What Should We Expect from Each Lakers Player This Season?

August 2, 2017

untitled.png

The Lakers have made headlines since the middle of the prior season, make some eye-opening moves during the offseason and then proceeded to make Summer League news. With all that in the rearview and training camp on the horizon, Lakers fans are chomping at the bit and looking forward to the new NBA Season. Even before then, fans will be salivating at that first preseason game.

It’s been widely discussed what the expectations of the Lakers as a team are (we’ll leave Charles Barkley’s opinion out of it). The consistent viewpoint is that this team will improve, yet fall short of playoff contention. Vegas odds and CBS Sports have the Lakers finishing with about 36 wins, a 10 game improvement from last season AND two more wins than the temporarily “best in L.A.” Clippers. I just threw that in for the heck of it. Having said all that, what can or should we expect from each Laker on this new-look roster? Let’s take a look at each Laker and discuss what they can and must do to help these Los Angeles Lakers meet and or exceed expectations this season.

 

Brook Lopez

170628-brook

Brook Lopez averaged about 20 points a game on 47% shooting and shot 34% from beyond the arc last season. He became an official stretch five last season with the Nets. He’s a pretty solid defender and has an array of post moves. The important thing is that the often in times past injury prone Lopez stays healthy. In order to be the first successful big man acquisition since Pau Gasol, he has to be a force offensively. He needs to be a real threat from the three point line and a trustworthy post scorer when called on. He has to be more of a rim protector than Mozgov and Hibbert was. I expect Lopez to be the second or third best distributor on the team by his ability to draw double teams in the post and demanding attention down low. I also expect him to run the floor and be on the receiving end of some great passes by Lonzo Ball. Lopez should easily be the team’s leading shot blocker. Much is riding on Lopez being just as dominant as he was in Brooklyn and not another failed veteran big man experiment.

 

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

150222231906-caldwell-pope-dunk-vs-was-0222_1200x672-750x410

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a defensive-minded scorer who can create his own shot. He also has great finishing skills at the basket. After not being able to score a max contract with Detroit, he was convinced by Magic and Rob to join the purple and gold for an 18 million dollar 1 year deal. My expectations for Caldwell-Pope is to be the Lakers leading scorer and to possibly make strides towards all-star status. His game will only be elevated by Luke’s system and Ball’s pass-first mentality. I also expect him to be an on ball defender taking on the opposing team’s star point guard to take pressure off of Lonzo Ball. He will no doubt lead the team in steals.

 

Loul Deng

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Lakers

Loul Deng is the remaining player with an unpopular inflated contract. The Lakers were successful in unloading Mozgov to the Nets, but they still have Loul Deng. Coming off an extremely disappointing Lakers debut where he averaged a lackluster 7.8 points a game on 38% shooting, he rarely showed up and was really a nonfactor in many of the games. His performance drew criticisms of fans and media alike. His meager contributions made his albatross of a contract even less appealing. Deng has reportedly been working hard in the off-season and most certainly has a lot of prove to himself, the NBA and the fans. With a year under Luke’s system, Luol will be less lost in the system and become more of a contributor. I expect Luol to come off the bench and provide some leadership, offensive punch and defense with that second unit. Although, we can’t deny that he will most certainly be on the trading block for any takers willing to absorb his contract. However, in the meantime, expect a resurgence from the 2x all-star.

 

Jordan Clarkson

1501637365_los-angeles-lakers-jordan-c.jpg

JC is truly in a make or break year. Over the Lakers rough years, Clarkson is the one player consistently contributing on a nightly basis. I expect this year to be no different. Clarkson possesses the ability to run the point, but is a true shooting guard who can create his own shot and get to the basket. He still has yet to figure out consistent defense. However, he will most likely be a 6th man, especially with KCP recently added. Expect Clarkson to average 15-20 points a game, providing a spark off the bench. He will most likely improve on the defensive side of the ball. Expect Clarkson to feast off of Lonzo Ball passes. This is probably his last chance to have a breakout year.

 

Corey Brewer 

Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Lakers

I like Corey Brewer’s defensive tenacity and his ability to finish on the break. I don’t expect him to get too many minutes unless someone gets injured. However, when his number is called, he will give the Lakers some toughness. His benefit will be seen in the locker room.

 

Lonzo Ball 

ball.jpg

What can we say about Lonzo Ball that hasn’t been said? Considered the face of the franchise by Magic Johnson and a transcendent player by Rob Pelinka, loved by Skip Bayless and already selling out Lakers season tickets, expectations are high. Lonzo gave us all a preview in Summer League, leading the Lakers to the championship and having two triple-doubles. His passing became infectious as fans saw the culture immediately transform for this Lakers team. The bold expectation of winning the whole Summer League was translated to each player and came to fruition. Lonzo comes with high expectations already. He is a star before even playing his first preseason game, much less a regular season opener. So with all that in the backdrop, what are realistic expectations for Ball? Expect Lonzo to be the assist leader for this team and making his players better. He could quite possibly average at least 10 assists a game. He is the catalyst to this Lakers team’s success by the way he stimulates ball movement. Expect Lonzo Ball to vie for rookie of the year because of his ability to create his own shot off the dribble and finish at the rim. We have yet to see him truly get hot from the three point line. I expect that to be a work in progress. In the meantime, players around him will be feasting off of open looks and ally-oop dunks. As a rookie with a target on his back from the rest of the NBA, expect some struggles, but rookie of the year is his to win or lose. No pressure. His ability to transform the offensive fluidity of a team in Summer League must translate to the regular season, which I think will happen.

 

Brandon Ingram

bi

In spite of all the hoopla surrounding the drafting of Lonzo Ball, this is still Brandon Ingram’s team. Magic Johnson all but flatly stated that Brandon Ingram was the one “untouchable” Lakers player, even for DeMarcus Cousins. Ingram did not really wow anyone with last year’s numbers. His rookie season featured a 9.4 point a game average. What was noticeable was his work ethic, his fearlessness, his ability to take instruction and his mechanics. You just knew that once things started to click, he was going to be special. In the latter part of the season, Brandon Ingram started to show why Magic and Rob would build around such a player. Ingram created highlight reels, dunking on the likes of Pau Gasol and Giannis Antetokounmpo. He showed out in a few minutes of play during his Summer League debut alongside Lonzo Ball and quickly scored 26 points before going down with a cramp. So what can we expect from the humble beast? Expect him to take a leadership role and be either the first or second leading scorer on this team averaging 18-25 points a game. Also expect Ingram to be even more of an attacker with one year under his belt. He’s no longer timid and will be not hard-pressed to create his own shot with Lonzo Ball setting him up. As a pretty skilled passer himself, look for him to rack up about 5-7 assists per game himself. Defensively, I look for an improvement as well. The most exciting one-two punch I’m looking forward to is Lonzo to Ingram on a nightly basis. Let’s hope he still does make good on that promise to work with the Black Mamba.

 

Julius Randle

randle

Randle dropped 32 points on the Houston Rockets in the latter stages of the season and seemed unstoppable. This is the love-hate relationship we have with Randle early in his career. He can be unstoppable and other times he just gets lost in the shuffle. So much is riding on this season for Randle as this is a make or break season for him. I expect him to breakout this season. Randle has made a physical transformation that shows he is taking this offseason very serious. Randle is decimating teams in this summer’s Drew League. He, like many of the other Lakers, are looking forward to playing with Lonzo Ball. Julius is a tenacious rebounder, very adept at getting to the basket and can at times be a defensive force. However, there are some that believe that he may always be on the cusp, but not quite there. I expect Randle to make it over the hump and make one more stride toward being an all-star caliber player. Rumor has it he is on the trading block, but if he does breakout, this will work in his favor whether he is traded or not. I expect Randle to up his average to about 18-20 points a game and 12-17 rebounds per. The knock on Julius is his outside shooting which was spotty last year. I look for that to improve. Again, being on the receiving end of Lonzo’s passes will give him quite a few easy buckets. I’m very excited about Randle’s potential this season, but let’s hope it doesn’t just stop at potential.

 

Tyler Ennis

tyler-ennis

Tyler made some small strides last year during the Lakers high draft pick threatening 5 game winning streak. He showed some ability to shoot the three and he seems to create a level of calm when he is running the point position.  He has a very clean game, only averaging 1 turnover per game on his career. Although he is the only other true point guard that the Lakers currently have, I can’t say whether or not he will see much floor time. JC, BI and Josh Hart all can potentially play the point guard position as well. I personally can say that the only guaranteed rotation players off the bench are Loul Deng, Larry Nance Jr., Ivica Zubac and Jordan Clarkson. The rest will be fighting for minutes. Expectations are low for Tyler, but he will have to prove himself whenever given the opportunity.

 

Larry Nance Jr.

nance.jpg

(Sorry, Brook) Our very own human highlight reel Larry Nance Jr. is probably the most exciting player on this Lakers team. I am salivating at the opportunity to see that first ally-oop from Ball to Nance. Larry possesses the ability to play the four or the five. Walton tried that experiment late in the season and I hope that he will consider playing him at center in this season as well when they want to go small. Larry has all but solidified that first power forward off the bench spot to relieve Randle. Nance showed flashes of hitting that open jumper and even a few threes as well. This will be the one factor that can make him a very dangerous player considering how well he finishes and how high he flies! His fundamentals and basketball IQ makes him a team leader of sorts on and off the court. He also is moving up the defensive learning curve very quickly. We love his athleticism and effort. This season I expect him to move further past the “energy guy” phase and more of a dependable scorer and elite defender. His numbers last year were very misleading. Look for Larry Nance to up his scoring average to 10-12 points a game and for his rebounds to increase as well. I see him as becoming a integral part of that second unit as well as this young Lakers core. One last expectation we have for Nance is that he will not be snubbed for the Dunk of the Year!

 

Kyle Kuzma

Kyle-Kuzma-MVP-e1500380380132

“Started from the bottom now we here” is Kyle Kuzma’s theme. A product of the Houston trade that sent off Lou Williams, Kyle played his way to Summer League Championship game MVP and a Nike shoe deal! What we got to Kyle was a dead eye three point shooter, tenacious scorer and a very fluid offensive game. He played very well off ball with Lonzo Ball setting him up. Even without Ball in the lineup he was able to create his own shot. He was the leading scorer of all the players in Summer League. He is a position-less big man who can move to the three, four or five if going small. Kuzma enters into a very crowded frontcourt; however, he seems to be the most likely of all the rookies not named Lonzo Ball to actually see floor action. The question becomes how many minutes? I will go out on a limb and say that he will be the one addition off the bench (to include Deng, Zubac, Clarkson and Nance). I expect him to become one of the main three point threats and pure shooters that Ball and the Lakers need in order to get wins this season. Also look for him to compete with Nance for minutes due to his ability to also finish at the rim and create his own shot. Ultimately though, he will be that 8-10 point sparkplug off the bench in his debut season with the Lakers.

 

Josh Hart

hart.png

When I saw the way he played in college via Youtube, I was very excited about this young man’s motor and his “hart”. Entering into a crowded backcourt with Caldwell-Pope and Clarkson eating up most of the minutes, he will most likely learn from the pine this year. There is a slim chance that Walton, in his attempt to run and keep his players fresh, will go deep into his bench which will give Hart a chance. If given a chance, you have a player that can get to the rim with ease and provide pesky on-ball defense. His ability to get to the rim can collapse defenses and set up open looks for other players. I can see Hart competing with Ennis for minutes. Expectations are cloudy, but I can see him giving a good 5-7 points at least 1 steal off the bench if given the opportunity.

 

Ivica Zubac

Ivica-Zubac-e1472948552986

Zubac wowed and surprised everyone last year the way he immediately contributed. He started with Summer League where he blocked shots and scored with ease. This translated to the regular season where eventually he took minutes from Mozgov. By the end of the season there was chatter of Mozgov taking over as starting center. So Zubac would dominate in Summer League this year right? Wrong! He seemed rusty and confused at times and seemed winded when trying to get up and down the court with the fast-paced Laker offense. Coming off a season-ending ankle injury, one can only conclude that rust was all it was. Zubac, reportedly working with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, still possesses a skill-set that is invaluable. He has a nice stroke from the perimeter, a developing array of post moves and a great defensive IQ. He still is the first center off the bench following Brook Lopez. I expect Zublocka to make great strides in his 2nd year, shake off the Summer League haters and average 10-12 points a game off of the bench, 1-2 blocks a game and continue to develop into an integral piece in the Laker’s bid to return to championship glory.

 

Thomas Bryant

bryant.jpg

The Indiana University power forward/ center Thomas Bryant certainly turned heads during his Summer League debut. He possesses a motor similar to Julius Randle, grabbing rebounds and finishing powerfully at the rim on putbacks. He also can shoot the three which was the reason Magic and Rob really wanted him. The Lakers scored him through a trade down with Utah Jazz for two lower first round draft picks. This was the 28th pick they initially earned from the Nets in the D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov trade. Not bad. Thomas Bryant still enters into that crowded frontcourt and with Kyle Kuzma being most likely to crack the rotation first, he may have to wait his turn. Again, if Walton wants to go deep into his bench, Bryant may see perhaps a couple minutes to show what he can do. My expectations for Bryant is to soak up as much knowledge as he can and can provide a defensive and “energy guy” spark when his number is called.

 

Alex Caruso

caruso.jpg

Alex Caruso played his way into the hearts of the Lakers fans and the Lakers brass during Summer League, putting together some solid performances in place of the injured Lonzo Ball. His ability to hit the three and play a relatively clean game positioned as a reliable backup point guard. His height also gives him the ability to see over defenders to make great passes. We won’t go so far as to call him a hidden gem, but he did earn a two-way contract with the Lakers. Having said that, Caruso will most likely be a valuable contributor to the South Bay Lakers with his ear to the phone in case any of the backup point guards ahead of him get injured. Now let’s not rule out the fact that neither Ennis or Hart are guaranteed favorites over Caruso. He is in a similar boat of fighting to crack the rotation, but will probably have less of a chance than the aforementioned guards.

 

Vander Blue

blue

Being a G-League MVP is a lofty honor but doesn’t guarantee NBA success. However, Vander Blue at times seemed unstoppable in Summer League as he put up big numbers. Blue is a scorer if nothing else. He has the ability to create his own shot, although his finishing ability can improve drastically. Once he does clean that up and plays within the offense with a little more discretion, he can become a “microwave” type player off of the bench. Within this Lakers team, I find it very difficult for him to crack the rotation. Shooting guard is very crowded behind KCP and JC. This will be more of a wait and see situation. Given the minutes, Vander can be an instant offense kind of guy. I’d look for him to make another bid for his second G-League MVP (or first since it was D-League before)

The Lakers’ rotation may look like this for this coming season:

Starters from 1 – 5: Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Brook Lopez

Bench rotation: Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Luol Deng, Ivica Zubac, *Kyle Kuzma, *Tyler Ennis, *Thomas Bryant

*depends on how deep they go into their rotation

So there you have it, folks! If these Lakers individually meet or exceed expectations, this team will surprise the league and make strides towards contention heading into a very exciting 2018 offseason. Stay tuned!

 

Advertisements

Here We Go Again: Summer League Expectations from a Lakers Optimist (@SpectrumSN @LakersOptimist @Lakers)

July 7, 2017

0706_SPO_LDN-L-LAKERS-281SV.jpg

Well here we are again! Summer League! What’s familiar about this? Well for the last couple of years the Lakers have been actually favored to win it all…in Summer League. This is because of the Lakers grabbing #2 draft picks (Russell and Ingram) the last two years. The expectations somewhat fizzled by the end of each Summer League campaign.

The Summer League has begun with much fanfare once again. In many ways it’s the same. Lakers picked up very talented draft picks, yada, yada. So based on previous years, they’ll do okay and then fall short of the lofty expectations to dominate. Both Ivica Zubac and Lonzo Ball expect to dominate and win the whole thing. Brandon Ingram didn’t say as much, but came as the voice of reality saying that this is just Summer League.

As I mentioned, this is different. But why? It’s different because Lonzo Ball is not a “face-of-the-franchise” hopeful like D’Angelo Russell. He IS the face of the franchise. Brandon Ingram has a year under his belt is across the board considered to have no ceiling. He is also expected to be the team leader. Ivica Zubac wowed everyone in his debut last year and now has full year under his belt.  David Nwaba impressed in the latter part of last season defensively and is expected to develop into a lockdown defender. They’ve also added some solid pieces in Kyle Kuzma, Thomas Bryant and Josh Hart. These are very exciting players that many are looking forward to seeing them play extended minutes. This is also different because what you see on the Summer League court may very well be some of the combinations you see during the regular season. This also places value on actually dominating and winning during Summer League.

Having said all that, does winning the Summer League Championship mean ANYTHING? Yes! Ever since the changes that the Lakers have made, which include hiring Luke Walton and replacing Jim and Mitch with Magic and Rob, the goal has been to establish a winning culture. This means that Summer League does matter. The Lakers of Summer League must set the tempo for the season. Winning the championship sets the tone and affirms what everyone has been talking about. Surely, losing Summer League will get people talking…in a negative way. Yes, we watch Summer League to see how these guys look on the court and how they gel. It’s important to develop chemistry, camaraderie, etc. But it’s important for these Lakers to dominate and to prove a point. The mentality they must have is treat Summer League like the NBA Finals.

It’s a bright new day in Lakerland! The Lakers Optimists are revitalized and ready to see what the future holds for the Magic, Rob, Luke, Ingram and Ball era!

Magic and Rob Doin Work On the Eve of Draft Day 2017(@DanDuangdao @SpectrumSN)

June 21, 2017

Screen-Shot-2017-03-16-at-1_51_19-PM

Okay guys, I have to get this in super fast because by the time you read this, everything might change!

LakerNation is reeling in both a good and bad way after the Lakers traded away young budding superstar (or budding bust, depending on who you are) D’Angelo Russell to the Nets. Now this trade was mostly an attempted to dump the questionable massive contract that Timofey Mozgov had as he was also traded to the Nets. In return the Lakers received talented stretch 5 Brook Lopez and the Nets 27th draft pick in this year’s loaded draft class.

So there are a couple of ways to look at this. If this is the end of the trade action, then we have questions, right? Does this mean that the proverbial keys have been given to whoever they draft at number 2? This is widely expected to be Lonzo Ball. But that has not been guaranteed. It could be De’Aaron Fox although it’s been said that his lack of outside shooting prowess puts him at a disadvantage. Even so, this puts a great amount of pressure on whoever takes the reigns as point guard to do fill the void. If this is the end of the trades one can hope that this trade provides a great opportunity for Jordan Clarkson. Anybody who knows me knows that JC has been my pick for “next up” in Lakerland. His game was stunted by the drafting of Dloading. The media and the Laker’s brass considered him the possible face of the franchise and Clarkson was slighted in every way including coming off the bench last season. Clarkson, a true shooting guard, took over the reigns late in the season under Byron Scott and made a name for himself. His feisty, fearless attack and developing jump shot and on-ball defense makes him a great piece for the Lakers core…or trade bait. With a backcourt potentially being JC and Lonzo Ball, you have a great finisher and shooter and an amazing facilitator working together. Your frontcourt is Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram and Brook Lopez. Not bad.

However, various sources indicate that this is not the end of the trades. Lakers are reportedly trying to prepare a package sweet enough to trade for Pacers superstar Paul George. For those who missed it, Paul George reportedly told Indiana he would not return to Indy after next season and consider Lakers a top destination. Additionally, teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers have begun talking to Indiana prompting Magic and Rob to make every attempt to acquire Paul George so that he doesn’t re-up with a championship team. What this means is that nothing is sacred. The Lakers reportedly tried to trade down with the Sacramento Kings to obtain 2 picks and were rejected. In which case this now creates a volatile situation in which every Lakers young core player is up for grabs. By the end of this blog will Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson even be Lakers anymore? Will the Lakers even have their number 2 pick? Sources said that the #2 pick and Brandon Ingram were off limits…but now the #2 pick isn’t necessarily off limits anymore.

Opponents of the initial trade suggest that Dloading was going to be great and was considered one of the bright spots of last years dismal season. He improved greatly over the latter part of the season and put a 40 point game together on Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers. HIs cocky attitude, creative passing and quickly developing jump shot made him a shoe-in for the Lakers next superstar. The view is that Magic and Rob basically let him go for peanuts. This trade may be even more detrimental if they are not able to swing a deal for Paul George.

However, reports (and my girl Fax at the barbershop) say that Magic was not too impressed with D’Angelo Russell and that coach Luke Walton took issue with his work ethic. Perhaps the consensus was that he would not be the one that would take the reigns from Kobe. Further evidence was the fact that Brandon Ingram, not D’Angelo Russell, was considered “untouchable” in trade talks.

So we can’t necessarily “grade” this trade until we know what its finality is. What I can safely say is I thought D’Angelo Russell was going to be a great player. That being said, it was a good move if they intend on bringing in a quality point guard via the draft and also intend on getting Paul George without surrendering too much. At this point it looks like Magic and Rob are hell-bent on bringing in PG. I just hope that they do not completely gut this promising young core, thus leaving the Lakers with few pieces to support a superstar-caliber player.

From a financial standpoint we can applaud the Lakers brass for being able to finally unload Moz and his fat contract. This frees up the Lakers to offer max money to a superstar from the highly stacked 2018 free agent class. Rumors and reports have linked the Lakers to both Paul George and Lebron James as preferred destinations. The question is was Dloading really that expendable.

Of course we die-hard Lakers fans tend to attach ourselves to players whereas businessmen like Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka can detach.

Let’s just hope when the smoke clears, the Los Angeles Lakers are much better for it.

Stay tuned.

 

The Unfair Expectations of the Young Lakers

May 3, 2017

The Los Angeles Lakers have finished their first official rebuild season with Luke Walton at the helm. They cleaned house and brought in Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka in place of Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak. After a marginal improvement of 9 wins from last year and another lottery season, the question now looms whether or not these current Lakers can bring the purple and gold back to the NBA supremacy we’ve grown accustomed to.

Expectations were pretty decent for Julius Randle before he broke his leg in his Laker debut 2 seasons ago. They really skyrocketed for the highly touted number 2 pick D’Angelo Russell. They are definitely up there for their next number 2 pick the following season, Brandon Ingram. Sprinkle that with very wise picks (can’t hate on Mitch too much) Larry Nance Jr, Jordan Clarkson and Ivica Zubac and undrafted big man Tarik Black and you’ve got a young and talented squad.

But not talented enough to win championships. So can the Lakers faithful wait? Are they screaming, “superstar or bust”? 

Well let’s be honest, if the Lakers can manage to keep much of their core and bring in a superstar, we’re all for it. Paul George is obviously in the discussion. Free agents coming up include Gordon Hayward, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Kyle Lowry. Of course, you run the risk of getting a highly paid albatross contract that eats up your young core’s minutes and still can’t get the Lakers to be championship contenders.

So what about this young core? If they are not what they should be, and the perennial superstar doesn’t come waltzing through the door this off-season, then what? We wait. 

I believe this team is worth the wait and that expectations are unfair. Kobe Bryant did not become the Kobe we know and love for a few years. In his first three years he averaged less than 20 points. Furthermore he was surrounded by the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Eddie Jones, Nick Van Excel, Robert Horry– to name a few. He was also on a winning team, even winning 61 games at one point under Del Harris. Therefore, while Kobe was becoming Kobe, he was not counted on to lead the Lakers. Lastly, these Lakers were not rebuilding. This new group lacks any dominant veterans, is rebuilding and the pressure to become great lies squarely on the shoulders of Russell and company. Russell is entering his third year, Randle is technically entering his 3rd year and Ingram his 2nd. Using the Kobe logic, they should be doing some major damage in maybe a year or two. Or not. Either way, now is too early to expect greatness from this team.

Having said that, a healthy injection of veteran talent via a Kyle Lowry or Paul George can be great for a young core. That would propel this young team closer to the squads that Kobe played on as he became the official Black Mamba. As I’ve said before, this team is filling seats so the fans know they have something special. We also know that great players are created in the off-season. Magic said he expects his players to be in top shape coming into training camp. Perhaps they jump the learning curve going into next season. 

This Lakers team needs to see a vast improvement this year and next year as a collective. Individually, Clarkson is the “vet” going into his fourth year and should breakout. Russell and Ingram appear on the cusp of breaking out as well. Randle has addressed what he wants to work on. Bottom line is, the fans need to understand where this team is and be patient. Expectations will need to be tempered as they inch closer and closer back to basketball royalty.

Lakers Optimism? Of Course!

April 16, 2017

Brandon Ingram flushes the dunk on Pau Gasol

At the beginning of this Lakers season, promising a fresh start and a new culture, nobody thought we’d be back here again. Where is here? Pulling out the tanks and cheering the Lakers on openly, while quietly (well not so quietly. Have you SEEN Twitter?) praying for losses in order to keep their draft pick. 

Lakers finished the season 26-56, winning 9 games more than last year. However, as we tend to look at the present, that’s just AWFUL. The Lakers yet again will miss the playoffs for 4 straight years. So we can’t overlook the obvious. The Lakers still stink from a record and competing standpoint. 

So where’s the optimism?

Assuming the Lakers increase by 9 wins each year.

Let’s first look at trends. Am I reaching? Perhaps. The Lakers finished the season under Luke’s first year +9 in wins. If this trend was to continue, logically the Lakers would be official contenders by 2019. Even before then they would start to reach that playoff bubble by 2018 and be much more fun, competitive and tolerable by next season. 

We know that late in the season there were some very pivotal changes that took place which could very well increase that +9 win total.

1. New Regime: Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss were both unceremoniously booted from leadership and replaced with former sports agent Rob Pelinka and Lakers legend and saavy buinessman Magic Johnson. Immediately after Magic took the reins as head of basketball operations, he traded 6th man Lou Williams to Houston for a 1st round pick. They have gotten behind Luke Walton as the coach for many years to come and touted Brandon Ingram as their future superstar. Evidence of that is their refusal to trade him even for Demarcus Cousins.

2. The Emergence of the Youth: Once the Lakers surrendered to the lack of playoff contention, the youth movement began. The guys got BUSY. Brandon Ingram’s scoring numbers shot up, D’Angelo Russell put up big numbers and career highs. Ivica Zubac put up career high numbers, David Nwaba made a name for himself defensively and the kids just got better. The Lakers ended the season 5-1 in their last six games and featured some of the best highlights you would ever see from a losing team. Kobe Bryant is expected to work with Brandon Ingram this summer, and it would appear that all of Lakers players intend to improve over the summer.

Tank talks now aside, the Lakers have the 3rd worst record in the league and the potential to get a top 3 pick in what has been considered by many experts and scouts to be a loaded draft class. They will either add another strong piece in the draft or at least add a promising young prospect later in the first round if they lose out on the lottery. Remember that their draft pick is top 3 protected and could go to the Sixers if it falls to 4th or lower.

Unknowns remain, such as what kind of free agent, if any, the Lakers can entice. Nick Young has a player option and has expressed that he’d like be on a playoff contender next season. Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng did not meet expectations. Are they still a part of the Lakers future? Can one of the young Lakers have a breakout year next season?

One thing for sure, the summer once again remains very exciting and expect the Lakers to be newsworthy all summer long. These Lakers impressed the league and have put them on notice. That early successful start before the injuries was no fluke. Expectations will only rise. 

The question is will expectations be fulfilled.

Stay tuned.

Why These Tough Lakers Times are Very Different Than the Previous Years (@SpectrumSN @lakersreporter)

January 26, 2017

I know. The Lakers are 17 games under .500 and suffered the worst loss of the season to the worst team in the Western Conference a few days ago. They have one of the worst defenses in the league and can’t seem to string together consistent effort on the court. 

This may lead some of the Lakers faithful and experts to go, “How is this any different than last year? Or the year before that and the one before that? We still stink!”

I’ll give you that. At 16-33, there is good reason to consider this another awful lottery year with no hope in sight. However, there are plenty of reasons to see this much differently and even more reason to believe that this team will only get better AND faster than you think.

Here are the differences between this year and previous years:

 1. Not Trying to Win with Declining Stars: The Lakers in years past were working with a declining post-Achilles injury Kobe, an ailing Steve Nash and a mashup supporting cast that featured other declining stars including Carlos Boozer. They possessed vets that were not game-changing and young players that would warm the bench on other teams. Mike D’antoni faced this issue following Dwight’s dismissal of the Lakers brass along with that injury bug. Byron tried to build with Randle and Clarkson, but there was still the glaring Kobe effect, Boozer was a disappointment and he outright did not know how to coach Jeremy Lin. Kobe’s final year was unanimously considered a full on circus with the farewell hoopla to add insult to injury. Now the Lakers possess a group that is centered around rising stars who will only get better. Players like Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, to name a few, have high ceilings. Growing into contenders is a united focus from top to bottom and nothing else. Therefore losses are expected and almost welcome as they become learning opportunities. Nobody likes losing, but it makes more sense now. 

2. The Coach of the Future: Long before a promising and eye-catching 10-10 start, Coach Luke Walton said that he would not measure this team’s success by wins and losses. It would be more measured by whether or not they buy into and implement what the coaching staff is trying to accomplish on the court. Therefore, even as they deal with losses piling up, this is still the right coach for the job. The team has developed a respect for Luke and staff as evidenced by their effort early in the season and in spurts as of late. It is also reflected in their attitudes towards him. D’Angelo Russell has not complained when benched in the 4th quarter. He’s gotten Nick Young to play defense and has the team together even as they face these losses. The biggest blows to the team were injuries, youth and actually, success. 

3. Chemistry with the Young Core Has Improved and Will Continue to Improve: The team that loses together will win together. The Lakers’ young core have all made substantial improvements in their numbers from last year to this year, and Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac have moved up the learning curve quickly during their rookie years. We know some players can have a softmore jinx or start to plateau too early, but many of the players like Larry Nance Jr. and D’Angelo Russell have high ceilings and as a collective unit, they will become even stronger. You have to consider that the rookie and youthful mistakes will begin to dwindle as time progresses. One would hope this happens sooner than later. Examples of this are the OKC Thunder and Golden State Warriors’ recent core that became dominant over a few years after forgettable playoff-less seasons.

So even as they get pummeled by some teams, get close and then can’t hit shots at the end, and surprise the top contenders and pull upsets, we have to look at this season differently. We also look at it with the same cautious optimism. Certain shots that miss will start to go in. Defensive breakdowns will occur less and less and focus will remain for more than a few quarters.

Get used to it, fans. This is a rebuild and the foundation has been laid quite nicely.

Beating the Spurs: Keys for Tonight’s Lakers Game (@spectrumsn @espnnba @lakersnation)

January 12, 2017

lakers-spurs

Tonight the Lakers square off against the championship contending San Antonio Spurs. Last time these teams went at it, D’Angelo Russell was sitting out with knee soreness and the Lakers made the veteran team sweat a little by getting within 5 before Tony Parker’s “vetranism” took over and sealed the game. Poppovich couldn’t help but admire Luke Walton’s coaching ability and the scrappiness of this young Lakers team.

Tonight the Lakers get their rematch. In the backdrop of this game is the nasty taste the Lakers have in their mouths after a hugely disappointing and head-scratching loss to the Portland Trailblazers. This was punctuated by a scuffle between D’Angelo Russell and Damian Lillard and a 3rd quarter that featured uninspired shooting and even more uninspired defense. Also in the backdrop of this game is the fact that, in spite of this hiccup, the Lakers have been playing much better basketball as of late, going .500 in the month of January and winning games by an average of 19 points. Lastly, D’Angelo Russell is healthy and returning to form.

So can the Lakers actually beat the Spurs? Yes! Here’s how.

1. Run them. Even though the Spurs have some young guns of their own, they still pride themselves on slow offense and moving the ball. They still possess an older and slightly slower Tony Parker and Pau Gasol in their starting lineup. D’Angelo Russell has to make Tony Parker work, break down that defense and get open looks for his team. He must attack early and often. The bench must no doubt do the same thing. This team needs to be kept on their heels. It can’t hurt to actually force turnovers and get out in transition as well, thus nullifying their imposing presence in the paint.

2. Compete with their bigs. San Antonio boasts one of the best frontcourts in the game with Gasol, Aldridge and Leonard. This means that Mozgov, Randle and Deng need to seriously step up. The benefit of Mozgov is that he can stand alone in the paint and guard Pau without a need for a double team. Randle may have his hands full with Aldridge, but if he’s up for the task, he can make things hard for him and try denying him the ball. Offensively, Randle needs to attack Aldridge and force him to play some defense and even get him in foul trouble, thus making him a non-factor. Deng definitely has his work cut out for him with Leonard, but perhaps Luke will put Nick Young and even Brandon Ingram on him instead.

3. Buckets! Buckets! Buckets! This is definitely a game where the Lakers need not miss as many wide open looks as they did against the Trailblazers and perhaps that game was a fluke and not a trend. Especially in the 3rd quarter, they need to move the ball and not miss easy layups, open looks and free throws.

4. Magic numbers. Lakers need to hold San Antonio to 105 points maximum. They need 20-25 assists and they must keep their turnovers down to 11 or less, especially in the second half.

5. Bench. Last but not least, the Lakers bench must beat the Spurs bench soundly. This game needs Clarkson, Williams, Ingram, Black and Robinson to have great games and be extremely active and disruptive on the defensive end.

This is one of those games where you have to play a clean, near perfect game for 48 minutes in order to compete with a veteran and well coached team like the Spurs. But if they can follow this list, they will win and pull the “upset”. Once again, the effort given by this “Jekell and Hyde” Lakers team will determine whether or not they are turning a corner.

State of the Lakers After 41 Games: Have the Young Lakers Turned a Corner? (@spectrumsn @lakersnation @lakers @nbaonespn)

January 10, 2017
nick-young

Nick Young celebrates after draining a three point shot.

The Los Angeles Lakers are in what basketball experts and analysts term, “rebuilding”. As always, we briefly reminisce on how the Lakers once were not known for patience and rebuilding as opposed to quick retooling and reloading by way of a mega-signing or blockbuster trade. Blame the new CBA rules or the David Stern veto, but the Lakers now are forced to do things the conventional way: put together a young core with a few supporting veterans and… be… PATIENT!

 

So the Lakers brass over the last couple years went that conventional way, picking up Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson in the 2014 draft. Then they picked up D’Angelo Russell and Larry Nance Jr. (Anthony Brown too but waived him during pre-season this year…) in the 2015 draft.They then picked up Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac in the 2016 draft.  They also nabbed young bruisers Thomas Robinson and Tarik Black via training camp invite and signing off waivers. They then nabbed a few free agents that appear to be possible keepers over the last couple years to include gunner Nick Young, former 6th man of the year Lou Williams, serviceable point guard and sharpshooter Jose Calderon, International star point guard Marcelo Huertas, NBA Champion big man Timofey Mozgov and former all-star Loul Deng. Lastly, but not least, former defensive player of the year and NBA Champion Metta World Peace rounds out the Lakers rebuilding roster. Charged with the task of making something from this young group is Luke Walton, assistant Brian Shaw and company.

This young group jumped out to a 10-10 start which surprised everybody. Then injuries and perhaps a lack of focus caused a December that featured only 2 wins out of 15. This included a new enemy that plagued the Lakers— blown leads. Blown HUGE leads. 19 against Miami, 19 against Charlotte and 11 against Dallas. The Lakers begin January in better fashion, however, jumping out to a 3-2 record featuring a 3 game home winning streak and a 2 game winning streak overall. Furthermore they’ve managed to beat their opponents by an average of 19 points. They get a second crack at their next opponent, the Portland Trailblazers, yet another team they could have beaten if not for another blown double digit lead. (Heck, they could be 5-0 if not for blowing another double digit lead to Toronto in January as well). Having said all that, the Lakers sit at 15-26 at the halfway point of the season.

With all that in the backdrop, the question is have the Lakers turned a corner?

bi-dunk

Rookie Brandon Ingram goes above the rim.

 

The team seems to have come to terms that they must defend, rebound and attack for 48 minutes and have seemed to figure that out for 3 or their last 5 games. Young players like D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram are starting to find their groove. Nick Young has developed into a pretty good defender. They’ve seemed to have found something special in the rebounding, paint play and defensive prowess of the “Bruise Brothers” Tarik Black and Thomas Robinson in the absence of Larry Nance Jr. (they are doing this without Larry Nance Jr!). Furthermore, the starters have picked up their play to add to an already dangerous and NBA leading bench. This includes a resurgence of Luol Deng’s offensive output. In each of their wins, the Lakers are dishing out over 20 assists, they are holding opponents to an average of 99 points and they are also forcing turnovers and getting out in transition.

 

We may not be able to confidently say they’ve turned a corner until they can start racking up a few more consistent wins. Sitting just 3 games out of the 8th spot in the loss column, they have something to play for, in addition to Luke’s goal to simply focus on getting better and playing the way the coaching staff wants them to play. The Lakers have in fact developed an identity. Although they have failed to do it enough to close out games, the Lakers are one of the better teams in fast break points and points off turnovers. They are a quick team that relies on turnovers, transition and the 3 point shot. They are successful when they the move the ball and they get above the rim and dunk. The Lakers have earned the reputation of being “fun to watch”.

I’d like to see what they do in the next few games. If we’re looking at a team that can compete for that eight spot, we need to see a convincing win against Portland tonight. After that they will have another tough (but winnable) stretch that includes games against the Spurs, Clippers and Pistons. Following that stretch they have a potential 4 game winning streak against the Nuggets, Pacers, Mavericks and Blazers. If the Lakers can manage a minimum record of 5-3 over these next 8 games, we can talk turning a corner.

There are quite a few standouts over this January stretch and even throughout the latter part of December. This is by no means an exhaustive list. We saw Nick Young get record-setting white hot and then cool off. We saw Julius make his bid for the team leader with his triple double and inspired play on the defensive end. We’ve seen Larry Nance Jr. get the dunk of the year on Brooke Lopez. We’ve seen Clarkson get a little dog in him during his scuffle with Goran Dragic. We’ve seen Lou Williams take over games and shoot lights out. We’ve also seen the improbable quick maturation of Brandon Ingram, who at this pace, may actually overtake all the players for the star of this team.

I’ve said too much. I can be longwinded at times. However, it takes no rocket scientist or NBA expert to see that this Lakers team is far ahead of the schedule. With only 17 wins TOTAL last year. Lakers have 15 early in January. They are 3 games out of the playoff picture. They are good enough to take double digit leads on any team AND good enough to blowout any team (see Golden State and Memphis). Let’s enjoy this young exciting team and see where the month of January takes us.

Next up is payback against Portland!

Expectations for the Young Lakers Changing So Soon? (@lakersreporter @lakeshow @lakersnation)

December 14, 2016

Coach Luke Walton ejected from the last game against the Sacramento Kings

Without beating the proverbial dead horse on what everybody thought the Lakers would do versus what they actually have done to this point, let’s cut to the chase–

The Lakers are 10-17 and have lost seven straight games.

Adversity strikes the young Lakers and the young coach who has garnered much praise which included whispers of coach of the year consideration. Adversity strikes a young core that shocked the NBA with a improbable 7-5 start. The Lakers are losing games and more recently they are not competing in a few of them. During a couple of these games, we actually have seen them kind of, dare I say…give up.

We attributed it confidently to injuries and calmly suggested that the Lakers would resume their sharp climb up the learning curve once guys come back. The Lakers are far from 100% with Tarik Black (ankle) and Jose Calderon (hamstring) both just being cleared to practice today. However, both Nick Young and D’Angelo Russell have returned to action as of their game against the Knicks and they lost a close one 118-112. Okay, they were both eased into the lineup on a minute restriction which would be slowly removed as the games progressed. They then were embarrassed by the Sacramento Kings (I hate losing the Sacramento Queens) after a nauseating 3rd quarter. One alarming stat was the 3rd quarter letdown that typified the Lakers last season (uh-oh). The Lakers gave up 39 points in that quarter and eventually lost 116-92.

The Lakers have become very rudimentary in their understanding of defensive execution over the last several games. During the 2 games with their starting backcourt back on the floor they gave up 118 and 119. Previously they gave up 119 and 134. If you watch the games, there are several breakdowns resulting in layup lines. They are failing to rotate out to the shooters giving up open looks and for crying out loud— they can’t give a hard foul to save their lives! This young team knows what good defense looks like because in the wins they’ve had, they made key stops and forced turnovers. They scored enough to make teams pay for missing and then they were no pushover on the defensive. Right now they are awful and giving up career highs to opponents.

So is this team the one that everyone thought they would be before the season began or the team that were said to be able to fight for that 8th spot?

The latter.

We have to remember that this is a young team. Young teams are quite emo and that can be a challenge when certain levels of adversity create a distraction. Without the injuries, all they had to worry about was making adjustments with the same unit and rotations. Once they caught on, they moved quickly up the learning curve. After the myriad of injuries, inconsistent rotations and damaged chemistry things changed. This is a distraction that would shake a young team just a little. Plus we can’t go and say this team is just as bad as predicted when they just showed what they can do when healthy. The sample size of 12 more games with Russell and Young back in the lineup would have to be used. They’ve only played 2. If they do worse than 7-5 after the remaining 10, you might have a legitimate point. 

What should and needs to happen is the Lakers have to get back comfortable with the rotations once again and then defensive rotations and effort will begin to develop. It’s difficult to play hard and play confused at the same time. 

That being said, there should be a dramatic improvement in performance in tonight’s match-up against the Nets where they need to be ON POINT with their rotations against a 3-point happy team. I’m sure Jeremy Lin would love to stick it to his former team too.

So again I say, relax Lakers fans. 10th in the West after a 7 game losing streak is still very hopeful and I expect the Lakers to return to early season form on this road trip.

Enjoy tonight’s game!

 

The Lakers Experience Early Growing Pains…Literally

December 8, 2016
randle

Julius Randle had another double-double, with 21 points and 10 rebounds in yesterday’s loss.

The Lakers are 10-14. Considering what was to be expected of this young Lakers team after 24 games, we have reason to be excited and hopeful. However, as of late, the Lakers have met a familiar foe that has been victorious over the last few years. It marred the genius of Mitch Kupchak in putting together a superteam of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol with an early injury to Steve Nash, a nagging shoulder injury to Dwight Howard and the season-ending Achilles injury to Kobe Bryant. The following year it continued when a then 10-9 Laker team that was clicking on all cylinders with their “Bench Mob” saw their bench and starters slowly go down one by one. So battered were these Lakers that they ended up with a D-league unit on the court. The Byron Scott years were marred by more than injuries, but you get the point.

Which brings us to today. On November 18th the Lakers began a tough stretch with a home game against the San Antonio Spurs. From game to game, the Lakers have been forced to juggle the lineup with the following injuries racking up in just a short time – D’Angelo Russell (knee), Julius Randle (hip pointer) who has returned, Nick Young (out at least 2 more weeks with a strained calf), Larry Nance Jr. (sat out a few games with a knee contusion) who is slowly coming back, Tarik Black (ankle sprain) who is day to day and Jose Calderon (out 3-5 weeks with a strained hamstring). To be perfectly blunt, the team that had the whole NBA taking notice is somewhat of a patchwork due to these injuries to both key starters and bench players.

Although the Lakers have managed to fight and somehow stay afloat, it seems the injuries have begun to take its toll. The Lakers have lost 9 of their last 12 and are on a 4 game skid. And why wouldn’t it take a toll? The Lakers have been fighting without their starting backcourt (consider Golden State without Curry and Thompson or Washington with Beal and Wall). Their claim to fame has been their bench which has become depleted with on and off losses of Nance Jr. and Tarik Black and the recent loss of Jose Calderon. Their athleticism has been diminished, especially in the starting lineup. Furthermore, I don’t care who you have on your team, chemistry is still paramount. There isn’t much opportunity for that with these forced lineup changes. So the Lakers have a legitimate excuse for being shorter on talent at the moment.

But…let’s not remove ALL of the blame from these Lakers. The Lakers still have yet to fully commit to defense for 4 quarters, giving up about 112 points a game over their last 12. Since they are unable to put up big numbers with key guys out, this becomes an even bigger issue. They’ve had a few clean games, but they still have yet to keep their turnovers 10 or less. Teams are turning them over and getting out in transition. When you are depleted, the last thing you want to have to do is chase the opposing team all night after they’ve stolen a bad pass. This is the thing that Coach Luke Walton is stressing. For the most part, this team has really competed. However, as of late they’ve laid a few too many eggs against Houston, Golden State and Toronto. They’ve also failed to execute early in games and are not able to turn that last minute comeback into a victory.

Give the coaching staff credit in keeping the guys focused and keeping them from getting down on themselves. In a recent interview with Larry Nance Jr. after the loss to Houston, Larry highlighted how they need to “let this one sting” and then move on to the next game. These Lakers have the right attitude. We do have to remember that they are young and many of these guys have never experienced such adversity. This is actually a good thing to experience early in the season however. Given that the Lakers do return to full strength in the new year, we could see them reel off a few 3 and 4 game winning streaks at a time.

Right now, the Lakers have to really put a serious focus on the defensive end. 134 points is just awful. Even so, if you take a look around the league, this is now the standard. Teams are shooting lights out and several different teams are getting blown out by 20 or more on a given night. This is the trend of the league now. So this isn’t just a Lakers thing. What the Lakers will need to do is insure that they can force the opposing teams to play ugly. They need to play physical, have active hands and get back on defense. Their opponents must average no more than 95 points.

This stretch offers a couple of opportunities. It offers an opportunity for guys like Brandon Ingram and Thomas Robinson to really step up. It also offers and opportunity to hone their defensive ability. This will set the stage for a very strong unit once the guys get back.

The fans and media have seen that this team is clearly on the bubble for that 8th and final playoff spot when healthy. With that in mind, this is time to keep watching the games and cheering your team on. Be patient with your Lakers. The future is still very bright.

Let’s see if they can get back on track against the Phoenix Suns on Friday.