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Heading into this season, the general consensus was that D’Angelo Russell was going to break out while the rest of the Lakers struggled. We’re now a dozen games into the season and somehow, that’s flipped — though with a pretty obvious caveat. Darius joined me on “Locked on Lakers” to explain.

The Lakers have already won seven games this season and, compared to last year (when the seventh win didn’t come until January), the perception around this team is one of essentially pure optimism. Conversely, Russell, who leads the Lakers in several major categories, somehow hasn’t lived up to some fans’ expectations. So, Darius and I tried to figure out what’s at play there.

Then, the conversation expanded to the perceptions of the Lakers’ entire young core. No one  the Lakers are trying to build around moving forward fits an easily-defined player-type, which forces fans to do their homework a bit more than in year’s past. Basically, the Lakers are a hipster team the blogiverse tends to enjoy more than a casual fan might. Listen to the show and this will make sense. I promise.

Finally, we spoke about the daunting stretch of games the Lakers are looking at. The team’s play to this point has people talking about the playoffs, but this next stretch might serve as a reality check. While Darius and I weren’t all that interested in predicting whether the Lakers might make the playoffs (though we did talk about what we hope to see in the next 12 games), we were interested in where the sudden flip of expectations might’ve come from.

You can listen to the show below, and hopefully subscribe to us on iTunes, which you can do, here.

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Darius joined me on “Locked on Lakers” to discuss how different this Lakers season feels compared to the last couple years. During Wednesday’s game, the thrill of winning wasn’t accompanied by the baggage that came with a Byron Scott-coached team. Watching, it felt like we were witnessing the foundation for future success being laid in ways we simply haven’t seen in the past few seasons.

The second half of the show featured a rapid-fire segment on expectations we might have on the Lakers’ young core. Could D’Angelo Russell generate All Star buzz? How much time should Julius Randle play at center? Why should Lakers fans pay more attention to Brandon Ingram’s steals and blocks than the points he scores this year?

I’m blackmailing Darius into coming on the show regularly throughout this season, so enjoy this and look forward to many more appearances like it. If you’re interested in “Locked on Lakers”, you can find all episodes here. Past guests include John Ireland, the Kamenetzky brothers, Pete Zayas (Laker Film Room) and more.

Hit the jump below to give it a listen.

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Last night, one team we watched during Rockets-Lakers will only go as far as its star will take them. The other was the Lakers, and boy, was that fun. We might’ve witnessed the birth of a new era, or we just were able to catch one of the few fun games this unit will play together. We have no idea, but boy, I can’t wait to find out.

Think of things you legitimately love. Not people or pets, obviously, that’s not quite the same thing. Think of books, of movies, TV series, whatever. You know what most those things have in common? You bought in early. Something caught you at the very beginning, made you invest on an emotional level and you grew alongside it.

Series especially (whether it be books, TV or movie), capture and nurture this kind of relationship. You invest years into characters. When those series end, you can’t help but feel as if there’s a hole you feel the need to fill as soon as you possibly can. For me (and millions of others), it was Harry Potter. Somehow, I found myself relating to a completely fictional, wand-wielding character from the very beginning and on throughout the series even if I’d never ridden a broomstick, let alone a thestral. Sports are no different. We might root for laundry at the macro level, but it’s the minutiae along the way that draws and keeps us in.

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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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You know the drill. We did this last year and the series lives on with updates for the 2016-17 Lakers’ roster. Next up in our series is not just Julius Randle’s decision making, but making the right call as quickly as possible. Enjoy.

We’ve all been there. You just sent a text to someone you desperately want to hear back from after several edits and versions. Being the sadists they are, Apple decided they’d let you see when said message is read.received and when that person is replying so you sit there and try to act as if your very life doesn’t rely upon that incoming message with three little dots.

You know what I’m talking about. This right here:



Maddening. Absolutely maddening. Thanks, Apple.

So, what’s the point of bringing up some of life’s most stressful moments? Well, watching Julius Randle at the free throw line after receiving a pocket pass from D’Angelo Russell was similarly maddening last season. Randle had the ball in space, with momentum and the defense back on its heels, but with one problem: those infuriating dots above his head. By the time he was ready to make a decision, those advantages would disappear and with them typically went the opportunity to make a scoring play.

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Next time Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley deride the current NBA for shooting too many threes and lacking dominant centers, instead of sarcastically mocking their antiquated standards for style of play, we should maybe credit the former for what we’re watching. He deserves as much credit for it as just about anyone. Crazy, right?

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The Lakers’ Summer League Opener was everything fans could’ve hoped for. The team looked organized. Sets and general playing style was tailored for whoever was on the court. I didn’t want to walk down from the stands and try coaching the team, myself. It was really night-and-day from what we had to watch a year ago.

And lost in the Zubanity and Brandon Ingram’s debut, D’Angelo Russell put together a quiet double-double. He took over the game for one stretch and was the guiding force in the half-court with vastly more confidence than we saw for most of last season. There were some issues with his game, but he was impressive.

We’ll start with the few negatives I noticed. There weren’t many, but a couple things stood out to me.

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Welcome to a new off-season series focused on how players currently under contract with the Lakers can improve their games from last season to this one. Whether they are young players or veterans, there are always things that can be bettered withing the context of what the Lakers want to do on both sides of the ball. Our second installment is on Julius Randle. 

Julius Randle was 14 minutes away from playing his rookie season last year. There were always going to be growing pains, especially considering the general youth surrounding him as he embarked on what essentially was the beginning of his NBA career. All in all, it was a pretty successful campaign, though there are obviously aspects of the game he’ll need to improve to fulfill his role on a budding core. Most notably among those necessary improvements: His handling of the pick-and-roll (from here on, PNR).

Randle is by no means the typical elite finisher one thinks of in PNRs. He’s not as long or athletic as DeAndre Jordan nor can he shoot in pick-and-pop sets anywhere near as well as Dirk Nowitzki. What he can offer, however, is ball-handling neither of the aforementioned prototypes do. To go with those skills, he’ll need to develop the level of decision-making and rolling technique Luke Walton can trust in PNR sets.

All too often, spacing suffered as Randle would roll either too slowly or in too close of proximity to the ball handler. D’Angelo Russell is very good at turning the corner on screens, putting his defender directly on his back with space in front of him. The result, unfortunately, is he would turn into space with his screener (in this case, Randle) standing basically shoulder-to-shoulder to him. Now, part of this comes from technique on the part of those partaking in the PNR, and some of the issue came as a result of Byron Scott’s constipated offense.

In that regard, players on the team improving from three-point range and Luke Walton bringing over some of his schemes currently on display in the finals might help Randle take a step forward on their own, but he definitely needs to improve if he wants that responsibility in the offense next season.

The stats speak to his inefficiencies (numbers from

  • Randle was used in 103 PNR possessions, second most on the Lakers to only Brandon Bass.
  • Those plays resulted in .73 points per possession, placing him in the 10th percentile throughout the league.
  • Randle shot 37% from the field and turnovers were the result in 10.7% of those plays.
  • Randle only drew a shooting foul 5.8% of the time. By comparison, Bass drew a shooting foul 20.5% of the time.

Those numbers aren’t good. Not good at all.

Now, getting better in the PNR often comes down to a number of improvements throughout his game. First and foremost, Randle’s decision-making must improve. All too often, the PNR would result in basically another isolation set at the elbow and, given Randle’s inability to shoot or do really anything with his right hand (more on this in a bit), he is fairly easy to guard over a larger sample size and with proper scouting. If Randle can make quicker decisions, he and the offense around him becomes much harder to defend.

As I alluded to earlier, Walton can aid in some of those issues with scheming. Randle catching the ball on the left elbow makes it tough for him to do much of anything. If Walton can plan for PNRs to end with Randle handling the basketball on the right elbow, where his strong hand takes him toward the center of the defense, Randle can more naturally drive with the intent to either score or pass with that dominant left hand of his.

Scheming aside, Randle spending time on becoming a more effective catch-and-shoot threat is absolutely necessary. His right hand has been covered ad nausea, but that doesn’t change the fact that without improvement there, Randle remains just as easy to defend as ever. It’s doubtful he’ll ever boast full ambidexterity, but he’ll need to develop a comfort with even trying to finish at the rim. Another trick he might be able to learn is the ability to gain enough separation with his right hand to bring it back to his left against NBA defense. Watch any clip of Manu Ginobli and you’ll get a good picture of this technique.

Randle has the tools to make all these improvements and if he’s able to add to his game, he makes the lives of all his teammates much easier as well. He heads into this season as one of the more important pieces to what the Lakers want to do, as many from the organization have spoken to. Improvement has to occur throughout the roster, but Randle’s strides are as crucial as just about anyone’s on the team.