The off-season is a time to remake and build up a roster and as a team that has missed the playoffs four straight years the Lakers are a team that needs some improving. Some of that will come from the internal development of recently drafted players, but the rest will come from player acquisition and swaps via the draft, free agency, and trade market.
With that, we recently detailed the types of players/skill sets the Lakers should be looking to add. And we did this using a classic venn diagram:
As I wrote, the hope is to get as many players on the roster as possible who have these skills. But, I know, even this request requires a bit more clarification.
First, we must take into account how good any player is at any of the above skills and how that plays into role, effectiveness, and reliability. For example, I previously mentioned Rick Fox and Robert Horry as players who fit into the middle of that diagram by possessing all three skills. Fox and Horry weren’t great at any of them, but were good enough to not be exposed in any one area. This allowed them to be on the floor in crucial situations, but mostly as role players who played off teammates who were the team’s go-to players.
This also relates to the range of ability within any of the above skill sets and how being good (or bad) enough at one or more of them impacts how you then complement that player with surrounding talent. The Warriors are a great example of this.
Curry is an elite shooter and a fantastic passer whose defense fluctuates from slightly above average to below average. He is paired with Klay (elite shooter, very good defense), Draymond (okay shooter, elite defense, elite passing), and Durant (great shooter, very good passer, excellent defender). Then add in role players like Iguodala (elite defense and great passing, okay shooting), Livingston (very good defense, excellent passing, not an outside shooting threat), and Clark (very good shooting).
These skill sets blend together and cover up for Curry’s defense, while optimizing his shooting with floor spacers and passers who can give him room to operate and deliver him the ball. The Warriors in-turn leverage Curry’s shooting to open up passing angles and generate spacing to optimize the games of Durant, Klay, and Draymond. The same could be said of working off of Durant’s strengths…which is why the Warriors are favored to win the title. They are deep, not only with great players, but with ones who complement and make each other better.
Which leads me to the Lakers. As it stands, they currently have several players who fit into one or two of those circles, but have very few players, if any, who can fit into all three. Here’s a list of how I would break down the current roster:
- Shooting/Passing/Defense: None
- Shooting/Passing: Russell, Zubac
- Shooting/Defense: None
- Passing/Defense: Ingram, Nance
- Shooting (only): Young
- Passing (only): Randle
- Defense (only): Black, Mozgov, Nwaba, Brewer
- Not listed: Deng, Clarkson
Note, just because you’re in the “not listed” category doesn’t mean you can’t be a contributing player. Clarkson is a great example of this. This past year Clarkson shot 32.9% from three, was not a good ball mover, and struggled defensively as the year wore on. But Clarkson was still able to leverage his athleticism to get into the paint, made good 1st level reads as a passer off his dribble penetration, and tried hard defensively (especially getting into passing lanes). Deng, meanwhile, was okay is several areas, but playing the majority of his minutes at SF exacerbated his declining athleticism and was a drag on his all facets of his game. I’d imagine if played mostly at PF, he’d likely move up into the “shooting/defense” category.
It should also be noted there is, with some of the players, expected performance relative to their position and age/experience. I listed Zubac in the shooting/passing category, because he showed viable skill in both those as a C (range out to 18-20 feet, good reads as a high/low passer and in short roll chances out of the P&R). I listed Ingram in the passing/defense category because he’s a natural ball mover/good passer and was a fine defender relative to his age as a 19 year old rookie.
I should add, too, that several of the team’s young players can make their way into other categories through growth and improvement expected for their pedigree and draft position. Randle, for example, can leap into the shooting category by continuing to shoot and hit threes at/slightly above the rate he did in the last 20 games of the year (31.4% on nearly 2 attempts/game). Nance can become a guy who could jump into the shooting/passing/defense category by also adding the three pointer to his tool kit (and by being more aggressive in taking open shots). If Clarkson can hit threes at a league average rate (totally possible) and start to make better reads in the P&R (I am hopeful, but not exceedingly optimistic), he can join the shooting/passing club.
There are other examples, but you get the point. The Lakers still have a lot of young players who are also key parts of the rotation. They are learning on the fly and the hope is that they improve their weaknesses and bolster their strengths to the point that they can do more on the floor with greater consistency, making the Lakers more formidable for longer stretches in the process. Additionally, ideas like basketball IQ, work ethic, athleticism — ones not captured by the diagram posted — influence the trajectory at which players can improve. By multiple accounts, the Lakers’ young players are hungry to improve and willing to put the work in, which can improve their long-term growth potential.
In saying all that, though, you can also see why the Lakers aren’t a very good team, and why I used these three specific skills as desirable to add this off-season. They simply don’t have enough of these skills on the roster in general and, more specifically, lack players who do two or more of them at an NBA level — even relative to their position played or age/experience level. If looking to construct a winning team, this is a problem. Again, look at the Warriors. Nearly every lineup they deploy has guys who do two or more of these things at a high to very high level. How many Lakers lineups can you say the same thing about?
So, when looking forward to the draft or free agency, it’s important to look at the current roster, where the current skill sets lie, and then seek out players who not only do different things, but multiple things well. If it’s a young player (i.e. the draft) how do they project in any of these areas? If it’s an established veteran (free agency or trade), can they fall into several categories? More specifically, can they shoot/defend or pass/defend? These are current areas where the Lakers really lacking talent.