Through 24 games and a season-long eight-games-in-12-days road trip, it’s very apparent the Los Angeles Lakers (3-21) will draft in the lottery for the third year in a row for the first time in franchise history.
What also became apparent on that road trip is that recent draft picks Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell and Larry Nance Jr. are all finding their groove in their own separate ways.
Clarkson, an NBA All-Rookie recipient last season, has been the most consistent player on the Lakers’ roster this year. He entrenched himself as the second offensive option on the team behind Kobe Bryant during the trip, as the young combo guard scored 13 points or more in five of the six games on the trip before injuring his ankle and missing the final two games against the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets.
Despite the Lakers going a disappointing (1-7) on the marathon trip, Clarkson is encouraged by what he’s seeing from himself and the other young guys after the core group played outstanding in tough games against the Minnesota Timberwolves and Washington Wizards during the trip.
“I think we are developing well; we have a lot of room to grow and we will continue to work hard and try to keep progressing,” Clarkson said. “We showed flashes, but we got a lot of room to grow, especially on the defensive end and then some stuff offensively.”
While Clarkson is rounding into the most consistent youngster on the roster, Russell is slowly but surely showing why he has the most potential of the three.
After being sent to the bench by head coach Byron Scott, Russell responded by registering back-to-back career-high games with 23 and 24 points against the Wolves and Spurs, respectively. When the dust settled, Russell showed the league why he was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft by averaging 15.1 points along with 3.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists on the trip.
With the confidence boost, the Lakers point guard of the future learned something about himself during the time away from home, which should benefit the team and himself going forward.
“Learning how to play under some adversity,” Russell said. “I had some ups and downs, but just learning how to take it and make it a positive [experience].”
For Nance, part of finding his groove with the team and in the league during his rookie season has been based around opportunity.
Since racking up a DNP-CD on Nov. 22 against the Portland Trail Blazers, Nance has played in 11 consecutive games, including starting the final four games of the trip. Since being inserted into the starting lineup, the young forward has averaged 23.7 minutes while putting up four points and four rebounds a game.
Though his stat line isn’t eye-popping, Nance will only continue to improve while getting more minutes and learning more about the day-to-day NBA grind.
“It’s been a heck of an experience. In college I [was] used to playing two games a week, so to come out and play four, sometimes five, games in a week takes a toll on your body,” Nance said. “Playing with [Kobe] because he’s not only a future Hall of Famer, but one of the greatest to ever do it has been an honor in that respect. But getting to learn with my fellow rookies, D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Brown, has been great – it’s a learning process and I’m absorbing every bit of knowledge I can.”