Over the weekend, the Lakers made what will probably be their last significant personnel move of the summer, reportedly signing former Texas combo forward Jonathan Holmes to a partially-guaranteed deal. While the current construct of the Lakers roster may make it difficult to envision another piece fitting in, the UDFA Summer League standout has a legitimate shot to stick with the team (both due to playing a position of need and overall skill set) if his talent prevails over the preseason.
The fact that Holmes went undrafted was truly mistifying to me. He was undoubtedly one of my favorite prospects in the draft and I felt he deserved late first-round consideration and at least mid-second. Nevertheless, he is another young piece, in the Lakers hands and with that, I decided to uncover some pre-draft articles on Holmes. This piece by Jason Mcintyre in particular, offers a glimpse of just what Holmes may be able to offer as a potential “steal” at the next level:
Holmes – who excelled in the classroom in Austin as well as on the court – started three and a half years for the Longhorns and was a capable passer, though that is the one attribute he must improve. What scouts love most about him is his ability to defend on the wing and inside, and there’s a feeling that he’s got the potential to hold his own when he’s matched up with a point guard in the pick-and-roll. Is he a leader? Well, teammates raved about him throughout his career.
His basketball DNA appears to have everything teams are currently coveting: Ability to play the stretch four (attempted more 3-pointers in each year at Texas, shot 33% the last two years), but also skilled on the block, where he’s got nice footwork for a man of his size […]
Holmes is a bit taller than [Golden State Warriors’ forward, Draymond] Green (6-foot-9 to 6-foot-7) but doesn’t have Green’s wingspan or leaping ability. He’s not a carbon copy, but he certainly possesses some of the same attributes that Green does, making Holmes a very attractive prospect in the early 2nd round of the draft.
If Holmes does manage to make the 15-man roster, he would likely be hard-pressed to find playing time in his first year with Julius Randle and Brandon Bass newly in the fold. Tarik Black is also a contender for some time at the four while Kobe and Nick Young should soak up most of the time at SF.
As you may notice (or may not) one name I didn’t mention is Ryan Kelly. The third-year power forward originally was seen as a steal for the Lakers when they selected him with the 46th overall pick in 2013, however he has since become a forgotten man as his development over the years has been hampered both by injuries and being forced to play out of position. And according to Ryan Kelapire of Silver Screen and Roll, the latter should not be taken lightly:
Rather than perfecting his role as a stretch four, Ryan Kelly was given the task of trying to learn the small forward position. It didn’t take long to see that he was ineffective at the position, yet Byron Scott continued to trot the failed experiment onto the floor.
Kelly’s game simply doesn’t fit that position. He already had difficulty guarding quicker power forwards, making it an impossible task to guard small forwards who even quicker. The things he does do well as a defender near the rim (take charges, block shots) were nullified since he was guarding on the perimeter much more often.
Offensively, his game suffered even more. His three-point shooting stroke never really got to where it was hoped it’d be — his percentage actually dipped from his rookie year — and his off-the-dribble game was non-existent. In his rookie year, when he got a player to bite for a fake or close out too hard, he was able to create enough space to generate an open look for himself. When used as a small forward, Kelly’s defender usually had the quickness to recover and force a contested shot even if beaten after a shot fake or a hard closeout since small forwards were chasing him. It seemed like he rarely had open looks.
Another name I failed to mention in the above group of forwards is this year’s 27th overall pick Larry Nance Jr. Nance, like Kelly, is flying under the radar heading into training camp, but Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders recently caught up with the jovial 22-year old, who remains in awe about his status as a Laker:
“My first impression was, ‘This is the Lakers. The Lakers! THE. LAKERS.’ I couldn’t get that out of my head,” Nance said with a laugh. “I mean, it was just really cool. These guys are a part of my family now! I’m a part of their family! I’m a Laker! It was very surreal.”
Once the shock wore off, Nance knew that his life had changed. He was introduced to Lakers Nation, and bombarded with followers, likes, messages and friend requests across his social media accounts.
“It’s really cool; Lakers fans are everywhere,” Nance said. “They are very outspoken about being Lakers fans. I mean, my comments have spiked, my followers have spiked. They love their Lakers and I’m one of them now.”
Overnight, he went from being recognized only in Wyoming (where he played his college ball) to being stopped for pictures and autographs all across the country. That’s certainly an adjustment for a 22-year-old who hasn’t dealt with large-scale fame before. In the weeks that followed the draft, going out became difficult because he was constantly being stopped by fans – no matter what state he was in.
Nance also shared how he expects to earn playing time in that crowded frontcourt this upcoming season:
“I really haven’t spoken to the [coaches] too much about my role; they are more so [telling me] to keep working hard, get in the weight room, just telling me how to improve and things like that,” Nance said. “From what I understand, if I put the work in, if I work as hard as I can, there is going to be minutes available for me because we do have such a young and up-and-coming team.”
“The biggest thing I want to work on this offseason is my shooting,” Nance said. “I went to the Tim Grgurich camp in Vegas and that was great for me because I got to work with a bunch of coaches there and we kind of changed my shot a little bit. Now, it’s more functional and stuff like that. I’m just working on perfecting that and just getting better at becoming a knock-down shooter. This season, [I’m focused on] mid-range. Next season, I’m moving onto threes and moving to different spots on the floor and things like that. Shooting is definitely the biggest thing I’m working on.”
Already dripping with above-the-rim athleticism and a never-ending motor, Nance developing a reliable jump shot could serve to justify his questionable first-round status and solidify what many expect to be a solid crop of Lakers rookies.
The highlight of the Lakers rookie class, D’Angelo Russell, is also quite excited. Yes, donning the purple and gold itself is wonderful for the rookie, but as he told Sirius XM’s NBA Today, the opportunity to play alongside Kobe is what truly has him giddy:
“He was my Michael Jordan. I didn’t grow up watching Michael Jordan. I didn’t grow up watching Magic Johnson, Byron Scott, Larry Bird, I didn’t get to watch those dudes. So when I was growing up it was Kobe, Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, those dudes, so to get the opportunity to play with him for his last years is a highlight of my life definitely.”
Being the same age as Russell (and now subsequently questioning what exactly I am doing with my life) I can attest the same sentiment; Kobe was/is my Michael. So, while Russell is generally low-key in his demeanor, I can all but guarantee that the opportunity to play alongside a player who has been the face of our generation has to feel unreal for him.
On another note, Russell has been clear about his aspirations to be great over the past few months and while it is no easy feat, his skill set is such that it isn’t hard to envision him reaching such a standard. With him seemingly ready to face the challenge of being a rookie in a Kobe Bryant-led locker room, one would hope that this could expedite the process going forward.