Archives For Laker Analysis

On Playing the Young Guys…

Darius Soriano —  February 15, 2017

The Lakers lost a close game to the Kings on Tuesday night, breaking some fans hearts on Valentines Day. For Shame! All jokes aside, after the contest I took to the twitter machine and said a few things which lit my mentions on fire:

Needless to say, I wasn’t happy. I also wasn’t exactly mad either. It was more a sense of indifference, a feeling I felt for long stretches of the previous two seasons but not much (if at all) this one. So, it was all very familiar and I was trying to reconcile that with myself. At the end of it all, I determined to look towards Wednesday’s game and go from there. No reason to fuss over this one, I thought.

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Tarik Black’s journey to becoming the Lakers’ full time starting center has been a bumpy one. First acquired by the team as a waiver pick up in his rookie season, Black saw good minutes on an injury decimated team in Byron Scott’s 1st season. Black posted a 16.3 PER with the team that season and looked like a player who could contribute the following season.

Only that didn’t happen. Not at all, actually. In their second year together, Byron Scott promptly jerked Black around by limiting his role and (as he did nearly every other young player) speaking poorly of him in the press. This, from a January 2016 column on Scott and Black:

“Go ask Tarik what I told him this summer,” Scott said before the Lakers hosted the Houston Rockets on Sunday at Staples Center. “Just ask him what I told him he needs to do to stay in this league for 10-15 years. When he gives you the answer, come back and tell me and I’ll tell you if that’s exactly what I told him.”

Naturally, a handful of reporters approached Black for his recollection.

“He told me to be a beast, get every rebound and play aggressively,” Black said, reflecting on his exit interview with Scott and Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. “They told me to work on my skillset. I’m better in my mid range with my size and height in the NBA.”

Okay, that seems rather tame (and probably incorrect since Black is not “better in the mid-range”) but there’s more:

But Scott reported he told Black he wants him to model his game after an NBA All-Rookie first team member (Denver forward Kenneth Faried), a Hall of Famer (Dennis Rodman) and a four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year (Ben Wallace).

“He hasn’t done that yet,” Scott said. “They played balls out, full of energy and aggressive. They didn’t care about the offensive end. … That’s what he has to do to be an integral part of any team.”

“He has been OK. What he gives me off the bench, I don’t know,” Scott said. “He hasn’t done anything spectacular. But he hasn’t done anything devastating where you say, lets send him down to the D-League. But when you’re bringing guys off the bench. You want them to have an impact. He doesn’t have that.”

I don’t rehash all of this to trash the former coach. He had his opinions and they impacted how much Black played — which was not much at all. Black ended up playing in only 39 games for a total of 496 minutes last season. But in a season where Scott leaned heavily on Roy Hibbert (who was terrible) and behind him Brandon Bass (who was good) at C, it seemed odd that Black couldn’t get more minutes (especially at Hibbert’s expense). Even odder was the excuse that Black somehow wasn’t playing hard in his minutes.

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We have already discussed Magic Johnson’s hiring as an advisor to Jeanie Buss at length, offering some thoughts on how it might impact Jim Buss’ job as well as why I am taking a more wait and see approach to how his role actually plays out before I make any lasting judgments.

One of the under-discussed aspects of Magic’s hire, however, is what might happen to Mitch Kupchak. I will get this out of the way up front — I like Mitch. I think, in the aggregate, he’s been good at his job as General Manager. I think he has a good eye for talent and roster construction while also being quite good at saying a lot without saying anything at all (which is important for a guy in his position when speaking publicly or making on the record comments).

That said, how I feel about Kupchak doesn’t matter. What does matter is how Jeanie Buss and, now that he’s on board in his new role, Magic feels about him. And, according to a report from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, their opinions may not be as clear cut as mine:

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Let’s Make a Deal…

Darius Soriano —  February 4, 2017

First, a confession: I am an NBA Trade Machine addict. I fiddle around on ESPN’s tool more than I should, always trying to find a way to make the Lakers’ roster better without giving up players I like. Considering my fondness for roster construction and the concept of team building, maybe this isn’t a big surprise. Or, maybe because we still outlaw outright trade speculation in the comments of this site, it is.

Anyways, as someone who likes thinking up trades and someone who is invested in the Lakers’ success has often meant whatever ideas I have wither on the vine. I mean, the Lakers rarely make deals in general and, less frequent, make them in-season. There was that flurry of action on 2012 that saw the team trade Derek Fisher and Luke Walton in separate deals which brought back Ramon Sessions and Jordan Hill, but after that I have trouble remembering a deal the team made before the February deadline.

I say all of this as a reminder that it’s pretty unlikely the Lakers make a trade before the February 23rd deadline. History tells us they won’t for whatever reason. Maybe they value their young players too highly. Maybe the offers teams will make for their expendable veterans either don’t include enough value or are hampered with too much excess the team doesn’t want to take one. Or maybe nothing materializes with enough time left to actually work out the details. As I said on the most recent Laker Film Room podcast, it takes two teams to make a trade and that often complicates things.

Now that I’ve listed all those caveats, I think the Lakers need to make a deal (or more) in the next couple of weeks. Or, maybe better said, I’d like them to.

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D’Angelo Russell practiced in full on Saturday and the team is hopeful he will return to game action on Tuesday when the Lakers return to the court for the first time in 5 days. Russell’s been dealing with a mild MCL sprain and a strained calf, but considering the original prognosis was 1-2 weeks he is right on schedule.

Russell’s return is much needed. We have discussed it plenty this year, but the Lakers need Russell. Even more specifically, the Lakers’ starting 5 needs him. When Russell plays, the starting group of him, Nick Young, Luol Deng, Julius Randle, and Timofey Mozgov post an offensive rating of 110.9 and a defensive rating of 103.3. When Russell is replaced with Jose Calderon, the team’s offensive rating falls to 88.9 and the defensive rating jumps to 117.0. Replace Russell with Brandon Ingram and those numbers are 71.3 and 108.2 respectively.

The sample sizes of the Calderon/Ingram lineups are much smaller, but the eye test reflects what those numbers spell out. Neither of Russell’s replacements do as good a job of him at…well, everything on offense. And while Calderon works hard on defense, he’s bad. Ingram is, of course, a better defender but asking him to chase PG’s has not worked out well at all. So, yeah, Russell is important. He makes the starting group go.

If you’re looking for a reason why Russell has played 403 of his 894 total minutes this season with the starters, those numbers above would probably be the #1 reason.

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The Lakers have found their way back to the bottom of the standings. After losing to the Mavs on Sunday and with the suddenly frisky Suns beating the Raptors, the Lakers have dipped to last in the West and now, by percentage points, are in possession of the league’s 3rd worst record. That 10-10 start seems like it was a decade ago.

First, it should be stated clearly: there’s no one thing that is wrong with the Lakers. There’s no single item that, if fixed, turns their season around. They are poor defensively in a variety of ways, are prone to frequent stretches of offensive struggle, have had issues with staying healthy, suffer through general inconsistency, and have a coach who has shown to be somewhat stubborn with (certain types of) lineup decisions. All of these things have impacted how the team’s performed. Changing one thing (besides, maybe, their health) doesn’t suddenly completely change their record.

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Where are we? How did we get here? And where are going?

The fundamental questions of theology hang over this Lakers season, particularly as the losses mount. The team is in the midst of perhaps their most interesting rebuild, at least that most of us have experienced. Through a perfect storm of disasters, lottery luck, and drafting prowess, the team has gathered a deep and diverse collection of young players, who we now watch find their way through fascinating and usually frustrating games.

This season feels like the critical moment in the rebuild, when we mostly transition from asset gathering to asset evaluation and development. In other words, we likely either have the primary pieces of the next contending era already in place, or we are halfway (gulp) through a vicious cycle back to the beginning.

This year will tell us much about which direction we are heading, which makes the answers to the posed questions all the more important. Those answers will also, I believe, reveal something about whether the front office is capable of leading the team into the future, which is a question that Jeannie apparently isn’t going to let die.

Let’s start at the beginning.

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“Not much to say… can’t be mad. The other team is just that much better.”

That was from commenter LKK during/after the Lakers’ loss in San Antonio to the Spurs on Thursday night. While I do think there were some things to get somewhat upset about, I think LKK captures about how I was feeling while I was watching San Antonio build their lead, then extend it, then maintain it until the final buzzer.

In fact, right around the end of the 1st quarter, I actually said out loud (to myself, since no one was in the room) that “both teams are showing their quality, the Spurs are just showing they have more of it.” Beyond that, they were also showing that they know how to exhibit that quality for longer stretches within a game.

So, no, I’m not that mad about the game. I’m not happy either, of course. The team played poorly for the 2nd straight game and lost. Does the fact that they lost to a very good team on the road soften that blow a bit? I guess, but when you see the final margin, whatever softening occurred goes away. Losing by 40 is bad times regardless. There’s not much spin to be able to put on that type of game.

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