Archives For Laker Analysis

Free agency might not have been the smoothest ride for the Lakers, but through all the ups and downs they did pretty well for themselves by grabbing Lou Williams, Brandon Bass, and Roy Hibbert (via trade). These players have added veteran experience and tangible, useful skill-sets to a roster which needed some stability. All three players should help in the upward trajectory of the team and the Lakers, all things considered, are lucky to have them.

But just because these players have been added, it doesn’t mean the Lakers should consider their off-season over. Player acquisition is a 365 days-a-year job and, as we saw with the rumors of a Ty Lawson chase, the Lakers’ brass takes that job seriously. Looking ahead to next year, then, you can imagine the front office would still like make a move or two — regardless of what their public stance on this might be.

A simple look at the current depth chart gives us a look at what direction the team might need to go in:

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When Kobe Bryant has been discussed in relation to the Lakers’ recent draft picks and young talent, the word mentor is one of the first words likely spoken. During summer league, announcers consistently spoke about how much D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle could learn from Kobe — a process that, for Randle already began last year. Whether it is work ethic, training techniques, mental approach, strategy, or tactics on how to approach an opponent, the message is the same: Kobe can teach these young kids the game and they should take full advantage of this while he’s still on the team.

This, of course, is 100% correct. Kobe is an all time great and whatever knowledge he can pass on to the next generation of (hopeful) Lakers’ franchise players, the better. When Julius Randle speaks about how much Kobe helped him in his rehab via helping him to break down film and from a mental preparation standpoint, we all nod our heads and say “this is great”. It’s even easier to think of how he can help Russell in similar ways, especially since both players are guards and the amount of time Kobe has spent beating the types of defensive coverages Russell is likely to see next season and beyond.

While this aspect of Kobe’s role is important — and likely have the most lasting impression — we should not forget that Kobe will also need to help these players on the court.

Part of the reason why this doesn’t come up as much is almost surely because no one really knows how much Kobe has left. His last three seasons have ended via injury. When he was finally “healthy” to start last season, he had some flashes of brilliance as a playmaker and scorer, but also saw his efficiency plummet and his effectiveness suffer for longer stretches than any other season besides his rookie campaign.

Still, Kobe’s presence on the court and ability to impact the game will be important to the young players. We must remember that he’s the only playmaker on the roster not named Clarkson, Russell, or Randle. His ability to be a passer and set up man might be the difference between the young players having to create shots for themselves (or each other) exclusively, or having it done for them. His scoring and finishing ability could turn the types of passes we saw in Vegas go unfulfilled turn into actual points. His ability to bend the defense could give the young players the little bit of extra space that turns a contested look into an open one.

These might seem as though they are little things or only produce short term gains for the young players, but they matter in the larger scheme of their development. Young players need all the success they can get in these early stages and Kobe is likely the only veteran who can aid in that success most through his ability to actually make players better (at least offensively). Of course the young players will need to do this for each other as well and, over the course of their careers the chemistry they develop will do more for making the game easy than a single season of Kobe.

But, in this short term, Kobe will need to help too. And he’ll need to do it on the floor, in the games just as he’ll need to in the film room, in practice, and in the locker room as the mentor many expect him to be.

“I don’t see why we don’t contend for a playoff spot,” he said. “But our young players have to grow beyond their years and we have to stay healthy.”

From: GM Mitch Kupchak sees playoff potential in Lakers after offseason pickups

Before I focused solely on writing about the NBA, I worked in public relations. One of – if not the – top priorities was to temper clients’ expectations, which is exactly why I was slightly taken aback when Mitch Kupchak made his comments on the Lakers’ playoff hopes. Why go there?

When the Lakers’ summer league team went to Las Vegas, the talent on the team and these undo expectations informed what many thought would be a nice showing. The end result, however, was a summer league that, in many ways, played out like a microcosm of what we’ll probably see this season.

I was there for those first few games. The atmosphere in each of them was incredible, though I’m not sure it was worth the effect losing in front of those record-breaking crowds had on the players, many of whom not even old enough to partake in Las Vegas’ more notorious activities.

Here’s D’Angelo Russell after last night’s game, via NBCLA’s Shahan Ahmed:

A group of kids shouldn’t bear this kind of pressure for a group of exhibition games with only a handful of practices together under their belts, yet, throughout social media, there were the #SummerLeagueChamps slogans weighing on every turnover, every missed shot.

Let’s compare this week’s activities to how this season will probably go.

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To call the Lakers’ summer league performance to this point a bit disappointing would be totally fair. Even if ignoring some of the talent on the team, the players aren’t working together and it is leading to a disjointed brand of basketball that is not aesthetically pleasing. Bring the talent back into the equation and the frustrations of the team’s 1-2 record through three games is understanding.

However, while many are using the results to focus their anger on the under-performing players, my ire actually has little to do with the stat-lines being produced by D’Angelo Russell or Julius Randle (or any other player). No, my focus is more about how this team is not playing like a team at all.

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Though this is the summer of D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, the player currently making the biggest impression to fans in Las Vegas is Jordan Clarkson. Though he is a self identified “work in progress”, the progress he has made from a year ago this time is clear. We don’t need to go down his list of accomplishments now, but when Byron Scott mentioned during an in game interview on Saturday that Clarkson has made major strides as a player and that his work ethic is “tremendous” it is easy to see those statements quantified via his on court play. Simply put, Clarkson looks like he has outgrown this environment.

Heading into the regular season, then, things seem to be on track for Clarkson. A first team all-rookie performer last season, Clarkson is showing the exact type of progress you want to see in a player his age. His jumper is improving. His handle is tighter. His strength is improved and his athleticism is being better applied to produce actual results. It has led to statements like this being thrown around on twitter:

That’s high praise, but it really is true. Clarkson looks to be on a trajectory that far outpaces his draft status. He will be looked to as a key contributor and folks are already clamoring for him to be a starter next to Russell in the backcourt with Kobe sliding up to small forward in the process. Yeah, I know Kobe is diminished as a player, but tell me the last time any player on the roster came in and showed enough promise to inspire thoughts of displacing Kobe to a new position on the team. I’ll wait.

The road is ahead is about to get bumpier, though. If forecasting what his role will be this season, Clarkson will not just be asked to be the starting shooting guard, but also the team’s back up point guard. Wearing both hats doesn’t seem like a big deal on the surface, but we shouldn’t act like it’s no deal at all, either. Clarkson did prove capable of being a full time point guard last season. He started every game he appeared in to close the season at that spot and the numbers produced and the level of play provided earned him his all-rookie team status.

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Writing about this year’s Lakers’ summer league team brings a bit of a strange feeling. In a normal Lakers’ summer session, there might be one or two key players worth watching; players who we think might end up being a rotation player or someone with a bright future. This season, though, is radically different and offers fans a chance to see players they will be fully invested in come October.

Despite Kobe returning and the additions of Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass, and Lou Williams to the main team, there are at least four players — D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Tariq Black — heading to Vegas who can expect to have a key role when the regular season rolls around. Add to this group Anthony Brown (who, as it stands today, is probably 3rd on the depth chart at SF behind Kobe and Nick Young), Larry Nance Jr. (who, as a first round pick, may also see some minutes this year as deep reserve/energy player), and Robert Upshaw (a project big man who has first round talent with undrafted free agent baggage) there are a lot of reasons to be excited.

This is a talented group of players — almost surely the most talented summer league team the Lakers have ever fielded — and I’m interested in seeing what they can do against other touted rookies and second year players. After all, it’s one thing to play 5-on-5 in practice where the guys on the opposite side are teammates, know all your plays, and have seen all your tendencies for the last week plus. It’s quite another to face off against a fairly stacked T-Wolves team (like they will on Friday) that includes this year’s #1 overall pick and last year’s slam dunk contest winner.

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As I write this article, I’m operating under the view the Roy Hibbert trade will take place later today. Given the DeAndre Jordan fiasco yesterday, it’s important to present this caveat, as all deals mentioned in this article are no more than verbal agreements at this time.

We live in a world where Steve Nash’s trophy case has as many MVP awards as Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant combined. Don’t get me wrong, Nash is a surefire Hall of Famer, but no GM in their right mind would choose to start their franchise with him over Kobe, let alone Shaq. Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson, who share 16 NBA Championships between them only combine for four NBA Coach of the Year awards. The reason for those apparent injustices: expectations.

We expect the seven-foot- tall behemoth, gifted beyond measure athletically, to dominate the sport. Same goes for the geniuses who have figured out the game of basketball to depths few can only imagine. The scrawny white guy who overachieves gets extra points because we can’t quite understand how he’s so good. Those coaches who drag mediocre teams to the playoffs are honored because we don’t know how they do it. In this case, it’s beneficial to be dealt the tougher hand. None of that has anything to do with how deserving the actual winner might be, only the circumstance under which the award was given.

But sure, Nash and Allen Iverson were obviously more valuable than the most dominating presence the NBA has ever seen.

Our perception of everything is skewed by expectations. We think of movies differently given what we hear about them from friends. Have you ever said something along the lines of “no, don’t tell me how good it was” to someone who just saw a movie you’re interested in? You’re managing expectations.

The same applies to the offseason facelift the Lakers just underwent. We gauge success on a curve based not only on the franchise’s history, but on tidbits we see heading into free agency. Think of it this way: Would fans have been more or less impressed with the Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams and Brandon Bass acquisitions had we not heard the Lakers had meetings with LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan?

They’d be more impressed, right? That’s not even debatable.

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Just when all the Lakers’ free agent chips were down, they managed to get back in the game with their trade for Roy Hibbert. Considering the Lakers’ roster needs, their approach in free agency, and the fallout from missing out on all their top targets, acquiring Hibbert in the manner and at the juncture they did comes as more than just a bit of a relief.

The optics of the move aside, though, the true analysis of this deal comes on what Hibbert brings to the court, not as a reprieve from the early free agency fallout. And when it comes to fit, Hibbert seems to be a mixed bag, providing some things the team certainly needs while grating against some of what they hope to be.

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