Tarik Black is Showing Real Improvement, Making his Mark in the Starting Lineup

Darius Soriano —  February 12, 2017

Tarik Black’s journey to becoming the Lakers’ full time starting center has been a bumpy one. First acquired by the team as a waiver pick up in his rookie season, Black saw good minutes on an injury decimated team in Byron Scott’s 1st season. Black posted a 16.3 PER with the team that season and looked like a player who could contribute the following season.

Only that didn’t happen. Not at all, actually. In their second year together, Byron Scott promptly jerked Black around by limiting his role and (as he did nearly every other young player) speaking poorly of him in the press. This, from a January 2016 column on Scott and Black:

“Go ask Tarik what I told him this summer,” Scott said before the Lakers hosted the Houston Rockets on Sunday at Staples Center. “Just ask him what I told him he needs to do to stay in this league for 10-15 years. When he gives you the answer, come back and tell me and I’ll tell you if that’s exactly what I told him.”

Naturally, a handful of reporters approached Black for his recollection.

“He told me to be a beast, get every rebound and play aggressively,” Black said, reflecting on his exit interview with Scott and Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. “They told me to work on my skillset. I’m better in my mid range with my size and height in the NBA.”

Okay, that seems rather tame (and probably incorrect since Black is not “better in the mid-range”) but there’s more:

But Scott reported he told Black he wants him to model his game after an NBA All-Rookie first team member (Denver forward Kenneth Faried), a Hall of Famer (Dennis Rodman) and a four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year (Ben Wallace).

“He hasn’t done that yet,” Scott said. “They played balls out, full of energy and aggressive. They didn’t care about the offensive end. … That’s what he has to do to be an integral part of any team.”

“He has been OK. What he gives me off the bench, I don’t know,” Scott said. “He hasn’t done anything spectacular. But he hasn’t done anything devastating where you say, lets send him down to the D-League. But when you’re bringing guys off the bench. You want them to have an impact. He doesn’t have that.”

I don’t rehash all of this to trash the former coach. He had his opinions and they impacted how much Black played — which was not much at all. Black ended up playing in only 39 games for a total of 496 minutes last season. But in a season where Scott leaned heavily on Roy Hibbert (who was terrible) and behind him Brandon Bass (who was good) at C, it seemed odd that Black couldn’t get more minutes (especially at Hibbert’s expense). Even odder was the excuse that Black somehow wasn’t playing hard in his minutes.

In any event, Black was brought back this year and given a raise to return. At the time, it was reported that the Lakers’ front office didn’t understand why Black didn’t play more and wanted him to get a chance this year. After Black signed his contract, he noted he only wanted a “fair shot” to “compete” for a role in the rotation. He came into camp playing his normal game, beat out Yi Jianlian as the backup C, and has carried that role forward through the season until Luke Walton made him the starter at C three games ago.

It might be easy to look at Black’s promotion through the prism of Timofey Mozgov being bad, necessitating the latter to be benched and every other C moving up a slot in the rotation. That, though, would be a mistake. For the season, Black is the only Laker where, when he is on the floor, the team has a positive efficiency differential. In his 720 minutes on the court, the Lakers have an offensive rating of 106.3 and a defensive rating of 104.1. That defensive rating is especially meaningful since the team posts a 112.3 rating when Black is on the bench. That +8.2 improvement when Black is on the floor is the best on the team.

These numbers are dwarfed by how the team has performed when Black has been on the floor in the team’s last 10 games, though. In that stretch — when Black has started 7 games, including 4 at PF when Julius Randle missed time with pneumonia — the Lakers have a net rating of +11.3 when Black is on the floor while posting a net rating of -18.6 when Black is on the bench. For those scoring at home, that’s a 29.9 efficiency swing between units with and without Black.

Most of this difference is on the defensive end where the team has posted a defensive rating of 97.2 in Black’s 198 minutes over that stretch. Compare that to the 116.3 rating when Black is on the bench. Now, it’s not fair to credit that massive swing in defensive effectiveness entirely to Black. But, consider the following:

  • Mozgov is the only other player who can claim to be on the floor for any significant minutes for the team while the have a sub-100 defensive rating over that stretch and he hasn’t gotten off the bench in the last 3 games.
  • The next closest player to Black in team on/off defensive rating is Randle. The Lakers have posted a defensive rating of 104.6 when he’s in the game over that stretch and he too missed 3 games over that stretch.
  • After Randle, the next closest is Nick Young. When he’s been on the floor, the Lakers have posted a defensive rating of 104.8 over that stretch. Young has played in all 10 games (like Black).

I think these samples tell us Black is making a real difference even when accounting for the noise in the numbers.

But Black’s defensive acumen has been his calling card since he came into the league. So, in some respects, him being a difference maker on that end isn’t a huge surprise. What is somewhat surprising, though, are the strides he’s made as an offensive player.

Earlier during the year I lamented that Black simply wasn’t making good reads as a passer out of the P&R and it was stifling the Lakers’ offense. In some instances, teams were purposefully blitzing the P&R to funnel the ball into Black’s hands so he would be forced to be a decision maker on the move. In other instances, Black was simply missing cutters or wasn’t quite understanding where his teammates were going to be within the construct of the offense.

In recent weeks, however, that has changed.

black assist1

Here’s a play where Black makes a catch out of the short roll. After making the catch, he does a nice job of freezing the help defender and then taking an attack dribble deeper into the paint when that man rotates back to the perimeter. Then when back line help steps up, Black makes a nice pass to Zubac who relocated along the baseline to open up a passing angle.

black assist2

Here Black does a good job of diving to the post after setting a wing screen for Russell in the team’s “loop” action. Russell, seeing that both his man and Black’s man rotated to him, hits Black near the paint. Black then shows good awareness here, knowing the back line big is rotating to him, by not forcing a shot but instead looking for Randle relocating to the soft spot in the defense for an open 10 footer.

black assist3

This play may be my favorite, though. After setting a pin-down screen for Young, Black again rolls to the rim and Young does a great job of hitting him. Black again knows the defense is rotating to him, however, and instead of trying to force a shot over the defender he knows that Russell is spotting up in the corner and he hits him for a wide open 3.

We all know that Black can do damage as a finisher when he dives hard to the rim out of the P&R. We also know he can work little jump hooks and score off straight line drives out of post ups. Add this to his work as an offensive rebounder where he gets buckets on tip-ins and put-backs, and that’s a nice enough repertoire for a rotation big man in the Lakers’ system. But when you start to see him make the types of passing reads he does in the clips above, Black has the ability to be a positive influence on the team’s overall offense and expand his game beyond just finishing.

Put this together with his defense and you can see why Black is now the team’s starting center. He’s earned this role by working on his game and showing the type of improvement in-season you’d hope to from a “young” player.


Darius Soriano

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24 responses to Tarik Black is Showing Real Improvement, Making his Mark in the Starting Lineup

  1. Now that he has replaced Mozzy we should trade Mozgov if it is possible. Maybe for some other dead weight? Like Mozzy to NOP for Omer Asik and Ajinca

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  2. I’m not convinced Black is anything more than a placeholder until Zubac is ready to become the starting five, after which he’ll go back to being the team’s backup center. Either way, Black can contribute to the team when he sees the floor, so that’s a good thing for him and for the Lakers.

    Whenever I think of Tarik Black, my thoughts go more to the type of person he is off the court. I recall an anecdote about when he first joins a team, he goes out of his way to personally introduce himself to the media members and others around the team. I’ve since read about his social work in Memphis, his obtaining a degree in three seasons and subsequent earning of a master’s degree. I’ve never met the man, but he strikes me as someone of high character and great work ethic — for that alone, I’m very glad he’s on the Lakers and hope he sticks around for a long time. The world could use a lot more young men like Tarik Black, and wherever he puts himself success will follow.

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  3. Obviously you have a man crush on this guy along with Randle. He hustles because he has too. Without it he would not be in the league. When Zubac matures and the Lakers get another big he will be on the pine if he is even here that long. He is probably being showcased with the deadline approaching.

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  4. LordMo I’m not sure why this article qualifies as a ‘man crush’. There are very few players in the NBA who can get by without hustling. Any player not a star has to fit into their team and must master some specific skill set to survive. 
    Black’s hustle and energy are valuable commodities on the Lakers and – IMO – the change in the starting lineup reflects the fact that more hustle and muscle were needed by the starters.

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  5. Tarik is the best we can do at this point. In the long run we will probably need all 3 centers for at least another season or two unless we can get another big. If we do end up trading him at least he has raised his stock through his recent efforts. He has paid his dues and proven to be an asset to the team.

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  6. Yawn! He is 6’8″ with no offensive skills no face up game whatsoever. He has to play the 5 due to those limitations and we could have paid him half of what we are paying him and he would have taken it. Move him if you can and draft Cam Oliver. Same type of player much more skilled and upside.

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  7. Maybe you have a man crush on me since you’re always at my site commenting.

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  8. No I participate on most of the Laker sites. As usual your behind and off in your analysis. Black is being showcased and the Lakers are trying to up his value.
    https://lakersoutsiders.com/2017/02/07/why-tarik-black-might-be-on-the-move/

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  9. LordMo
    In the article we read that Black has been effective in the last 10 games starting at both PF and Center.  Black has improved a lot this season.  Darius was highlighting his recent improvement at moving the ball.  He also improved his free throw shooting this year.  Black just asked for a fair shot when he signed back up with the Lakers and he has made the most of it making a positive impact on this team.

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  10. Thanks for that.

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  11. Wow! No love at all LordMo?

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  12. _Chris J Make no mistake, I think Black is likely a backup in this league long term. He is undersized and has issues guarding some of the bigger centers (he recently struggled with Drummond in the Pistons game, for example) and while there’s not a ton of those guys in the league right now, you ideally want a big who can defend those guys AND do the things Black does well. That said, Black is playing well and I thought I’d highlight some of what I’m seeing.

    As for the high character points you highlight, I agree 100%.

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  13. Darius:  what is monumental is to say Mozgov lacks the stamina and hustle and that is why the undersized black has supplanted him as the starting center for the los angeles lakers. 
    As a suggestion and under advisement for Magic, Mozgov should be given to the Warriors for an early consultant exchange ?

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  14. I think there has been a lot and i mean a LOT of stories in every team about guys that don’t hustle. I don’t think Darius or anybody here is impliying he is a solution or a star in the making, he is making a significant contribution to the team in its current state and is seizing his opportunity. He isn’t being showcased. What value we could get in return? Not a lot. I guess Ingram is being showcased too. I get it, you hate the guyband hate Randle and no matter what they do is not going to be good enough for you…

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  15. Mozgov is basically untradeable with that gargantuan contract. We are going to swallow that contract for at least 2 more years.

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  16. A Horse With No Name February 13, 2017 at 5:15 pm

    Fulofunk Right?  The guy’s brilliance must have flown over all our collective heads . . . .

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  17. This is another great write up and highlights the difference a coach can make.  The Houston faithful liked Black and were disappointed to see him leave.  Now I see why.  He fits in well with the young Lakers lineup, I did not realize how good a passer he is.  I also like how well he battles for offensive rebounds.

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  18. I do indeed like his hustle but that is my point he had better. He does not have anything else to contribute but that. In regards to Randle I like the kid always have since his AAU days but 3 years in the league no jumper and no counter move to the right? If we could combine Randle and Black we would have the PF we need for the next 10 years.

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  19. If tarik black gets traded, I think it’s terrible

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  20. I like tarik black, he’s a mobile center who can help the rest of the team on defense, he gets good position on screens getting in between the ball handler and rolling big, but one thing to note here is the last 3 games, vs the knicks the center was O’Quinn, who played bad, so that was a good matchup for t.black, vs the pistons t.black got owned by a true center, it was a bad match-up, vs the bucks t.black started against Henson who is a thin center in the first half, and against greg monroe in the second half, he played very well vs Henson and decent vs monroe.
    I would say tarik black at center would work depending on the matchup, but the nba norm it’s to go with one starter, not rotate starters. So even though it won’t happen I’ll sayit anyways , t.black should start vs smaller centers, and mozgov should start vs bigger centers

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  21. Speculating possible teams to trade with for t.black
    Teams with lack of depth at center.
    Cavs, spurs, and mavericks
    Other notable teams
    Kings, knicks, hawks, warriors, celtics and nets

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