With about a month left until the start of training camp, the Lakers continue to add talent to their roster. The most recent addition, according to Adrian Wojnarowski, is Brazilian Point Guard Marcelo Huertas:
Free-agent guard Marcelo Huertas – one of the Euroleague’s most accomplished playmakers – has agreed to a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Huertas also provides some background as how he believes he can be successful in the NBA:
“There’s so much more space in the NBA,” Huertas told Yahoo Sports in April. “It’s not like Europe now, where you have one guy full-time in the paint. Space is harder to come by. One of my strengths is playing in the pick-and-roll, finding open guys and making shots in the mid-range game off the dribble.
“I think that part is harder to find now, because you mostly have guys who get all the way to the hole, or they’re three-point shooters. And if I’m open, and I can get my feet set, I’m going to make a lot of those kind of shots.”
Huertas believes he can make a difference in the locker room, too, by mentoring young players and meshing with veterans. For the Lakers, Huertas could give them an ideal partner as Russell is groomed to become the franchise’s cornerstone.
“If you look at NBA rosters, there are unbelievable starting point guards, but maybe not as many guys who can come off the bench able to run the team, score the ball, as well as being able to be a leader for young players,” Huertas said. “Those are things I know I’ll be able to bring with me.”
Mitch Kupchak and Byron Scott have both mentioned their want for another point guard — preferably a veteran — on the team and it seems they have found him.
Huertas, who 32 years old, played for FC Barcelona last season and has long been a very good international player for his native Brazil. It’s been rumored he wanted to make the jump to the NBA this season and, it seems, he found his landing spot. For more background on the player, you can read this excellent write up from Kirk Henderson of Mavs Moneyball who has been tracking Huertas for some time.
The terms of the deal are not yet known, but I would not doubt if Huertas has a sizable guarantee — even potentially getting signed using part of the Lakers “room” exception (which totals roughly $2.8 million, but can be split up among more than one player). Huertas could have easily found a job in Europe and I doubt he leaves for the NBA unless he’s assured he’s going to come to a team and play.
As for fit and game, Huertas has good size at 6’3″ and is a pure point guard. He has excellent court vision and feel as a passer, showing fantastic shot creation ability out of the pick and roll. When watching tape of him, it’s easy to see not only his creativity as a passer, but how he can see plays develop a beat ahead. And while he’s not a great scoring threat, he can be okay as a spot up option and has enough craftiness in his arsenal to create shots when defenses overplay him for the pass:
Where Huertas does not excel is on the defensive end of the floor. From a 2014 scouting report by Rafael Uehara:
Huertas is a quite bad defender and that often cost him minutes to backup Victor Sada, a far inferior offensive player but a menace on-ball defender fighting screens and containing dribble penetration due to his incredible effort and elite athleticism for the European game. Barcelona led the Spanish league in defensive efficiency, allowing just 101.3 points per 100 possessions but leaked 105.4 with Huertas on the court. The difference was even more significant in the Euroleague, where Barça allowed 9.8 points per 100 possessions fewer with him on the bench. Huertas does not fight picks, simply crashing into them without much resistance.
That’s not to say he doesn’t put effort into that end of the court. He does get into his stance consistently and is quite hyperactive with his feet but that doesn’t help him much as his quickness simply does not translate into lateral mobility on defense and going around him isn’t much of a challenge for the average guard at the highest level of the European game. So Huertas is also frequently burned by smaller attacking guards off the bounce and exposes his big men. He is even below average contributing on the glass, as he ranked outside the top 25 among point guards in defensive rebounding rate in the Spanish league.
As with any player, there will be positives and negatives, but, in this case, I do think the the former outweigh the latter. As a veteran player who offers a ton of experience and natural point guard ability, he can be a nice option as a back up point guard and mentor to the team’s young guards. Further, I do believe his presence will (potentially) allow the coaches to properly slot the team’s other guards and allow more flexibility in what types of roles both Russell and Clarkson play.
Earlier this summer I wrote about how Clarkson, specifically, would need to wear two hats, operating as both the team’s (likely) starting shooting guard as well as the team’s primary backup at point guard. Having Huertas in tow likely allows Clarkson to focus more on his attack game and less on being a set up man for his teammates. As for Russell, while he’s being billed as the team’s next great player at the “1”, he also did fantastic work at Ohio State as an off-ball worker, running off screens and spotting up on the weak side. Should Russell and Huertas ever share the floor, there is potential for these parts of Russell’s game to be similarly tapped in the pros.
Ultimately, however, as with any guard transitioning to the NBA after a long career internationally, it’s also best to temper expectations. More than one person I have spoken to about Huertas feels his move to the NBA would have better come earlier in his career, rather than when his prime is behind him. As he’s aged and his already limited athleticism has waned, one has to wonder if he’ll be able to turn the corner coming out of P&R’s or if he’ll have enough short area quickness left to create shots for himself when teams play off him. These are legitimate concerns that only time will be able to answer.
But, even with the potential for things to go poorly, I still like this signing for all the reasons stated above. It’s not often you can sign a veteran point guard with the feel and passing skills this guy has. As a 2nd unit player who can help steward an offense, I’m excited to see how he performs.