Archives For Laker Analysis

The Lakers find themselves in an interesting dilemma. Just three years ago, they as long-term asset poor as a team could be. They had shipped out potential draft picks in an attempt to build a superstar team then saw those would be franchise anchors either break down or walk away for no return. Their future outlook was as dour as any other in the league outside of the Nets.

Fast forward to today and things are markedly different. In consecutive drafts the team has drafted the following list of players:

  • 2014: Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson
  • 2015: D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance, Jr., Anthony Brown
  • 2016: Brandon Ingram, Ivica Zubac

It’s not yet known how good any of these players will end up being. But if the glimpses we have seen of them is any indication (even if only from summer league), a strong percentage of them (upwards of 6) look to at least be rotation players down the line. Some of them have star potential and three just completed their 1st training camp as part of the Team USA pipeline as members of the Select Team.

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If you look at some of the raw numbers, Lou Williams played well last year. He had a PER of 17.7. He hit 34.4% of his 3 pointers and got to the foul line a ton. As a key rotation player who split time as a starter and reserve, Williams was the team’s 3rd leading scorer, was their 2nd best shooter based on true shooting percentage. Ultimately, he played exactly how one would expect Lou Williams to play. For the $7 million the Lakers paid him, I’d say he represented decent value.

All of the above is not all there is to consider with Williams, however. He does not play good defense. He has a tendency to highjack possessions, dribbling a lot and either looking for his own shot or looking to draw a foul. He had the third highest usage rate on the team and played more point guard than I imagined he would when he was first signed.

Don’t get me wrong, these are all things you can live with. In fact, when you have Williams on your team, these are the things you will have to live with. They are hallmarks of his game. Normally the trade off between what he brings offensively and how he goes about providing those things tilts enough in his favor where he can be viewed as a net positive. Last year that was mostly the case, though I know fans would have preferred to have seen some of his minutes go to D’Angelo Russell or Jordan Clarkson. That’s a coaching decision, however, and not the player’s.

Which brings us to this season. The Lakers have a new coach. They are expecting — or at least they should be — for D’Angelo Russell to make a big leap forward in his 2nd season. They also just signed Jordan Clarkson to a 4 year/$50 million contract. And then, of course, they drafted Brandon Ingram, signed Luol Deng in free agency, traded for Jose Calderon, and re-upped Marcelo Huertas. Suddenly, the backcourt and wing are much more crowded than they were when the season ended and Kobe Bryant retired.

This begs the question — where does Lou Williams fit? Honestly, I am having a hard time answering this question.

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Because I am a basketball nerd, one of the things which most interests me about the free agency period is how team execute their signings in order to maximize their cap space and get the most bang for their buck when building their team. Because of all the exceptions, triggers, and rules surrounding the execution of contracts, one of the things teams do is organize the order of how they execute the deals they agree to with players in order to ensure they operate within the confines of the collective bargaining agreement.

What does this have to do with the Lakers? Well, if you’ve been paying attention to the press releases, the Lakers haven’t actually executed all the deals they have reportedly agreed to this summer. Oh, you’ve seen the pictures of Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov, and Jordan Clarkson signing their deals. They have even formally announced the acquisition of Jose Calderon via trade.

Other deals, however, have remain unannounced. And that’s because they technically have not yet been signed. I’ll let Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders explain:

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Summer league was successful in accomplishing a few things. One was showing off the Lakers’ young talent and how the returning young guys had improved while giving us a first glimpse at the skill of the newly drafted kids. A second was allowing us to somewhat forget about Julius Randle.

I know. I know. This is an exaggeration. No one really forgot about Randle.

But I do believe there has been a bit of “out of sight, out of mind” going on with Julius. After all, we got to see Larry Nance, Jr. play really well before his hand injury. Nance flashed an improved jumper, an emerging “grab and go” game off the defensive glass, and a sharpening of his already strong defense. Nance’s development was happening in front of our eyes while Julius’ was going on in private workouts.

That is no longer the case, though. Randle has joined the Team USA training camp as part of the Select Team. He’s practicing, going through drills, and scrimmaging. He’s out there for everyone to see and is looking like an improved player. Or, at least he is in the short glimpses the public has been exposed to. For example, here he is working in one-on-one drills:

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The Lakers famously spent a boatload of cash this past summer on free agents Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng. I have spilled countless words on those signings so I will not revisit the merits or drawbacks of either contract now. That said, one of the real consequences of those deals was how it impacted salary cap space for next season. 

It was always assumed that if the Lakers were unable to secure commitments from top flight FA’s this July, they would simply roll over a large chunk of space, combine it with the cap jump scheduled for next summer, and try to ink two top-tiered free agents in the summer of 2017. The Mozgov and Deng deals ended those assumptions with large cash commitments. Add in the guaranteed deals of their young core and Lou Williams’ (not to mention Nick Young’s) contract and the Lakers might be close to not even affording a single max contract slot.

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I know the caveat. It’s only summer league. I’ve been saying it myself since before the games started and continued echoing the point through every performance by every player. Here’s the thing, though. While it’s easy to dismiss any strong (or poor) performance with that mantra, evaluations from the summer aren’t completely useless.

Summer will never tell us the entire story, but if you watch intently enough, it can give you hints as to what is possible for a player. Especially when what you see isn’t so much based on athleticism or eye popping numbers, but innate skills or traits which will carry forward regardless of the competition level.

This brings us to Lakers’ 2nd round pick Ivica Zubac. The Bosnian by way of Croatia had a really strong showing in Vegas and looks as though he might end up being a steal of the draft. His all-around play showed glimpses of high level two-way play and hinted that he might be more ready than assumed for a 19 year old Euro big man who missed most of last season dealing with injury and contract issues.

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Heading into Friday night’s summer league finale, Brandon Ingram had done lots of things well but not had a singular strong performance. His best game in the four previous contests to that point was the Lakers’ Vegas opener where he scored efficiently and played a nice all-around game. But even that game was just sort of a let-the-game-come-to-me sort of performance rather than one where he actively tried to take control.

That approach changed on Friday against the Jazz and, boy, was it fun to watch. Ingram finished the night 22 points on 13 shots, grabbed 5 rebounds, and dished 4 assists. Down the stretch he made key plays, but more than that showed a certain assertiveness throughout that was great to see. Just watch the highlights:

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We have officially hit a lull in the roster construction portion of the off-season. The Lakers had an eventful stretch from late June through the first week of July, adding players who will be key contributors to next year’s team.

For summary purposes, let’s run down the transactions:

  • Drafted Brandon Ingram
  • Drafted Ivica Zubac
  • Signed Timofey Mozgov in Free Agency
  • Signed Luol Deng in Free Agency
  • Re-signed Jordan Clarkson
  • Traded for Jose Calderon
  • Re-signed Tarik Black
  • Re-signed Marcelo Huertas

While not all of the contracts associated with these deals are officially signed (we’ll discuss this more in a bit), all of these agreements have been reported by credible sources. Add the players listed above with those who were already under contract and the Lakers have commitments to 14 players.

The question is, are they done?

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