Considering it is all too easy to remain negative and focus on all that is wrong with the Lakers, I will try to avoid that today. Yes, the frustration is real and in dealing with a 3-17 start — and all that has come with it — in a season where I was genuinely feeling excited about the year has been, well, difficult. But, I will try to be better than making the easy joke or focusing too much on all that has gone wrong. There will be plenty of other days for that, I’m sure (that’s the last one, I promise!).
The Lakers are in Toronto tonight, the 5th game of an 8 game roadie that has seen them travel to 6 cities in the past 9 days. They are surely starting to wear down, but they continue to play hard for long stretches and compete to try and make their way back into games even though they do fall behind double digits most contests.
I have been very pleased with the play of the young guys in recent games, with D’Angelo Russell really starting to show more of what he can do on the floor. In his last 10 games his minutes are up to 31 a night and his averages in that stretch are are nearly 13 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 3.4 assists a game. He’s been assertive in looking for his own shot more, has flashed better shot making from all three levels, and has continued to show he can be a next level passer — even if his assist totals do not show it.
There are always things to improve — defense is at the top of the list — but his comfort level on offense is growing. What pleases me most is that he is finding ways to do well even though he plays in a system which does not always maximize what he projects to do well while playing with ball-needy teammates who use up possessions. Finding the right balance is an ongoing process, but I like what I’m seeing.
I have also been very pleased with Julius Randle’s continued progression. In his last 10 games he’s averaging a double-double, averaging 12.4 points and 10 rebounds. His rebounding has been especially encouraging — he is truly becoming a fantastic out of area rebounder who chases down loose balls and contests 50/50 caroms with great tenacity. His shooting still needs work and he would do well to roll to the rim more often after setting screens, but his general feel for how to get baskets — especially in isolation — remains a pleasant part of his overall game.
These young guys (as well as Jordan Clarkson who is also doing some really good things every night) are the future of the team. We may not always agree in how they’re being deployed, but they are getting reps, finding ways to be effective, and learning more and more about themselves as players and how to translate their skills to the league. This is what we should all want. It won’t always be pretty, but as the father of a 4 year old and a 2 year old, I can tell you there were plenty of spills as they learned to walk.
Against the Raptors, there will be lots of things we don’t really like which sully the proceedings. These things will likely be the exact things (or variations of them) which we have all complained about to this point. I predict another loss as the Raptors — with Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and DeMarre Carroll — will likely offer too much firepower on the perimeter for the Lakers to keep up with.
But as the games go on, the growth in the young players — even with the other variables which can sometimes bump up against it — will be my focus. It won’t always lead to the best results, but the transition is already taking place. It just may not always look how we want it to.