Laker fans are understandably anxious to find quick evidence of two things as the season begins:

  • Can Luke transform the way the team plays to create meaningful schematic advantages (like other great coaches), after suffering through two years of Byronball?
  • Are the young players, individually and as a group, making the kinds of developmental strides that are critical to the team turning the ship around?

While the preseason admittedly is an imperfect medium for assessing fundamental questions of this nature—given the sample size and quality of play—I saw glimpses of progress on both fronts that offer real hope. And those observations were supported by a few trends in the team’s preseason statistics, which are highlighted below. As always, I’m sure others saw more interesting things.

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The final roster construction is the main story of the day, with a 2pm Pacific Time deadline to get rosters down to the league maximum 15. The Lakers already made a move, granting Yi Jianlian his request by waiving him so he could explore alternatives.

With Yi moving on, it was assumed the final roster spot would come down to Thomas Robinson or Metta World Peace. It turns out that assumption may be wrong. From Tania Ganguli of the LA Times:

I did not see this coming, honestly. Brown, though only making $874K this season, has a guaranteed salary. And while he has not gotten a lot of opportunities to play in the preseason, his skill set and potential to develop into the coveted “3-and-D” player is something I thought the Lakers would value and want to hold onto.

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For nearly a week, Luke Walton has said he was unsure who would make the Lakers’ final roster. With 17 guys on the team and a deadline looming to cut at least two players, Walton said nice things about all the bubble players then pivoted to a need to watch some game tape then have conversations with his staff and Mitch Kupchak.

Before a final decision could be made, however, Yi Jianlian — one of the bubble players — intervened and made the decision easier. From ESPN’s Marc Stein:

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Nick Young may never quite be the same effervescent player he was for the Los Angeles Lakers three years back. Too much water has passed under the bridge and time has a habit of adding a layer of shade or two. But the fact that he’s still with the team is one of the most unusual storylines of the nascent season.

The happy-go-lucky shot-chucker has always been a one-trick centaur, charging into the thicket of opposition—head thrown back and legs churning forward—with the chief objective of putting the biscuit in the bucket. And that task completed, romping back without a care in the world other than the hope of doing the exact same thing again ASAP.

As Michael Bauman wrote years ago for Liberty Ballers: “Nick Young may be the least rational player in the NBA. His game is a love song to the impulsive, the hedonistic, the do-what-feels-right-now-and-damn-the-consequences.”

After burning through the Washington Wizards, Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Clippers, the native son of West L.A. managed to land a minimum salary test drive with the Lakers for the 2013-14 season. Young was a welcome glimmer of light during a difficult time under then head coach Mike D’Antoni. It was a team that personified the beginning of the end as management awkwardly bundled league rejects and ill-matched veterans around the oft-injured Kobe Bryant and an unhappy Pau Gasol. And the toll of the death bells began.

But there in the middle of all the misery was Swaggy P, unrepentant and incandescent, averaging a career high in points off the bench as the team plunged to a 27-55 record. Young wound up with a sweet four-year deal and the coach that had championed him was nudged out the door, replaced by Byron Scott—keeper of the glowering sideline stare and practitioner of creaky basketball principles.

Young quickly galloped into the crosshairs of Scott’s blunderbuss and the rest is part and parcel of two years in the toxic mire. There’s no need to delve much further into that mess—it was a crappy era in a myriad of ways and Young became an untradeable albatross and social media error that seemed intractably destined for the waiver wires.

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The Lakers’ preseason ends tonight with a match up against the Suns. While the team still has a couple of roster cuts to make — and maybe an assistant coach to hire? — and then sort out whether or not to treat this game like a real dress rehearsal, I think there is really only one goal for tonight: No one get hurt.

The regular season starts next Wednesday. The Lakers have plenty of work to do before then and pretty much all the goals should be to get to that date healthy with several practices and teaching sessions leading up to that point to help fine tune this team. So while tonight’s game is happening, I wouldn’t say it “matters”.

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Coach World Peace?

Darius Soriano —  October 21, 2016 — Leave a comment

The Lakers still have two cuts to make before getting down to the roster maximum of 15 before the regular season. We have covered this ground already, so I won’t bore you with more words on the case for keeping the the guys on the bubble. Just know that this is likely a choice between Yi Jianlian, Thomas Robinson, and Metta World Peace.

Well, according to Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, maybe Metta isn’t really in the mix for that final spot. Because, if he really were, I doubt they would already be looking at him as a potential assistant coach if he gets cut. From the ESPN dynamic duo:

The odds are against Metta World Peace making the Los Angeles Lakers’ Opening Night roster, but the Lakers have interest in keeping the veteran forward around as an assistant coach if they can’t make room for him as an active player, according to league sources.

Sources told that World Peace’s impact as a mentor to young players last season was a big reason they invited him to training camp again under new coach Luke Walton.

This is the role many hoped for Metta last year, but Metta made the team as the final add when Bryon Scott, in what he called a very difficult decision, made Jabari Brown the final cut of the preseason. The argument then is the same one it is now: that if the value you are extracting from the player is almost entirely as a mentor, then using a roster spot on him is a misallocation of resources.

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You can’t hear people talk about the Lakers without at some point catching one word: excitement. It makes sense, new is exciting. Youth is exciting. Fun is exciting, especially when the humor about the team is not of the ironic type. You know what makes this young core all the more thrilling? Given the franchise’s, history, there’s a great chance most — or even all — these guys will work out.

Before we start, an important note should be made about how rare it is that players taken near the top of the draft don’t pan out. Typically, whoever is taken with early lottery picks has the talent to make it work. It happens (Anthony Bennett and Hasheem Thabeet nod glumly), but on the whole, it is pretty rare.

Furthermore, most of the guys I’ll talk about were drafted into winning situations whereas this current crop of young talent will probably see at least another couple years of losing before things really turn around. That matters greatly, and puts more of the onus on each player to continue to grow individually versus having to catch up to the quality of talent that already exists on a good team.

Now, with that said, take a look at the Lakers’ history of drafting guys in the lottery, especially as you get closer to the top pick overall. There are basically no outright busts whatsoever (damn you, Javaris Crittenton). It’s somewhat incredible.

For one thing, outside of this current stretch, the Lakers have almost never drafted inside the top five historically. Even still, they’ve selected almost innumerable players who went on to have very long, productive careers elsewhere, if not with the Lakers themselves. Before the lottery was instituted in 1985, the Lakers had already drafted seven players who would were/would become Hall of Famers and five other players who played at least one all star game. Since then, the Lakers have only made six lottery picks:

  • George Lynch (12) – At the time, this wasn’t a lottery pick, as the lottery only went to the 11th pick. Still, it’s in the general lottery range, so I’m counting it.
  • Eddie Jones (10)
  • Kobe Bryant (13, in a trade)
  • Andrew Bynum (10)
  • Julius Randle (7)
  • D’Angelo Russell (2)
  • Brandon Ingram (2)

Of those guys who are not still playing, only Lynch “failed” to make an all star team, but even he went on to play for more than a decade and spent most of that time as at least a solid rotation-caliber player. You take that career in that spot anytime you can. Bynum is something of a punchline now, but he made an all star team and was a key part of multiple title teams. Eddie Jones is freakin’ Eddie Jones. Nothing else need be said.

Oh, and Kobe turned out pretty well in his own right.

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If you look only at the cumulative stats, Brandon Ingram is not having a very good preseason. He’s shooting 41% from the field, scoring 8.1 points a night, grabbing a little over 2 rebounds, and dishing almost 2 assists a game. For most of the team’s 7 exhibition contests, he could be seen floating around the perimeter, looking more like a ball moving role player than the 2nd overall pick in his draft.

Over the past couple of games, however, Ingram is starting to find his way. On Saturday, in the 2nd half against the Warriors, coach Luke Walton put the ball in Ingram’s hands to be more of a facilitator. This unlocked his ball handling and shot creation ability (for him and his teammates). But more than that, it engaged him in the process of making the offense work.

In Wednesday night’s loss to the Warriors, Ingram again was more engaged and looking for his offense even when he was mostly playing off the ball. As the game progressed, though, Ingram was again put back in position to facilitate and again he thrived. His fourth quarter was one of efficiency and offensive aggression — he poured in 14 of his 21 points and half of his 4 assists while playing the entire period.

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