Posts Tagged ‘Jordan Clarkson’

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.

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!

Off-Season Decisions: Who To Keep?

June 5, 2016

Decisions, decisions! The Lakers brass have to know that they can’t keep everybody on this roster– nor would they WANT to.

The Lakers know for sure that they have a young core that will receive a #2 draft pick to add to it. They intend to dip into that 60 million plus to pick up some quality free agents or a big fish (i.e. Durant, Whiteside). With all that in mind, the Lakers had some players that were bright spots in a dark season. They had some let-downs and some guys that simply felt the sting of an awkward Kobe-farewell riddled season. There are also guys that have overstayed their welcome wearing the purple and gold.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. We know that Anthony Brown is staying. Jordan Clarkson wants to stay. Kobe is gone. Nance, Randle and Russell are here for the long haul.

So we have for sure Brown, Clarkson, Russell, Nance and Randle.

So let’s talk about the remaining 9 Lakers on the fringe. Let’s discuss who the Lakers should try to keep and who they should trade, waive or just not resign.

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Brandon Bass was the most consistent player on this team. He was a bully in the post and cleaned the glass night in and night out. He also did a pretty decent job on defense. He probably had a career year and can be a perfect bench piece for a championship team. The problem with Brandon Bass is the Lakers have that in Tarik Black who just couldn’t find the minutes due to the logjam at that position.

Verdict: I don’t think Bass wants to return anyway. However, it might be better to make room for Tarik Black to fill that role with the rest of the young core. 

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Tarik Black was pretty efficient as an undersized center in Byron’s first year as Lakers head coach. However he somehow managed to get in Scott’s doghouse for much of the following season. He also lost minutes in favor of Brandon Bass and Julius Randle. Black showed much of the same offensive and defensive prowess as Bass. He is a terrific finisher off pick and rolls and has a great motor. The question with Black is can he pickup where he left of the season before last and add some outside shooting to his repertoire. Playing under Luke Walton in a more fast-paced offense can lead to many highlight dunks.

Verdict: Lakers should keep Black and hopefully Luke will find a way to work him into the rotation as a key component of this young core.

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Roy Hibbert was brought in to adress a dire need for a rim protector. Byron’s instructions were to rebound and defend. What he didn’t know was that he would be forced to make up for an awful perimeter defense that allowed consistent dribble penetration. Hibbert was forced to help while receiving no help himself. He was not asked to be a featured scoring option so we can’t blame him for that. Nor can we blame him for being just a few years past his prime as he got schooled consistently by the Whitesides and Deandres on a nightly basis.

Verdict: I’d let him go and either see what you can get on the free agent market or who on your roster can fill that role as center.

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Marcelo Huertas dazzled us with pretty passes and intelligent plays during the pre-season. Then he went into Scott’s doghouse in favor of defense, before returning to pre-season form and finishing the year strong. He has a calming and cerebral approach similar to the great Steve Nash. He definitely has a place in the NBA. Pop is probably waiting for Lakers to drop the ball on this guy. The problem with Marcelino is he can be somewhat of a liability on defense (Like Steve Nash). However, that can be trumped by how he can potentially feast in Luke’s system.

Verdict: Make sure you keep this kid. He can and will be a part of a competitive NBA team.

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Ryan Kelly had his best year under D’antoni as a stretch four. Byron took the reigns and tried the failed experiment of placing him at the five. In Byron’s last year Kelly started the pre-season attacking the basket and looking really good. Defensively challenged, he was forced out of the rotation and never really recovered. At his best he is a stretch four that can finish at the rim. At his worst he is a poor shooter and a so-so defender. The problem with Kelly is do we wish to play the game and see which one shows up?

Verdict: With the Lakers loading up on bigs through the draft and free agency, it’s time to move on from this kid and see if a change of scenery will do him some good (And let’s hope that doesn’t come back to bite us).

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Robert Sacre plays his heart out. He fights on defense, he has a decent jumpshot and uses all six of his fouls on defense. He’s a locker room guy. The problem is has he peaked? Is this all there is? What can Luke do with this kid to make him a solid contributor?

Verdict: I was surprised last year when he was still on the team. It’s time to let him try his luck with another team.

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Lou Williams is a beast.  He lit up OKC for over 40 points and shouldered much of the scoring load consistently throughout the year when healthy. The former 6th man of the year made a bid for future star of LA, post-Kobe. He has a killer jump shot and can create his own shot. He couldn’t truly be the man sharing the spotlight with Kobe. I see no downside with Lou, other than whether or not he wishes to be a part of a rebuild once more.

Verdict: Along with Marcelo Huertas, he can really light it up off the bench. Under Luke Walton and under normal circumstances, Lou can return to bid for 6th man of the year. Try to keep him.

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Metta World Peace was kept as an on the floor coach and locker room mentor. However, when he went in the game the complexion on defense changed. He still has it. Although offensively he’s seen better days. Of course I never could understand why Scott never just stuck him in the post to bully the smaller weaker 3’s on the opposing teams. Metta is defense and can be a locker room mentor for this young team. The problem is do you have space to keep him there?

Verdict: This is tough. Invite him to training camp and see what you have when it’s time to make cuts. He still has a couple good years in him in short bursts off the bench and provides a player with championship experience.

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Nick Young never could find his footing with coach Byron Scott to say the least. Not sure who’s fault that was. Then they were losing. Then D’Angelo Russell happened. Now the Lakers are faced with a few questions. One, is he and Russell going to be able to coexist? Two, can he clear the baggage from his head and return to Swaggy P form? Three, can his fire-at-will game fit Luke’s strategy? At his best, Nick can light it up. But will Luke have Nick and Lou work together off the bench or do they have to pick one or the other (hint: it would be Lou).

Verdict: If you can’t ship him out in a package deal with Kelly and Sacre, let’s see what Luke can conjure up to make him an integral part of this new era.

So there you have it. Most likely heading into training camp I see the following team:

Anthony Brown – SF
Jordan Clarkson – SG/PG
D’Angelo Russell – PG
Julius Randle – SF/PF
Larry Nance Jr. – PF/C
Tarik Black – PF/C
Marcelo Huertas – PG
Lou Williams – SG
*Metta World Peace – SF
*Nick Young – SF/SG

*tentative

The Lakers will not be done seeking deals and adding free agents. This will look much different before training camp begins. Stay tuned.

It’s an exciting off-season as the Los Angeles Lakers try to right the ship and return back to winning ways.

The Curious Case of Byron Scott

November 24, 2015

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The Lakers fans were nothing short of jubilant when they heard that Mike D’antoni was no longer the head coach. Even Magic Johnson voiced his satisfaction. Following a “coaching search” they brought in Laker legend Byron Scott. There was an air of excitement and a sense that winning would begin. More importantly, there was a sense that defense would return. D’antoni represented that offensive mastermind where defense took a backseat. Defense was energy rather than X’s and O’s. The best defense was a good offense. Byron represented that old-fashioned basketball where defense wins championships and threes help, but don’t win it for you. We saw the sideline commentary about how Mike misused his bigs and the jury was always out on whether or not he coached defense and, if nothing else, Byron had us all salivating for his hire and this return to the winning ways Laker fans were used to.

And now?

Lakers finished last season 21-61. Ok. We’ll not beat a dead horse. The team was horrible on paper and injuries and blah blah. Now we are at the first 13 games of the young 2015-2016 season and the Lakers, revamped, healthy and brimming with talented raw youth are 2-11. 2 wins and 11 LOSSES. The winning culture can only be proven by winning and these Lakers are not doing so. Kobe is an average player now who cannot hit his patented fall away and hovers around the three point line where he misses badly. Not his fault. He’s probably playing his last year. The young core of Russell, Clarkson and Randle have yet to gel. The vets are playing hard but none are dominant. And yes, the defense still stinks. When the defense does do decent job, the offense sputters.

But this isn’t about the players. This is about Byron. A coach who has to process multiple storylines: A superstar in his last year who is struggling to find his game. A 1st round number 2 pick finding his footing and his way to superstardom. A young core that is intended to be the future big 3. A group of talented veterans looking to support this core. A desire to win at all costs and return to championship contention. A desire to patiently develop the youth into winners. Then you have to coach under these circunstances and WIN under the scrutiny that comes with being a Los Angeles Laker.

Perhaps the only thing that stops the questions and the scrutiny is winning. Nobody questions a winning coach. Nobody really complained about Phil. Nobody hated on D’antoni in Phoenix’s dominant days. But Byron is not winning. Unfair? Yes. But when you are losing, then the question becomes why? Perhaps Byron loves defense. What NBA player or coach doesn’t know defense wins championships? But coaching defense is another ballgame. Can he coach defense? There is an art to this that Poppovich, Phil and Thibideau among others know. Does he know it? Why are we so hung up on the Princeton offense? This offense got Mike Brown canned a few years ago. Perhaps at it’s best execution it’s not what this team needs right now.

I look at this roster and I fail to see how this team is not at least 5-6. There is too much talent even for a rebuilding squad. Perhaps like Jeremy Lin once did as a Laker, Byron is thinking too much on this. He should just coach. Forget about all the talk and storylines. Play to win. The rookies will develop. They don’t need 40 plus minutes to do so. Stop being nice to Kobe. If he’s cold, sit him down. Leave that Princeton offense alone and let them play and move the ball.

Media won’t say that Byron is on the hotseat. My view is to give him the talent. If he still can’t win, this might not work. I think he has the talent. Now it’s time to see some wins. Anything less than 40 wins is a failure.

Byron, you’re on.

State of the Lakers: The Youth Movement

January 27, 2015

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We started off the season with Laker Optimist hopes. We had a rising star in Julius Randle– the face of the future. We had seasoned veterans Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash to lead. We had a gameplan implemented by coach Byron Scott to focus on defense. We added Jeremy Lin to bolster the backup point guard position. Swaggy P returned to provide scoring punch from the bench. I liked the Lakers to be a 6-8th seed and I was excited.

Then the season began. Then the injuries happened. Then the losses piled up. Lost Nash. Lost Randle.

We saw a team that couldn’t quite find a way to play defense. They have flashes of brilliance, but continued to falter in the 3rd and 4th quarters. There was a lot of Kobe watching at the beginning of the season and a whole bunch of Kobe shooting and scoring. We were losing, but Kobe was winning.

Byron made a lineup change in favor of defense. Booz and Lin go to the bench. They showed signs of improvement and then more injuries started to affect the team. The team, for whatever reason, still couldn’t get it going. More importantly, Kobe Bryant hit a wall. This wall caused inconsistency in lineup and rotation in order to preserve Kobe.

Inconsistency of lineup chemistry. Inability to fight over screens. Poor rotations. Inability to make shots in the 4th quarter. This team is the bad team that fights for 3 quarters and falls flat in the 4th. Sometimes this time starts flat and fights from behind for 3 quarters and then finally succcumbs in the 4th quarter.

So the Lakers are totally out of the playoff picture. Aside from a blockbuster trade involving a game changing point guard and a game changing center, or a complete turnaround by this team, things won’t get any better. This team has a defensive inconsistency that is only eclipsed by its inability to score at times. When they can’t defend, they can’t score and when they can score, they can’t defend. With this reality, including Kobe’s recent possibly season-ending injury, Coach Scott has gone to youth development.

I’m excited, I must say. The Lakers have a great recipe for future success. Jordan Clarkson’s poise, quickness and energy has made him easily one of my favorite rookies. Tarik Black’s defensive mind, Ed Davis’ shot blocking and paint shooting acurracy and Ryan Kelly’s shooting and ability to create off the dribble when given the opportunity present a bright future. Byron has gone with Clarkson, Ellington, Kelly, Hill and Sacre to start games. It’s important to start developing these guys as they figure out who will be added in the off-season to provide that competitive starting unit.

I haven’t given up! I’m the Laker’s Optimist! But I do see the writing on the wall. With the All-Star break around the corner, which is a great time to determine whether your team is a competitor, championship team, or bottom-feeder, we know what kind of team we are dealing with. Now we watch to scout players, see what works and what doesn’t, and see what improvements can be made towards the end of the year.

It’s a good time to see where some of these players fit in now and for the future. This includes Boozer and Lin. Lin is arguably the best PG on this team and has to at some point step up and prove it. Boozer has proven to be a very solid bench player as far as offensive production. I hope that after about 20 more games to give you another blog about this very topic.

So sit back, relax, get your popcorn and enjoy the glimpse into the future of the Purple and Gold.