-season games do LeBron James and Anthony Davis play in together?

Somewhere around 60-65 sounds about right.

Davis has yet to play more than 75 games in a season, as he tends to pick up bumps and bruises every year that sideline him for a few games. James, who turns 35 in December, is fresh off a season in which he missed a career-high 27 games in large part because of the groin injury he suffered against the Warriors on Christmas Day.

The Lakers have their eyes on a bigger prize than regular-season supremacy, so they figure to be smart about managing Davis and James’ workloads. Neither may be subjected to load management to the extent that Kawhi Leonard was with the Toronto Raptors last season, but it would be a surprise if either played more than 75 games.

Barring injuries elsewhere, the Lakers should attempt to stagger those strategic nights of rest whenever possible to ensure they have at least one superstar available at all times. They likely don’t need both James and Davis to beat bottom-feeders such as the Charlotte Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers or Washington Wizards, so those seem like perfect opportunities to buy one of their stars a night off.

James and Davis will need plenty of regular-season time to develop chemistry ahead of the playoffs, but not at the expense of overtaxing either player.

5. What percentage of peak LeBron do we see this year?

Let’s say around 80-85 percent during the regular season, and the full 100 percent (assuming health) during the playoffs.

Last season had to have left a bitter taste in James’ mouth. Although he likely wasn’t expecting a Finals appearance during his first year with the Lakers — the Warriors were still THE WARRIORS at the time, after all — he could not have foreseen a 37-45 record and a trip to the lottery dais.

James also now has a superstar teammate in Davis to hold him accountable, which he sorely lacked last year as he loafed around aimlessly on defense.

“I want to be Defensive Player of the Year,” Davis told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports in September. “I think if I’m able to do that, I can help this team win. The offensive end will come around, but defensively, I want to hold myself, teammates, including LeBron, accountable in order for us to take on the challenge of being the best we can defensively. In doing so, we’ll have a good chance of winning every night.”

It’s easy to forget given how much of a smoldering disaster the Lakers became, but James did average his typical 27-8-8 stat line in only 35.2 minutes per game last season. Although his 3-point shooting percentage dipped to 33.9 and he shot a career-worst 66.5 percent from the free-throw line, offense wasn’t his primary issue last year.

Having a teammate like Davis will ease James’ burden on both ends of the floor, which should help him muster a better across-the-board effort this season. And with the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard nipping at his heels for the “best player in the world” title, James may use that as motivation to unfurl a massive eff-you campaign and remind everyone who still sits atop the NBA’s superstar hierarchy.

Unless otherwise noted, all stats via or Basketball-Reference. All salary information via Early Bird Rights.

Follow @btoporek