Regardless of how one views the Lakers’ off-season, what cannot really be argued is that the Lakers have improved their talent base. A simple look at the players who have come in vs. the players who have departed spells this out pretty quickly:
In: Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov, Brandon Ingram, Jose Calderon, Ivica Zubac
Out: Kobe Bryant, Brandon Bass, Roy Hibbert, Metta World Peace, Robert Sacre, Ryan Kelly
The only player on that out list who posted a PER over a league average mark is Brandon Bass. Bass played nobly as a back up C last season, playing well on offense overall while providing smart, rugged defense both individually and at the team level. He was everything fans would have wanted from a veteran leader and he will be missed.
However, beyond Bass (and Kobe*, who I will discuss later) the Lakers have essentially let go of players who were well below replacement level and have swapped them for players who are likely better than that. I understand that is not saying much, but when you are working up from a 17 win team, even marginal improvements matter a great deal on the bottom line. This is the new world, Lakers’ fans.
I don’t need to spell out the strengths of every single Lakers’ addition, as we have covered that ground already. But in Deng, Mozgov, and Ingram the team has added two veterans and the #2 overall pick in the draft. These guys will have their down moments, but they can play and do so at levels higher than the players they are replacing. Add to them Calderon who is another solid back up PG and Zubac who turned heads at summer league and was rated as a mid-first rounder by several draft-niks and the influx of talent is real.
Beyond the additions, however, the Lakers are bringing back young players who are expected to get better every year. In Randle, Clarkson, Russell, Nance, and Brown the team has 5 guys whose trajectory is still going upward on their development arc. Randle and Russell were high lottery picks who both (essentially) played their rookie seasons last year. Clarkson and Nance are older, but are excellent athletes, skilled, and still have room to improve. Brown is the wildcard of this bunch and it remains to be seen what he becomes.
Add it all up and the Lakers are in a vastly different position than they were last season. They have viable talent across the board which will all be competing for minutes. Beyond that, they have some versatility within their slotted positions which will put even more strain on their battles for floor time. Besides Calderon and Huertas (pure PG’s) and Mozgov, Black, and Zubac (pure C’s), every Lakers’ player remaining on the roster can play either up or down a position:
PG/SG: Russell, Clarkson, Lou Williams
SG/SF: Ingram, Brown, Nick Young
SF/PF: Deng, Ingram
PF/C: Randle, Nance
I understand it might be ambitious to list Ingram as someone who can play 3 positions, but until his body fills out and we get a better sense of he can defend (and who can ably defend him), I am comfortable putting him at any wing position — including stretch PF in small lineups. The same questions might exist with regards to Randle and Nance playing C, but when you consider Walton’s time in Golden State, the fact that the Lakers will want to run more, both guys’ ability to be grab-and-go players, and the general direction of the league, and I do not think it is a stretch to see either play spot minutes a C this year.
Now, take those hybrid players above and add back the pure PG’s/C’s to the mix. Suddenly the Lakers have a lot of players who look like they will deserve minutes. Maybe you can remove Huertas or Calderon from that mix and demote one to 3rd string PG right away — though I’m not sure which one yet. And maybe you can give Black the edge of Zubac early on despite the latter’s strong showing in summer league. Also, for argument’s sake, remove Nick Young, even though he’s doing his best to try and repair his image and recover his status as someone who can be on next year’s roster.
That still leaves 11 players for what will likely be a rotation where even finding minutes for 10 guys consistently might be tough. I mean, how do you juggle enough minutes for Russell, Clarkson, and both another PG and Lou Williams? Now, how do you do that if Ingram plays some SG too? The problem is even more pronounced at PF and C — especially if Deng plays some PF (and he likely will). With only 96 minutes to split between the two “big” positions, how do you manage to find floor time for Randle, Nance, Mozgov, and Black while also getting Deng minutes at PF?
In a way, these are good problems to have. The competition for minutes amongst the entire team will create an atmosphere which will force all the players to continue to raise their respective games and meet the challenge of the next man up. Luke Walton has said he wants to create an environment of competitiveness and practicing with an edge and one way to do that is to have a lot of guys who are capable of playing fighting for the limited minutes which exist in any given game.
That said, keeping everyone in line and generating the needed buy-in will be a challenge. Everyone wants to play, but everyone really can’t. There’s simply not enough minutes. It’s one thing to get that buy-in when the team is winning — like Walton and Kerr did with the Warriors. It’s quite another to accomplish this when the team is in the lower half of the standings as the Lakers are expected to be. How Walton manages this will be an important story-line this year.
Still, though, it’s exciting to think about what is possible this year. Not necessarily in terms of wins and losses, but in terms of the competition for playing time and how that can foster the type of environment where players improve. This roster has the types of position battles which will be worth watching all through camp and I can’t wait to see how it all shakes out.
*Yes, the Lakers lost Kobe. The name recognition alone can make this seem like a pretty big net loss. Combine that with his final game performance with his history as a Laker and memories can be skewed. In reality, though, last season Kobe posted a usage over 32 while providing a PER of under 15 for the season. That is…that is not good. A simple redistribution of his touches to players who can provide production more efficiently than he did last season will help the team on the floor in countless ways. Even if it doesn’t at the gate or on TV ratings.
Competition is a good thing. Especially with a team as young as ours. Everything must be earned at this point. Many of the pieces are there but it will take time and experience for it all to gel and come together.
Coach Luke has to plant seeds for the future by establishing a winning mindset and continuity that will lead to bigger and better things. So far he has done that now let’s see how the players respond to the challenge. It’s going to be a tough and interesting season but it should also be an exciting one.
That asterisked comment is the elephant in the room that no one other than statheads and Darius has really been willing to address honestly. And by no one I mean anyone actually getting paid by a newspaper, magazine, or network.
Now, I and others have not really been what you call fans of this writer, but credit where credit is due, she makes a pretty good case for giving BI the bulk of the backup minutes at SG in place of Williams. http://www.lakersnation.com/lakers-may-have-surprise-backup-shooting-guard-next-season/2016/08/14/
Travis Y says
With the departure of “hero ball” and the transition to “flow,” I’m hoping Luke plays the individuals who move the ball, which gives energy and life to the offense and especially defense.
The two positions I’m interested is at the SG and PF.
SG- I see Clarkson starting, but for his backup I currently see Lou as the better player when compared to Ingram. The question is will he be able to move the ball and get others involved. Because that’s not his strength. I see him playing 20-25 minutes as the 6th man scoring spark plug, which he has excelled in the past.
PF- I see Deng as the better complete player and would excel in a pass happy offense due to his ability to cut and move without the ball. Next, would be Nance and though I love Randle, I see him having the hardest time fitting in an offense of ball movement, spacing, and shooting.
Excited for the competition, but am really excited for a better dynamic between the team. Rather than it being Kobe and everyone else, it can really be a united group.
A Horse With No Name says
Stupefied about your assessment of Hannah Kulik. Admittedly I haven’t read that much of her stuff, but everything that I have read of hers has been insightful and evinces that rare quality in net sports writing: critical thinking. She’s spot on in seeing the potential of Ingram at the two–something I’ve already commented on (I said he could be the world’s tallest two guard), but she leaves out a very important consideration for giving Ingram minutes there: his slight build. By giving hm minutes on the perimeter against twos, he will likely suffer less unfavorable physical match ups which could help keep him healthy over the grueling NBA season.
Good read Darius!
I would get rid of Lou, and for sure, Nick. I just don’t feel either one fits with Walton, nor our team.
I’m still not sold on Brown. Something in in his demeanor speaks of wilting under pressure, and Los Angeles is not for the faint of heart.
In addition, now that we have Zubac, Black is a question mark for me, though to be fair I never got the chance to see him in action for any duration under Scott, so I’m willing to reserve my opinion until the zenith of the trade deadline.
That was an excellent article.
I agree with it, and find it a tantalizing possibility.
Another fascinating aspect of Ingram, is at age 18, he’s still got a bit of length to add to his height.
Travis Y Randle has been described as Lamar Odom in Zach Randolph’s body. Unfortunately his arms are average in length instead of being long. When utilized, Randle is a guy who can get out on the break, handle the ball great and make good passes. But Scott’s offense was iso heavy for most of the year and didn’t play to Randle’s strengths. Walton’s offense will play to Randle’s strengths. As a guy who can rebound the ball well, he’ll be able to push it, and with teams knowing he’s going to want to attack the basket, he can either take the open lane if available or kick out if there isn’t anything for him while teams load up on him in the paint. This is just an example.
KevTheBold smokedaddy He’s also got some growing to do. It’s been said he can grow another inch or two.
Clay Bertrand says
To each his own……..
But I’m with Horse……..Personally, I think Hanna Kulik
is the best female Lakers writer around [Sorry Momo and Serena ; / ]. Apologies for sounding sexist…….I
should clarify…Although she’s young, she is one of the strongest emerging Laker
writers MALE OR FEMALE that I have read.
Her angles and opinions are deeper than the average Laker piece and she
doesn’t just rehash the same thoughts everyone else is beating on. I hate seeing writers (looking at YOU
LakerNation) generate some BS 2 paragraph “article” centered around a couple of
sound bytes that we ALL heard in a post practice interview or on TWCSN. Its
just cheap nothing clickbait crapola a lot of times.
Hanna always provides a thoughtful and fully
expressed line of thinking and not merely an insulting echo of what we have
already heard. She is more analytical (though
not Stat heavy) than the average writer and pretty astute IMO in coming up with
original content. Her piece on Ingram at SG is right on if you follow
Ingram’s development and realize he is instinctively more guard than forward in
I have never found fault
with Hanna’s stuff and have often been in total agreement with her. I really
think the more you read, the more you will grow to be a fan of her’s
Travis Y says
jlawsonswi Travis Y I loved having LO on our team as he could push the ball after a rebound, was a pass first player, and could hit the jumper.
I agree that Randle can push that ball after a rebound, but in regards to the last two strengths of LO, he’s lacking. It is really due to his inability to take the open jumper. Defenses play him for the drive, which clogs up the spacing. Throughout last season he was passing up the open shot to drive into the lane.
I love all the stories about his work ethic and hope that he is now willing to take this shot. If so, I see him as a much better fit in Walton’s offense.
LT Mitchell says
This team should improve defensively from last season, but I think we have to accept that they will still be a bad defensive team. There simply aren’t enough average to good defensive players on the team.
To win games, they will need to maximize their offense, and to do so, they will need to spread the floor and speed everything up. This means we should abandon the idea of playing Ingram at the 2, Nance at the 3, Black at the 4, etc. If anything, Ingram should get some minutes at the 4, not the 2, where he will have a speed advantage and more space to shoot. Same goes for Nance at the 5, compared to the 3 spot. Deng should be getting more minutes at the 4 over the 3 spot, and if it were up to me, I would give more minutes to DAR at the 2 over the 1. In fact, I think a good argument could be made that he should start at SG to focus on what he does best, score points, while Calderon or Huertas takes over the starting 1 spot. I would even experiment with occasional super small lineups with DAR at the 3, Deng at the 4, Nance at the 5, with a Calderon and Clarkson backcourt. Officiating favors smaller players in the new NBA. When smaller players match up against bigger players, they are allowed much more leeway to be physical. I love Draymond Green’s game but he gets away with murder against bigger centers. The last thing I want to see is Ingram going against quicker SGs, while they are allowed to be as physical as they want with him. That’s less likely to happen at the 4 spot. I also think DAR will have more success on offense at SG, without the burden of guarding quicker opposing PG’s every game.
Speed kills. Let’s speed it up.
One note about the versatility of the roster is that I think we might see Randle and Nance spend some time at SF as well. Their ability to handle the ball in transition and potentially guard the bigger SF’s on the perimeter are factors that need to be considered in certain matchups. I can even see Randle, Nance, and Deng in the front court together to counter some small ball lineups.
I think the minutes at the center position will be a interesting story to watch develop. I think Zubac will start the season as the third option, playing a few games with the D-fenders, while Black plays the back up 5 behind Mozgof. Depending on injuries and the squality of those 3 bigs play, I can see the distribution of minutes changing throughout the season.
In the backcourt, I’m still waiting to see what happens with Young, Williams, and Calderon. Those 3 can all still contribute, but I just don’t think they can contribute much to this roster and system. I think the FO is still trying to figure out what they can do with Williams and Calderon, but I think Young will actually still be on the roster for opening night. The only reason I believe this is because there’s no value in trading him right now, and unless there’s a trade for more incoming salary, I don’t see the point in stretching Young’s contract. The best bet is to see if he can contribute at all or prove he still has some value in the league, then offer him up at the trade deadline for a team in need of some scoring off the bench.
At the of last season did you think the Lakers’ bench would be described as “versatile” and “deep”? The FO did an amazing job of assembling the team and coaching staff. Given the length of the NBA season, my vote is for fewer minutes for starters and more hustle in transition defense. Defense is a lot about beating your man down the court and denying position. You do not need to be a great individual defender to do that. The men’s Olympic team has not shown the same hustle on defense they did in their warm up games and the scores reflect that. With the Lakers’ depth, there is no excuse for all 5 players on the court to not spend high levels of energy on both ends of the court and maybe wear some of their opponents down.
smokedaddy BI’s versatility is his biggest asset and the main reason I was hoping we got him. In a GSW-style system, positions seem less important than flexibility. I think they are looking for players who can play multiple positions and overlap with other players on the court. This enables more opportunities to create mismatches against teams with less versatile players.
The NBA is going to have to come up with a new categorization system. Maybe ranges – DLO 1 – 3 player. Randle 3 – 5 player. BI perhaps a 1 – 5 player.
I think it’s early to judge our defense, based on what we got from Scott.
If summer league was any indication, we had the tools, just not the right coaching nor system.
As for Ingram and 4, I think at this stage in his body weight, that’s asking for injury, not to mention a hit to his self esteem.
I can’t as well agree with those that say D’Angelo is a better shooting guard than point guard. His floor vision and passing are once in a generation gifts that we would be irresponsible to throw away.
Just because he didn’t get the chance to showcase his skills with Scott, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Clay Bertrand says
Positionless basketball at its purist means there ARE no real categorizations. Practically speaking, its means that skills are so heavily overlapping from player to player that the players similarities outweigh their differences as far as what they bring to the court. Its tough to categorize some guys with the traditional positions evolving.
Even simply applying categorizations like Backcourt, Frontcourt, and Wings isn’t totally accurate because they all bleed into each other naturally. Center is the only spot that remains categorically descriptive.
Hopefully, we will be effective in blurring the lines between the traditional positions so that we can see a Russell, Clarkson, Ingram, Randle, Nance line up (for example) that really can play the space and pace game. Wishful thinking to a degree (Randle is barely learning to shoot so he can’t be expected to make 3s yet) but its something that could work because of their overlapping talents.
The easier it is to categorize a guy these days, the less versatile he is. After all, yesterday’s “TWEENER”, who was seen as a lesser player is today’s POSITIONLESS PLAYER who is sought after and applauded for his valuable versatility.
A Horse With No Name says
Clay Bertrand smokedaddy
Clay: Great explication of what makes Hannah the refreshing voice she is. I hope she reads this site. She deserves the praise.
Clay Bertrand says
A Horse With No Name Clay Bertrand smokedaddy
My Bad!! If I’m going to give her props, I suppose I SHOULD attempt to spell her name correctly!!!! Its just that damn last “H” is silent!! lol
Fantastic interview of Kobe, on our young core, Walton, and more,..
Interesting. Will be really crowded up front if true.
Marc Stein ESPN Senior Writer
The Los Angeles Lakers are in advanced discussions to try to bring China star Yi Jianlian back to the NBA, according to league sources.
Why? He’s a bust…
fern16 Lakers need someone to sell to the Chinese market now that Kobe is gone?
Watching some video Yi looks pretty mobile and has an outside shot. Maybe his skill’s are a better fit for the current NBA.
Must be the chinese angle. The dude is a bum. He is been in 4 NBA teams already. If it quaks like a duck…