By Alexander C. Lawrence
These new Los Angeles Lakers are fast, versatile and athletic. From Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram to Jordan Clarkson and Kyle Kuzma, the pieces this team has acquired are looking to fulfill the promise of getting over that playoff hump that has plagued them since the 2012-13 season. These Lakers are young and aggressive which is why I believe this team can do great things in the near future.
So far in the 2017-18 season we’ve seen glimpses of what this young team is capable of. Lonzo Ball has shown the ability to be pass-first in his mentality, not common among today’s scoring-centric Point Guards. He is a pass first, score last kind of player despite the potential to be a prolific scorer. He has solely been committed to finding ways for his teammates to score. His teammates aren’t complaining as they are still working to build good chemistry. Lonzo knows how to anticipate passes and for every successful NBA team there must be some kind of telepathy established among their players. He has to find guys that he can lean on and count on being in certain spots and positions. A lot of this is placed on Ball to be able to develop this telepathy among his teammates, but his teammates also have a responsibility to know where to be so Ball can get them the rock. There is a learning curve for both sides as they learn what each other likes and when and where they want to be when passes occur. If Ball intends to succeed he’ll need to help build up this team chemistry and a strong second half performance is not out of the question despite his inconsistent play in the first half of his rookie season.
Lonzo Ball is not the only rookie making noise in Staples Center as rookie Forward Kyle Kuzma has made an impact right away. Kuzma plays every game with a killer instinct and goes out each night locked in and ready to play. He keeps his composure in big moments such as in the Laker’s game against he Houston Rockets. These same Lakers ended James Harden and the Rockets’ 15-game win streak with Chris Paul in the line-up. They also ended the Rockets 55-game win streak when scoring at least 115 points. They won behind Kuzma’s career-high 38 points despite James Harden posting 51 points. As of right now he is looking like the steal of the draft. He is asserting himself as the best option at the 4 over Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr.
Brandon Ingram has the opportunity to be one of the NBA’s next great defenders with his elite length and tireless work ethic. The hard work he’s put in is paying dividends in year two as he is averaging 16 ppg, which is up from his 9.4 ppg last season. Ingram seems to be on his way to being the star the team has needed to close out games, but still has work to do. He is not afraid of big-time moments and is establishing himself as a go-to target. He drives to the basket like few others and so far teams can’t figure him out. He knows how to finish around the rim and draw fouls most of the time when doing so. In two-years we’ve seen his mid-range shot become a core aspect of his game which, with his lengthy arms, makes it difficult for most to contest. The problem with Ingram, aside from improving his defense, is getting him to shoot the three ball. This season his 3 point shot accounts for less than 13% of his total shots. That number needs to go up, which could help make him the truly potent scoring threat that he was billed as at Duke. If he works on his defense and three point range he will wind up being the man in L.A. that most, including Kobe, predict him to be.
Larry Nance Jr. brings so much energy when he is on the court. He brings strength and speed when playing the 4 or 5 position, which creates a mismatch for opposing teams. He isn’t worried about mismatches or who he is playing he just plays, as evidenced by his most recent dunk when he hammered it down on Warriors F Kevin Durant. However, Nance must work on his offensive contribution to the team in terms of scoring and offensive rebounds. Luke Walton thus far has shown he likes pairing Nance and C Brook Lopez together when they are healthy, a clear sign of Nance’s rising stock. His rebounding and leaping ability is out of this world and if he continues to work hard he will have a future in L.A. His mature play has made him into a clear cut contributor to the team.
By now most people are well aware of the decision to start Julius Randle off the bench by the Lakers and how he was thrilled about the move. This has been partly due to inconsistent play when he was healthy. He has performed better since the move to the bench and some might say Randle, Clarkson and Kuzma are one of better big-three bench units in the NBA. This season he is averaging 12 ppg to go along with 6 rpg. He brings excellent strength when playing opposing big men which makes up for his height mismatch. As much as it pains me to say this, everything is pointing to Randle being done in L.A. at the conclusion of the season. There are big names such as LeBron James and Paul George on the free agent market which could complicate his future with the team.
Jordan Clarkson was drafted with the 46th overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft and there’s no question he has helped make the Lakers a more cohesive and entertaining basketball team. He’s only in the second year of his four year deal, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t entertain ideas of a trade, as teams have already reached out to them. I believe Clarkson has hit his potential at age 25 and that’s not to say its all downhill from here. He has been great off the bench and showed he can start in the NBA, no question. He brings that Laker’s bench to life and energizes them night in and night out. Unfortunate for Clarkson is that he may be dealt in order for the team to obtain more money to pay free agents this upcoming summer.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was signed this past offseason on a one-year, $18-million dollar deal. This gave Caldwell-Pope the chance to test the market again at the conclusion of this season or if he exceeds expectations the team may opt to sign him to a multi-year deal. He brings a 3 point threat to the team and it’s only improving. He is a two-way guard and has shown he can be a reliable defender. Ideally you’d like to see him dishing the ball to his teammates more, but by no means is he a ball hog. He needs some polishing in terms of his offensive skill-set as well. This young guard still has plenty of potential and lots to prove, but aside from legal issues (violation of probation) that the Lakers knew about prior to signing him, he may very well wind up paying off for LA regardless of whether he stays or not.
Based off these assets the fans of the Lakers have reason to believe and “trust the process” for the first time in a long time. Yes there are a couple of trigger-happy young guns who have a ways to go before being ready to compete for an NBA Championship, but they are still learning as they are a very, very young team. Give them time and the dividends will pay off Laker Nation. For right now I’m just excited to see fun basketball with a dash of hope for the future this holiday season.