Archives For Laker Analysis

In the lead up to free agency, one of the main concepts I heard about most from fans was the timeline of the Lakers’ young core. As the argument goes, the best way for the Lakers to continue to build the team is to seek out players of similar ages to their already existing young core.

LA needs a center, try to get 27 year old Hassan Whiteside or 23 year old Bismack Biyombo. Need a small forward? Look at 24 year old Allen Crabbe, 24 year old Harrison Barnes, 23 year old Maurice Harkless, or even 27 year old Kent Bazemore. These players, the argument goes, could grow with the Lakers’ young core so that when Russell, Randle, Clarkson, and Ingram are more mature and ready to win, the Lakers could potentially have an entire rotation of players in various stages of their respective primes.

All of this sounds great and makes total sense. In some cases, I have even argued for it myself.

In the wake of the Lakers signing soon to be 30 year old Timofey Mozgov and 31 year old Luol Deng — besides the case against paying them what the Lakers are (this applies more to Mozgov) for the number of years they are — the most frequent criticism I have heard about the signings is that neither player is on the young core’s timeline. When the Lakers’ young core is ready to win, these critics say, Mozgov and Deng will be too old or no longer very good.

While there’s a certain logic to this, my counter to this argument is…why should we really care about that?

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The Lakers made some waves — and received some scorn — for handing out some rich contracts to Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng in the first two days of free agency. While there are plusses and minuses to each deal and on-court fit, there was still an open question of whether either contract could become a more team friendly one via the presence of team options for the 4th year of either deal.

Sam Amick of USA Today is reporting that is not the case for either contract.

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We told you heading into free agency be ready for some sticker shock. We then told you in their search for a big man, the Lakers were likely going to have to spend a lot of money. And even though we said all that, when news of the Lakers’ inking Timofey Mozgov to a 4 year, $64 million deal hit, it still came as a surprise.

Welcome to the new world of NBA spending.

I don’t think many would have been upset of this contract was handed out to a sexier “name” player — Whiteside, Biyombo — who was thought to have a higher upside and room to still grow in this league. But Mozgov is a veteran big man who turns 30 this month. It’s doubtful he will improve in any tangible way, though the hope would be he continues to sharpen his strengths to become a more effective version of the player he has been.

In any event, Mozgov is the Lakers’ new starting big man. And, while it will be impossible to ignore the price tag, it’s how good of a player he is and how his skill-set can be used by the team which also matters here.

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The Warriors look to be well on their way to their 2nd NBA championship in as many seasons. Their combination of offensive firepower, excellent defense, positional versatility, and top level coaching are the marvel of the league and have teams scrambling to try and replicate a formula which may not even be replicable.

Roughly 30 years ago, the Lakers were a team very much like this season’s Warriors. If not so much in style, but in aesthetics. Explosive in the open court and precise in the half court, the Showtime Lakers ran roughshod over the league for an entire decade. They went to 8 Finals in the 1980’s and captured 5 titles in the process. I think teams would have tried to play like them, but it just didn’t even seem possible. No one had the horses.

These two teams are linked by the Thompson family. In the middle of the 1987 season, the Lakers traded for Mychal Thompson. The former 1978 #1 overall pick of the Trailblazers, Thompson was brought in to be the Lakers’ back up C and 3rd big man. Mychal did his job, helping the ’87 Lakers defeat the Celtics in the rubber match of their 3 NBA Finals match ups.

Mychal’s son, Klay, is now the starting SG for the Warriors. Drafted with the 11th pick in the 2011 draft, Klay has outperformed his draft slot and become one of the best two-way wings in the league. In a bit of a role reversal from his dad, Klay was famously not traded two seasons ago for Kevin Love. Now Klay’s Warrior’s are on the verge of beating Love’s Cavs in the Finals for the 2nd straight year.

So, the 2015 and 2016 Warriors are likely to be back to back champs. The 1987 and 1988 Lakers were back to back champs. In the post-game presser following the Warriors’ game 2 victory, Draymond Green was asked about where these Warriors ranked in the pantheon on all-time teams. Green, diplomatic, said we’d never know if his Dubs would beat teams like Jordan’s Bulls or the Showtime Lakers.

Klay, never shy of taking a shot, lined up his dad’s former team in his crosshairs and said with a smirk and a chuckle, “we’d beat the Showtime Lakers.”

Well, then.

I’ve always been of the same mindset Draymond has. The league has changed too much to compare players in ways beyond trivial barroom arguments. Forget, then, comparing entire teams. There’s simply no good way to do it.

If you think that’s going to stop me, though, you’re wrong. Thanks, Klay!

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The Lakers have already had a nice run to start their off-season. They kept their #2 overall draft pick, have a nearly wide open cap sheet, and hired Luke Walton as coach. There is a lot of reason for excitement.

To talk about that, and more, I joined Sam Vecenie of CBS Sports on his Game Theory podcast. We covered the draft, the team’s young players, trade options, what about Walton I am most intrigued about, and general roster construction. I even offered a bold prediction for the team’s off-season.

It was a good chat that you can listen to in full after the jump.

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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 NBA.com):

  • 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.

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 first installment is on Larry Nance Jr. 

For Larry Nance Jr. it did not take long for fans to go from “who is he?” on draft night to one of their favorite Lakers from this past season. From the highlight dunks to the hustle plays to his team first attitude, Nance has a lot of redeeming qualities that fans ate up. But with a higher profile comes higher expectations and fans will be looking for Nance to make positive strides in his second season.

And while Nance came into the league as a 22 year old (and will turn 24 next January), he still has areas in which he can grow. Some will point to his age as a negative in that regard, but the fact that he came to game late and did not develop physically until after his crohn’s disease was diagnosed in highschool, his age is not too much of a negative in my eyes. Still, though, the ability to develop — even at a more advanced age than most 2nd year players — doesn’t mean it will actually happen.

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NBA fans love to play armchair GM. They have the ESPN Trade Checker bookmarked. They know the general workings of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. And they have ideas of fixed price points for players based on ideas of “value” and “worth”. This all fine and good. I think a more informed fan-base is a better fan-base. It makes for better, more nuanced conversation.

This summer, though, it’s better to forget some of what you think you know about player value. This summer, it simply doesn’t apply. I may have changed majors from Economics to History when I was in college, but I took enough of former to understand supply and demand and how market forces help determine pricing. And, this summer, with the NBA cap about to go up by $22 million, the concept of what a player is “worth” is going to change.

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