Archives For Laker Analysis

The Lakers Collective

Darius Soriano —  November 7, 2016

The Lakers have traditionally been built on the premise that stars win. The idea is seemingly embedded into the fabric of the organizational ethos. This is a franchise that does not retire your jersey number unless you get elected into the Hall of Fame. They are the franchise who has always had a leading man (and usually more) — from Mikan to Magic, Baylor to Bryant and all the HOF names in-between — anchoring the roster and driving it towards success.

Recent summers (save for 2016) were dedicated to the chase of the next front-man who would lead the organization out of shambles and back into position to compete for championships. Even though there are high hopes for the youngsters grabbed in the lottery, the team always operated under the guise that the next great team might need to be fronted by a star not yet present.

And maybe that is still true. We don’t yet know how good D’Angelo Russell or Brandon Ingram or Julius Randle will be. Early returns tell us they have the potential to be special. And I am a believer in their respective talents. But if every player with potential reached their ceiling, Anthony Randolph might be the league’s reigning MVP on the Warriors, not that Steph Curry character.

While the young players ply their craft in pursuit of living up to their draft status, a funny thing has happened: the Lakers are winning games and are a fun team to watch play. Even if we thought this was possible, to see it actually happening is surprising. What’s even more surprising his how it is happening.

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The Lakers pulled out a surprise win over the Warriors on Friday, not only by being ahead when the clock hit triple zeros but by doing so in a wire to wire fashion with a 20 point final margin. Before the game, I wrote that I was only looking for good execution and the types of incremental improvements I think is the goal of this season. Instead, I saw the Lakers play quite well on both sides of the ball and punish a Warriors’ team who shot poorly and defended even worse than that.

The Warriors’ performance might lead some to give less credit to the Lakers than would typically be the case after such a win. And when you rewatch the game and see some of the open looks the Warriors missed, I can understand that sentiment to an extent. However, what the tape also revealed was the Lakers doing so many little things well, leveraging some of their advantages against a Dubs team who is simply not as deep as previous contending versions, and also countering every run with a big bucket or stop of their own to hold off any hard charge.

These are the things winning teams do often and the Warriors game marks the second consecutive contest in which the Lakers exhibited these traits. Now, I’m not ready to call this a trend and the Lakers have a ways to go before they can be considered much more than the type of pesky opponent who will play hard and stay in games — pulling some out you do not expect. However, if we start to see these things more consistently, it will force many (including me) to reevaluate our projections for what is possible for them.

But that is a discussion for down the line. For now, here are 10 thoughts from a game I did not see coming, but was more than happy to be wrong about.

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To say Julius Randle is playing well to start the season would be a massive understatement. Through three games, Randle is scoring 15 points, grabbing nearly 7 rebounds, and dishing over 3 assists a game. He is shooting 67.9% from the floor and has a PER of 21.6. It’s a fair argument to say that over the team’s first three games, Randle has been the Lakers’ best player.

Most of the gains mentioned above are on offense, but that should not obscure some of the defensive improvement Randle is showing. No, he’s still not a “plus” defensive player overall, not when he can still stand to make real strides as an off-ball defender who is making early rotations and being a real deterrent at the rim. Over time, if Randle is going to be considered a real two-way threat, these areas of team defense will need to be improved. There’s no way around that.

But, I think as is the case with Randle through his first two seasons, many are too quick to point out all the things Randle’s not doing (or not doing well enough) rather than crediting him for where he is actually is making strides. With that in mind, one area in which I have been impressed with Randle this year is when he’s been asked to switch onto wings and defend in space.

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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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We already gave you a recap to the game, but when the Lakers win on opening night as home underdogs against a team with James Harden and a ton of offensive firepower by holding them to 18 4th quarter points — including only 4 points in the final 3 minutes — there is more to say on what happened in the contest.

The NBA never ceases to surprise and, even if you are the staunchest Lakers supporter, I would imagine many thought any close game would simply turn into Harden, as the best player on either team, taking control of the action late to win the game. Instead, the Lakers got stingy defensively and found enough offense to tighten the screws on Houston and win the game.

With that, I have more to say and I hope you want more to read so here are 10 thoughts from last night’s Lakers win over the Rockets:

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Laker fans are understandably anxious to find quick evidence of two things as the season begins:

  • Can Luke transform the way the team plays to create meaningful schematic advantages (like other great coaches), after suffering through two years of Byronball?
  • Are the young players, individually and as a group, making the kinds of developmental strides that are critical to the team turning the ship around?

While the preseason admittedly is an imperfect medium for assessing fundamental questions of this nature—given the sample size and quality of play—I saw glimpses of progress on both fronts that offer real hope. And those observations were supported by a few trends in the team’s preseason statistics, which are highlighted below. As always, I’m sure others saw more interesting things.

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Nick Young may never quite be the same effervescent player he was for the Los Angeles Lakers three years back. Too much water has passed under the bridge and time has a habit of adding a layer of shade or two. But the fact that he’s still with the team is one of the most unusual storylines of the nascent season.

The happy-go-lucky shot-chucker has always been a one-trick centaur, charging into the thicket of opposition—head thrown back and legs churning forward—with the chief objective of putting the biscuit in the bucket. And that task completed, romping back without a care in the world other than the hope of doing the exact same thing again ASAP.

As Michael Bauman wrote years ago for Liberty Ballers: “Nick Young may be the least rational player in the NBA. His game is a love song to the impulsive, the hedonistic, the do-what-feels-right-now-and-damn-the-consequences.”

After burning through the Washington Wizards, Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Clippers, the native son of West L.A. managed to land a minimum salary test drive with the Lakers for the 2013-14 season. Young was a welcome glimmer of light during a difficult time under then head coach Mike D’Antoni. It was a team that personified the beginning of the end as management awkwardly bundled league rejects and ill-matched veterans around the oft-injured Kobe Bryant and an unhappy Pau Gasol. And the toll of the death bells began.

But there in the middle of all the misery was Swaggy P, unrepentant and incandescent, averaging a career high in points off the bench as the team plunged to a 27-55 record. Young wound up with a sweet four-year deal and the coach that had championed him was nudged out the door, replaced by Byron Scott—keeper of the glowering sideline stare and practitioner of creaky basketball principles.

Young quickly galloped into the crosshairs of Scott’s blunderbuss and the rest is part and parcel of two years in the toxic mire. There’s no need to delve much further into that mess—it was a crappy era in a myriad of ways and Young became an untradeable albatross and social media error that seemed intractably destined for the waiver wires.

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Coach World Peace?

Darius Soriano —  October 21, 2016

The Lakers still have two cuts to make before getting down to the roster maximum of 15 before the regular season. We have covered this ground already, so I won’t bore you with more words on the case for keeping the the guys on the bubble. Just know that this is likely a choice between Yi Jianlian, Thomas Robinson, and Metta World Peace.

Well, according to Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, maybe Metta isn’t really in the mix for that final spot. Because, if he really were, I doubt they would already be looking at him as a potential assistant coach if he gets cut. From the ESPN dynamic duo:

The odds are against Metta World Peace making the Los Angeles Lakers’ Opening Night roster, but the Lakers have interest in keeping the veteran forward around as an assistant coach if they can’t make room for him as an active player, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN.com that World Peace’s impact as a mentor to young players last season was a big reason they invited him to training camp again under new coach Luke Walton.

This is the role many hoped for Metta last year, but Metta made the team as the final add when Bryon Scott, in what he called a very difficult decision, made Jabari Brown the final cut of the preseason. The argument then is the same one it is now: that if the value you are extracting from the player is almost entirely as a mentor, then using a roster spot on him is a misallocation of resources.

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