Archive for the ‘nba’ Category

It’s Come to This? Trades, Noise and Luke.

January 12, 2018

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Okay, Lakers fans, welcome to another episode in the drama that is the Los Angeles Lakers. As the Lakers breathed a 2 second sigh of relief upon snapping a 9 game losing streak against the hapless Atlanta Hawks and then followed it up with a sound beating of the Sacramento Kings, headlines and rumors are at an all time high. Players are rumored to be on the trading block, fans are panicking and Luke Walton has gone from savior to scapegoat only 40 games into the season.

At 13-27, it’s not unreasonable for the Lakers brass to be looking at what’s working and what isn’t. It’s not unreasonable for Lakers fans to wonder if there is something that could have been done better up to this point. It’s not unreasonable for players to question their job security. It’s not unreasonable for media to dismiss this as another lost season for a young team trying to find its way.  Lastly, it’s not unreasonable for the rumor mill and the “white noise” as Lakers players call it, to ensue.

With all this going on, it’s important to sort through the real, the noise and what remains to be seen. This is what we will take a look at briefly.

The Lakers are currently expected to be big players in the trade market. Why? The biggest reason is because of the desire to maintain as much salary as possible to pick up top-tier free agents. With that being said, anybody who is not a game-changer and is tying up this money is a trade target. Unfortunately, Jordan Clarkson is at the top of the list. Knowing that he alone would not be as appetizing, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. have also been placed on the trading block as well. I am notorious for getting attached to players that started their career with the Lakers and have endured the rough times (I still shed a tear when I think about Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel and Elden Campbell). Having said that, in order to get over the hump, the Lakers may have to make these tough decisions which involve sending some of our favorites off. Clarkson has proven to be a potential spark off the bench. Perhaps given a real opportunity, he could start at the 2 on another team. He would have owned that spot if not for the signing of KCP. Julius Randle has made a strong case for keeping him as a part of the Lakers future plans by his play over the last few games as a starter. By virtue of Brook Lopez’s ability to stretch the floor, big men have to stay out of the paint, leaving Julius a flimsy 4 to try to stop him. Larry Nance Jr. still stays in the glue guy roll and is very talented at rebounding and defense, but offensively still has not given much in the way of consistency outside of finishing ally-oops and putback dunks.

Magic and Rob would love to get better right away; however, cap space takes precedence at this point. With that in mind, I still don’t expect them to tamper with the team too much or even give up any of these guys without getting something beneficial in return. This is all speculation. The Lakers know they need shooting. That is the one thing that would open it up for them. I personally feel they still have a need at center until I see Brook Lopez do what he’s done over the last two games consistently. Brook should be an easy 18-20 points and 2-3 blocks per game or we look elsewhere.

What are we going to do with all the noise? LaVar, the media and the impatient Lakers fans are all yelling at fever pitch and this young team has to deal with this on a regular basis. Lonzo comes with all the Ball-isms, his father is very outspoken and the media loves it. The media plays up every single good or bad move that Lonzo makes. The team had a team meeting and that was taken out of proportion. Fans and pundits are going for Luke Walton’s head on a stick as the Lakers struggle to get wins. Fortunately for this Lakers team, they are stable. Jeanie is confident in Magic and Rob. Jeanie, Magic and Rob are confident in Luke. Luke is confident in his management and his team. Therefore his team is confident. The unanimous team message is to ignore all the white noise. For a moment, at least, the Lakers have done that and soundly beat two lowly teams and seem poised to plug along.

Luke Walton is a coach for the Los Angeles Lakers. Many have tried and many have failed to handle the lights, glamour and the pressure of the “win-now” atmosphere of Tinseltown. Here lies the graves of Mike Brown, Mike D’Antoni (no love for Mikes, huh?) and Byron Scott who became L.A.’s most hated after trying to Phil some big shoes. Luke Walton is easily one of the most liked Lakers and people you’ve ever met. With the honeymoon period over, Lakers fans have now become extremely picky to a fault. As the Lakers are in the midst of a losing season, everything Luke’s done has come into question. I’ve seen tweets that will nitpick each and every player rotation. I’ve seen “Fire Luke” tweets on several occasions. But are these statements fair?

I’ve always said that a coach can be measured by their ability to get the most out of a team lacking talent and to get a talented team over the hump. We’ve seen Luke take a talented team to 24-0 (and NO that’s not something that ANYBODY could do with a team like Golden State). Does Luke have a talented team? Yes and no. They are talented, but young. Luke is coaching a team that are actually carrying out what he is teaching, but are still learning how to do it for 48 minutes. Many of the issues this team has are very normal for a young team. As Kyle Kuzma has said, Luke isn’t the one missing free throws (which is the largest reason they’ve lost quite a few games this season). Luke isn’t turning the ball over and many of these are just bonehead plays. Luke also isn’t giving up offensive rebounds. So for that, Luke cannot and should not be blamed. This young team will start to fix those issues and start to turn those losses into wins.

Luke’s issue up to now has been the inability to settle on a rotation. Is this a reason to fire Luke? Of course not! If you’re losing games, you can either stick with this unit until they get better or scrap it until you find a group that actually wins games. As of today, Luke has stuck with a rotation that has won 2 straight. I have no doubt that if they win or compete well tonight, he will stick with this rotation. Also, at full strength, it now becomes easier to finalize a rotation. Furthermore, let’s be honest here, Luke is also a 2nd year coach. Many people with credibility from Steve Kerr to Greg Poppovich to Kobe Bryant have stated that he can and will become a great NBA coach. You have to believe that as his young team grows, this young coach will also grow and this team will be dangerous.

So in true Lakers Optimist fashion, I remind LakersNation to look at this season, team and organization a little differently — with patience. This year is very different. Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram will be your next big 3. Luke Walton will be your next great coach and parades and banners are really closer than you think.

Lakers Optimist out.

 

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Lakers: What’s Right, What’s Wrong and What’s Questionable.

December 29, 2017

We are now 33 games into the season and the Los Angeles Lakers are 11-22. They have sustained a rough stretch in which they’ve gone 6-17 since their 5-5 start. What’s more, they’ve faced a 6th man that not many teams can beat- injuries. Nance sat out games with an injury before returning, Lopez sustained a severe ankle sprain that has him sidelined for a few weeks. Lonzo has a shoulder sprain that is to be reevaluated next week. Ingram sat out two games with a quad injury and Kuz is a game time decision with a injury. The Lakers are in a pivotal stretch that can either result in yet another flat season or become a moment where Lakers show resiliency and end up vying for the 8th spot. 

Let’s take a moment to examine what’s right, what’s wrong and what’s questionable in Tinsel town.

What’s Right: The kids are getting it. Lonzo Ball started off doing everything but scoring. He has been pulling down about 8 boards a game, dishing out 8 assists and swatting and stealing 1 a piece. His point production and shooting percentage was dismal early. Lately he’s been hitting, especially from three at about a 40% clip. His game has proven necessary as he is the calming force and the driving force that pushes the fast pace that Luke wants. Kyle Kuzma has simply seemed unstoppable, posting 30 point outings twice in the past week and even dropped a career high 38 in a recent game. His ability to create and out right score has caught the attention of media, coaches and the Black Mamba himself. Brandon Ingram is taking, and making, clutch shots and at 16 a game is becoming the player Magic and company believes he could be. His insane ability to get into the paint and draw fouls has CJ McCollum saying he’s gonna be a problem. Led by these guys, the Lakers have a bright future and a definite big 3 in the making. Supporting cast, Clarkson and Randle have made huge bench contributions. Kentavious Caldwell Pope continues to anchor the defense and can help when hot from 3. Nance has consistently proven to be a glue guy, defender, rebounder and highlight reel. 

The Lakers at one point was a top 10 defense and continues to push the pace in transition. They have gone toe to toe with elite teams and recently spanked the Houston Rockets. In spite of their 11-22 record, the coaching staff have enough confidence to change their focus from simply learning how to play right to actually winning games. The mentality is of a team that expects to win and for good reason.

What’s Wrong: The Lakers still have issues that are standard with young teams. They make horrible mistakes down the stretch and have coughed up close games several times this season. Many losses have come in the closing minutes. The team struggles with turnovers, especially in crucial moments. New and even more disturbing is the Lakers inability to hit free throws. It seems that minor fixes can easily make this team a threat over the next several games; however, the young Lakers have also tended to play down to the level of their opponent. They will play Golden State into an overtime battle and then drop a clunker against the lowly Memphis Grizzlies. 

With salary cap status an obvious focus for the Lakers brass, the notorious names Clarkson and Randle have once again resurfaced as the February trade deadline looms. We can safely say that this roster may not be the same after February. For the kids this is a distraction and cannot be overlooked as another “bad”. 

What’s Questionable: Don’t get it twisted. I’m not jumping on the “fire Luke Walton” bandwagon by any stretch. Anybody watching the games can see a severe inconsistency in the game to game rotations, however. What’s more, we know it’s being partially done intentionally because he’s said so and also has highlighted the search for the right combination on the court. Case in point, Julius Randle can either enter the game early in the 1st quarter, or late in the 2nd. Same with Nance. Some guys don’t even play full games after coming off the bench the game before. Starters have been roughly consistent prior to injury and the emergence of Kuzma. The issue is clear. Maybe I don’t know much, but a rotation should be set no matter what to build chemistry which the Lakers lack. The fact that he openly highlights an enjoyment of tinkering with the rotations is a little disconcerting. We’ve got to assume that eventually they’ll have a set rotation following the trade deadline. They have quite a bit of talent, and the question is can Luke effectively integrate them all. Until then, this is questionable. 

Something else questionable is the erratic shooting of KCP. Kentavious has become the epitome of, “No! No! No! Yes!” as he’s been streaky and has hit timely shots. His defense is invaluable, but when he’s cold and continues to jack up awful shots, this becomes questionable. Also questionable is the management of Randle. It seems that he is in someone’s dog house. His minutes are obscenely low for someone so effective in the paint and with such game-changing ability. So is he not fitting in the Lakers future plans and therefore being phased out? Time will tell, but this is also questionable. 

Overall, the Lakers are in a good place. The core is developing quite nicely and the team is exciting and competing every night. As they start to get their guys back, particularly Lonzo Ball, and the schedule gets a little bit easier (not playing championship contenders back-to-back) I can see them starting to rack up more wins. Losses to Blazers and Grizzlies recently are pull-out-your-hair frustrating, but they’ll learn to win as the season progresses.

Stay tuned, Lakers fans! This is gonna get interesting…

What We’ve Learned about the Lakers After 3 Games

October 26, 2017

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The Lakers have had a very eventful and promising off-season, Summer League and preseason. The New-era Lakers hype train has taken off at full speed and the expectations, albeit tempered, have reached meteoric heights.

For those who may have been under a rock, let me give you a recap. Magic and Rob replaced Kupchak and Jimmy. Lakers drafted highly-touted UCLA star Lonzo Ball. He became the biggest out-of-college celebrity to never play an NBA game. Lakers traded D’Angelo Russell for Brook Lopez and a 27th pick. They signed young defensive stopper Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Lakers young guns took the Summer League Championship. Lonzo won MVP and 27th draft pick Kyle Kuzma won the Summer League Championship game MVP and averaged over 20 points a game. The hype continued to build in spite of a lukewarm preseason and now here we are three games in. People are already talking, and because it’s the Los Angeles Lakers, everything is magnified.

The Lakers laid an egg in the season-opener, got bounced around in the paint by Blake Griffin, Deandre Jordan and the Clippers. Patrick Beverly gave Lonzo Ball an official rookie hazing and trial by fire, holding him to 3 points and basically bullied him up and down the court. Even so, Ball pulled down 9 rebounds and even had a steal and a block. Lopez opened with a 20 point game and Clarkson continued to be steady off the bench with 18 points. Nance had an impressive debut with a double double.

The Lakers were able to turnaround and pull out a win against the Suns. Lonzo made up for his debatable opening night failure with a near triple double. He had 29 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists. This game saw Brandon Ingram breakout to a career high 25 points. Clarkson, Lopez and Nance stayed consistent.

The third game of the season featured the debut of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who did not disappoint with 20 points 2 steals and a block. Kuzma broke out with 20 points and Clarkson was business as usual with 24 points. The Lakers lost this one by 7, but almost pulled off an improbable comeback after trailing by as many as 22. Lonzo Ball had an off shooting night, but the statsheet stuffer still dished out 13 assists and had 8 rebounds.

The Lakers sit at 1-2. Fans and media have weighed in (because I suppose they have to) on everything from whether Lonzo is legit to whether Randle is just trade bait or a great player figuring things out.

So, even though it’s early. What have we learned?

Jordan Clarkson is STILL the man. Hate it or love it, you cannot deny that Jordan Clarkson is still Mr. Consistent. Even with demotion (which I still take issue with), he has been the most consistent Lakers player ever since he came on the scene. He has started off this season no different. It seems he relishes his role off the bench although one can validly argue that he should start somewhere. His mid-range is money. He can get to the basket and create. He is developing that 3 point shot, and low-key he is starting to be more active on defense.

Kyle Kuzma is destined to get more minutes. Luke has a dilemma of sorts. Kyle Kuzma has not been denied since Summer League. He is officially the steal of the draft. He has a motor like Randle and a jumpshot. He has ups similar to Nance and can create his own shot. It won’t be long before he threatens to takeover the starting spot. Luke knows he has to find major minutes for Kuz, even at the expense of other big men.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is as good as advertised. It’s just one game, but once chemistry develops, KCP will no doubt mesh well with Lonzo Ball. His 20 points and 2 steals will be a huge boost to the Lakers defense. I even may expect KCP to guard Wall in tonight’s game against Washington.

Josh Hart will get more minutes than Ennis. Josh Hart seems to be the next energy guy who will make his presence felt in ways that do not show up on the stats. His rebounding, energy and ability to attack the rim and hit the three puts him ahead of players like Tyler Ennis. The shooting guard position off the bench is still relatively up for grabs and he looks to grab those minutes if he bolsters the defense the way he did against N.O.

Lonzo Ball is going to be great. Lonzo’s ability to affect a game even when he’s not scoring is why he’s going to be a star. When he’s not scoring, he is pulling down 9 rebounds, dishing out 13 assists or getting steals and blocks. The fact that it’s only the third game of the season and he’s almost averaging a triple double is evidence enough. He just needs time. I expect him to move up the learning curve quickly. He has no choice with the NBA coming for his head on a nightly basis.

Chemistry still pending. Relax guys. The Lakers had a preseason without Lopez, without Bogut, without Ball. They started the season without KCP. Then they got him back. Luke is still looking for the right mix of guys that can get results. Sunday’s game shed some light on that. Hopefully they can settle on a rotation that lasts for at least 5 games and develop some chemistry.

The jury is still out on Randle. Julius spent the first 2 games somewhat offended that he had to come off the bench. In the 3rd game, he showed what he can do when he’s engaged. Although Nance has seemed to takeover that starting spot, Randle still can find his stride if he picks up where he left off in the 3rd quarter of the last game. He still needs to find his jumpshot too.

If we throw out the Clippers game where nerves were definitely there, the Lakers actually had some pretty good games. They found their defense in the 2nd half of the Pelicans game, allowing 41 points after giving up 68. What we will be looking for tonight against Washington is if they learned that they should play this way for 48 minutes, and especially at the beginning.

Look for Luke and staff to take notes from the last game and start to develop effective rotations. Look for Ball to make up for a poor shooting night. Look for Brook and Nance to also try to have better games. Also look for continued improvement from Brandon Ingram who still hasn’t been himself yet.

Stay tuned, Lakers fans!

 

What Should We Expect from Each Lakers Player This Season?

August 2, 2017

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 

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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 

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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(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

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“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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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!

 

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

June 21, 2017

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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

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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
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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?

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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!