Archives For Laker Analysis

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 Brandon Ingram’s playmaking ability. Enjoy.

When the Lakers ended up not only keeping their top-3 protected lottery pick, but staying put at #2, the collective celebration of Lakers’ fans was only a slight notch below some sort of massive playoff victory. The team had suffered through so many losses and the prospect of snagging a player the caliber of Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram made it all seem (at least somewhat) worth it.

Ingram, of course, became the pick and fans have been giddy with excitement and hope ever since. A SF prospect with a rare combination of size, length, and shooting ability, Ingram not only brings an intriguing skill set but fills a major long term need on the roster.

And while Ingram’s shooting ability and defensive potential offer the most long term upside for a roster sorely in need of both, this upcoming season the rookie might just help the team most with another facet of his game — his playmaking ability.

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With Lakers media day in exactly 10 days, training camp is right around the corner. The Lakers have had an eventful summer, swapping coaches, drafting a couple of players they have high hopes for, and adding new veterans to help on the court and in the locker room to help fill the leadership void created by Kobe Bryant’s retirement.

But training camp is not just the first step for the players who have secured a spot on the roster, it is also for fringe players to try and make their mark — not only on the Lakers, but to showcase their skill and work ethic in a way which might earn them a more permanent spot in the league should they not make LA’s roster. With that, the team has recently announced the signing of three players who are looking to take advantage of their time in the Lakers’ camp.

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The buzz is already here. After a strong summer league, an invite to Team USA’s training camp as part of the Select Team, and social media clips of the work he’s been putting in, D’Angelo Russell is being properly recognized as a player on the rise. Buzz and actual NBA production, however, are not the same. Can Russell carry over a summer of proper work into real progress?

At The Ringer, Kevin O’Connor believes it will by proclaiming Russell is better than you think he is. O’Connor covers a lot of ground in his piece and the entire thing is worth your time, but this passage is the crux of his argument:

Russell played so well without Kobe that he could have been in the conversation for second-place Rookie of the Year votes if Bryant hadn’t played last season. His usage skyrocketed without Bryant, and while his scoring efficiency dipped slightly, his per-36 numbers improved drastically. He projects as the full-time starter alongside Jordan Clarkson under new Lakers head coach Luke Walton, so he could receive a similarly high usage rate. It’ll be a shock for Lakers fans to go from Scott’s Kobe-centric isolation offense to Walton’s free-flowing, motion-based system. But the stylistic change is tailor-made for Russell’s strengths as a versatile combo guard.

Yes. All of that. Redistributing Kobe’s touches across the roster while replacing Scott’s offense with one which caters more to Russell’s strengths and…voila, improvement. This is the basic formula, but beyond the schematic changes and adjustments in usage, I’m looking in an an even more simple direction: experience and confidence.

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In the months since he was named head coach of the Lakers, Luke Walton has done a good job of resetting expectations to appropriate levels. He’s spoken about his desires to build a winning culture, but has been careful to not equate that to actual wins. In fact, he’s done the opposite by stating — several times, actually — that this team should not be judged by wins and losses early on.

All of this has been very strategic on Walton and the front office’s parts. After years of selling the myth of the “ultimate goal being a championship” while constructing rosters not built to even make the playoffs, the Lakers have, seemingly, learned their lessons. They hired a young coach, targeted specific veterans at positions of need, and have put the young players front and center as key pieces who need development.

However, just because things seem new; just because Luke Walton is seen as the anti-Bryon Scott, it does not mean there is a complete departure from all ideas which existed under the previous regime. Take Walton’s recent quotes about the Lakers being “built around” the young players:

I don’t think we’re built around the young guys. Obviously they’re a huge part of what we’re doing and developing them, but we brought in some good vets that we feel are really going to help lead in Kobe’s absence. We’re going to be doing our best to develop these guys, but we’re going to be playing the guys who are helping us win and playing the right way and competing every night. We feel like we have some vets who have done that for a lot of years in this league. So we’re going to lean heavily on them as well.

Wait, there’s more. Here he is on whether Brandon Ingram will need to “earn his spot” in the rotation:

Absolutely. Everyone has to earn a spot. You come into camp and you compete against your other players, you respect your teammates, but whoever outplays the next guy in line, that’s who gets to start.

Now, let’s grab Doc Brown, hop in the Delorean, set the date for the summer of 2015, and ramp up the speed to 88 miles per hour. Now re-read the quotes above. Could you hear Byron Scott uttering the same words Walton did? I can.

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Nick Young is currently a member of the Lakers. And, if you listen to Young tell it, he would like to continue to be a Laker. This, on a lot of levels, makes sense. Young is from Los Angeles. He went to school at USC. After signing a one year deal with the team as a free agent back in 2013, he had one of his best statistical seasons under Mike D’Antoni and promptly signed on for 4 more years while making it pretty clear he loved playing for the franchise.

Of course, that first season was Young’s high-point with team. His play on the court has steadily declined and last year he also had a very private matter turn public in a way which jeopardized the locker room and his relationship with D’Angelo Russell. Regardless of how you view that situation or who you blame, its impact is still being felt. And, ultimately, that means it is likely time to move on.

Again, though, Young seems open to a return. He told Mark Medina of the LA Daily News that he “can’t be mad forever” and, as Medina explains, is ready to give it a go:

Young indirectly outlined reasons for the Lakers to consider giving him another chance. He reported devoting plenty of his offseason toward improving his strength and conditioning. After clashing the past two seasons with then-Lakers coach Byron Scott about his public criticisms and role, Young sounded thrilled about Luke Walton’s subsequent hiring.

“It’s a breath of fresh air for me,” Young said of Walton, who spent the past two seasons as a Golden State Warriors assistant. “Luke is a big-time coach and came from a championship team. I think I have the tools that we can use as a shooter.”

In a vacuum, that’s all fine. Of course, this situation doesn’t exist within a vacuum. Young has played poorly. There are circumstances which contributed to that, but when you tack on his fit within a locker room which is young and ready to move on without his (potentially negative) influence and, well, it’s clear which way the scales are tipping.

This moves us to how to extricate him from the team. It really comes down to two options: trade or waive.

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Regardless of how one views the Lakers’ off-season, what cannot really be argued is that the Lakers have improved their talent base. A simple look at the players who have come in vs. the players who have departed spells this out pretty quickly:

In: Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov, Brandon Ingram, Jose Calderon, Ivica Zubac
Out: Kobe Bryant, Brandon Bass, Roy Hibbert, Metta World Peace, Robert Sacre, Ryan Kelly

The only player on that out list who posted a PER over a league average mark is Brandon Bass. Bass played nobly as a back up C last season, playing well on offense overall while providing smart, rugged defense both individually and at the team level. He was everything fans would have wanted from a veteran leader and he will be missed.

However, beyond Bass (and Kobe*, who I will discuss later) the Lakers have essentially let go of players who were well below replacement level and have swapped them for players who are likely better than that. I understand that is not saying much, but when you are working up from a 17 win team, even marginal improvements matter a great deal on the bottom line. This is the new world, Lakers’ fans.

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It is the middle of August. Asking legitimate questions about how an NBA team’s rotation shakes out really is all speculation. Teams haven’t yet convened for camp. They haven’t practiced or played a pre-season game. Things like injuries or trades or…really, everything, have not yet influenced how roster battles will shake out or even the final composition of the team.

However, after stating those caveats, a question has been lingering with me since early July and I just can’t seem to shake it any longer: Could Marcelo Huertas Beat out Jose Calderon as Backup PG?

In a way, this seems like a silly question, doesn’t it? Calderon is a known product who has had a ton of success in the NBA. While he’s 34 now, Huertas isn’t much younger at 32 and their relative NBA experience leans heavily towards Calderon having the inside track to back up D’Angelo Russell at point guard. It’s this background which basically led me to believe Huertas wouldn’t even be brought back after the Calderon trade happened.

Then, however, Huertas was re-signed. And then the Olympics started. Then Huertas’ Brazilian team (with him playing a big role) beat Calderon’s Spanish team (with him being marginalized and only playing two minutes) in a notable — though not shocking — upset. Then the very smart John Schumann of tweeted this:

Where is the thinking face emoji when I need it?

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One of the ongoing themes of Luke Walton’s hire has been how he wants to rebuild the Lakers’ culture. Coming from the Warriors, Walton has expressed a desire to import the competitive drive and having the proper edge and approach to the work which needs to be done. Yes, he wants his players to have fun, but he wants to ensure he is instilling the proper values in his players.

Building a culture is one of the most important things Walton is tasked with. While ultimate leadership of the franchise starts with ownership, the coach is more than just a bystander in this process. The coach is the one who has the players’ ears, the one who holds them accountable, the one who establishes the daily environment of work.

Walton knows this better than anyone as he came from a team where one of the things the head coach did was tweak the previous culture (and schemes) from those of his predecessor to better galvanize his players and get the most out of them. Walton will need to do the same with these young Lakers. And it will likely need to be more than just a tweak. This leadership will be instrumental in any success he and his team have.

But with a team so young as the one he inherits, Walton will need to be more than a leader, he will need to be a teacher as well. I have said this before, but young players make mistakes. The expectation is that they will learn from them, that over time they will catalog those miscues and put themselves in position to not make them again.

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