The walking wounded Lakers may have reinforcements coming. Both D’Angelo Russell (at least 2 weeks) and Nick Young (2-4 weeks) are in the window of time in which they may be ready to return and it looks like it will happen for both sooner than later:
Luke Walton says D'Angelo Russell practiced today and there is a chance he plays tomorrow.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) December 10, 2016
Luke Walton also noted that Nick Young practiced fully on Saturday, with the implication he too should return shortly. So it looks as though Sunday’s game against the Knicks is a realistic target for Russell, with Monday looking almost close to certain. Young could potentially join him on Monday.
Julius Randle, despite aggravating a hip issue from a few days ago (unrelated to the hip pointer he suffered a couple weeks back), is reportedly fine and should be in the lineup against the Knicks on Sunday.
Luke Walton said Julius Randle told him his hip feels fine. Expect him to play tomorrow vs NYK
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) December 10, 2016
Randle has been having a rougher go of it lately, even if he’s still shown the ability to offer good production. He’s been working in isolation more, has not been finishing in the paint at the same level he was earlier in the year, and has had some of the defensive lapses which plagued him last year become more frequent. His motor still revs high, but the patience that was a real area of growth in the season’s first month has regressed into the type of bully ball and action forcing drives which aren’t as effective as more thoughtful attacks.
Getting Russell and Young back should help some of these issues, though. Randle, maybe more than any other Laker, benefits from the spacing both offer while also being a chief beneficiary of Russell’s passing ability. Even though Russell has missed 12 of the team’s last 13 games, he’s still assisted Randle more than any other player on the season. Randle’s work as a roll man in the P&R, as a finisher via drop off passes, and as mid-range spot up option off Russell penetration or the extra attention he can draw defensively were key ingredients to his early season efficiency.
Lastly, getting Russell and Young back should allow Walton to finally get back to playing his normal rotation (or at least close to it since Tarik Black remains out with a sprained ankle). It’s easy to forget now — especially with the narrative that the Lakers have gotten off to poor starts all season — but the Lakers starting group of Russell, Young, Deng, Randle, and Mozgov have a positive net rating (+2.1) in their 169 minutes together. Yes, they could be playing better, but that should not be mistaken for playing poorly. If you are able to outscore your opponent over a decent sample, that’s a good thing.
Considering the Lakers are about to go on the road for a 7 game trip, but with some winnable games in that stretch, having these key players in the lineup couldn’t come at a better time.