The game was entertaining and well played for the most part. The Lakers competed well early and even held a lead late. Their defense forced turnovers early and their offense was capable throughout. In the end, though, the Lakers could not slow Kemba Walker and the team lost to the Hornets 109-104.
All in all, it was likely what most fans want out of a game as this season winds down. Julius Randle was a monster, hitting 10 of his 14 shots on his way to 23 points, 18 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. D’Angelo Russell was also very good, scoring 23 points of his own while dishing out 9 assists to only 3 turnovers. Russell was especially dynamic in the 3rd quarter where, despite only making 1 of his 3 shots, he tallied 6 assists in a fantastic display of passing and decision making when running the team’s offense.
Beyond the good play of those two, Clarkson had a nice showing as the primary ball handler for the 2nd unit, posting 16 points on 7-14 shooting while chipping in 3 assists and 3 rebounds. And while Ingram did not play well offensively, he led the team with 42 minutes played and was his normal steady self providing solid defense and intangibles (ball moving, cuts, etc).
The production from the team’s young core aside, what stood out most to me was how this game was a real signal to a new era for the Lakers. These games, since the All-Star break, represent the first time in these players’ careers that they are undoubtedly the focus of the franchise and are being put into positions most players of their draft status (save for 2nd round pick Clarkson) would expect them to be in from the start of their careers.
Let me explain further…
The life cycle of most lottery picks is pretty straight forward. These players are almost exclusively drafted onto bad teams. Those teams then give these players outsized roles, grooming them to become foundational pieces of the future. These players experience varying levels of success in those roles to the point where teams can make informed decisions about how to manage them — hopefully gathering enough information by the time these players reach their 2nd contracts. Some players become the franchise altering players they were supposed to be, some fail miserably, and the rest fall somewhere within that range either as good rotation players for the team who drafted them or guys who drift from team to team because they did not show enough to justify being retained.
The Lakers young players, however, were put into a different and unique situation. Two years ago, in his rookie season, Julius Randle broke his leg in the first game of the year and did not play the rest of the year. Jordan Clarkson got lots of run that year, but that experience was skewed more towards the 2nd half of the season after Kobe Bryant was shut down due to injury.
The following season (last year), both Julius Randle and (then rookie) D’Angelo Russell played key roles, but also had their minutes and rotation spots jerked around by Byron Scott who also catered to Kobe Bryant who was in his farewell season. Kobe led the team in usage rate and, during the 2nd half of the season, it was no secret that the focus of the team was to get Kobe the ball to let him go to work. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this approach was in direct competition to developing the young players.
Fast forward to this year and while there have been huge strides forward in prioritizing the development of Russell, Randle, and rookie Brandon Ingram, it’s also not a stretch to say Lou Williams and the career year he’s been having became another variable in how the young players were used, deployed, and the context of the roles. Lou wasn’t exactly Kobe from a “name” perspective, but his play and production was such that he took on a very similar role as offensive hub and key closer.
Now that Williams has been traded, though, all that is left are the young players (and Nick Young). It’s the young guys who now have the reins and they will succeed or fail in roles which mirror where they were selected in the draft. For example, in his last 3 games Russell has posted a usage rate over 30 when his season rate was around 27. He’s showing more aggressive tendencies as a scorer and his assist numbers have been strong. Against the Hornets, Randle was similarly aggressive in looking for his own offense and post game Walton said he wanted Randle to show that type of assertiveness more often.
Now, to be fair, these are things Walton has said all year so this isn’t a departure from earlier points or a shift in rhetoric from him. But, saying those things and executing them within the context of the roster construction don’t always align. This was even more true in season’s past as highlighted above.
But now, those hurdles are gone and these young players are in the spotlight to perform nightly without any shield to deflect from them. I’m guessing, though, this is exactly how they like it even if it’s a year or two later than what most others drafted into similar positions would have experienced.
Roster Construction: Yes – it was very flawed and there was no reason to have Lou Williams on this roster. That has been corrected. Finally.
“In other words, most lottery picks get the chance to be the center of attention early on. These young Lakers didn’t.”
Absolutely right. The training wheels are off now. Our young core is collectively like the kid whose parents make him drive with a learner’s permit til he’s 20 while his friends are driving solo as soon as they turn 16.
The unfortunate part is that the Lakers have real decisions to make on these kids sooner than later especially if the decision is to trade them out for a Paul George or other established star type. Only really being able to see these kids play unfettered basketball (where they DON’T defer to a Kobe or a Lou Williams) for only 24 games is not enough time to evaluate whether they can be successful NBA starters or what they can possibly be.
Our young guys were never trusted to go it alone. They’ve ALWAYS had to have chaperones. Mozgov and Deng NOT playing is the only way to let the kids grow. $34 Million a year for professional Chaperones that get in the way of the growth. Shrewd moves by Jim and Mitch.
In other news, Embiid AND Simmons both out for the year as Colangelo tips his hat to Sam Hinkie.
Clay Bertrand says
I posted Anon at 12:39
TO add to my crappy analogies:
Our young guys are like the kids who have been Home Schooled and forced to eat Grape Nuts while they see the next door neighbors taking the bus to school with other kids and hear that they eat Captain Crunch……
Now our home schooled kids are in in Public School and they don’t know what a locker is!!!!!!!!!!!! They have some catching up to do……………….
This provides needed perspective. I believe that the rest of this season may provide the clearest look at what Russell/Ingram/Randle can become — with no Kobe, Byron, Lou, etc., and the opportunity to lead out both on and off the court, I think the table is set for their development to move faster. Russell in particular should shine now that the ball is in his hands and he knows Luke is depending on him to make things happen. His third quarter last night was one of the most dominant stretches I’ve seen a 20 year old play.
Yes, Russell is 21 now though.
Last night was encouraging. I was particularly impressed with Clarkson, who was at his best and demonstrating some improved defense. My wish list: 1) some get poor Nance some confidence in his shot, 2) can we say goodbye to the small lineup? Isn’t Black a small-ball center, so without either him or Zubac on the court we’re setting a new trend — the diminutive lineup. 3) a chance to root for wins instead of lottery positions…
Yes! So happy.
I feel like a broken record, but compare DARs and Randle’s numbers extrapolated to 36 minutes and they look better than Booker, Levine, Wiggins, Saric etc. Even Zubac at 19 has shown tremendous potential.
Last I checked, DAR had better player efficiency ratings (PER) than the guys mentioned above. Porzingis is a hair better but mostly because of his rebounding being 7′ tall. The main difference has been minutes and perception. I mean DAR gets the same amount of rebounds as Wiggins, lol, and close to 5 apg in 24 minutes and everyone is complaining.
Clay Bertrand says
“….Porzingis is a hair better…”
I totally disagree. Porzingis has terrible hair!!!! Its almost criminal!!!! He just has the COMMIE IVAN DRAGO hair with slightly combable bangs.
Take it from a Bald dude who WISHES he had hair. D’Angelo has the better hair do.
Darius Soriano says
Glad you woke up from you slumber to comment on this post, Jim! Thanks for the support.
Welcome to what REAL rebuilding looks like. The Lakers were prevented from doing so for 3 years because of the Kobe Bryant Supermax Contract and Retirement Tour.
In Russell Westbrook’s first year with OKC (Durant was already there), the Thunder went 23-59 with losing streaks of 14 straight and 8 straight.
I’m not saying any two Lakers are the equal of Durant and Westbrook, but it shows even a team with those transcendent players had to take its lumps until its superior talent learned how to win at the NBA level.
Yes we lost, but it was not a blow out. Yes we looked a LOT better in our effort. Yes it was great to see the young fellas compete. But I was frustrated to see DAR and NY smiling at the end, as they were walking off the court after the loss .
I’m a huge Kobe fan though I’m glad Kobe is gone, but Dang! Do I miss his attitude and spirit. He would never had been smiling after ANY loss.