The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t going to be good this year. That might sound harsh, but it’s true. The Purple and Gold splurged in free agency this summer and have some promising young building blocks, but Los Angeles is at least a year away from making a dent in the Western Conference playoff race.
And that’s fine. There is still plenty of good that can come from this season, regardless of (likely low) win totals. From a development standpoint, the Lakers benefit from the departures of Byron Scott and Kobe Bryant. We don’t know exactly what Luke Walton will look like as the solo captain of the ship, but at the very least, it’s reasonable to think that he’ll be (at minimum) a replacement level offensive coach.
You know how Fred Hoiberg likes to run a pace-and-space, pick-and-roll heavy offense with shooters surrounding the ball handler and rim runner? And then the Bulls loaded up with precisely the opposite personnel that suits such a style of play?
The Lakers were the inverse of that in 2015-16; D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson are modern NBA guards best utilized in a free-flowing system, and even in the year 2016, Scott’s offenses still seemed allergic to threes. Unless Kobe was taking them, of course. But that all changes this year.
Throw Brandon Ingram into the mix, arguably LA’s most talented young prospect, and we can glean quite a bit from this season. Here’s what Los Angeles’ key players need to do in order to inspire hope for the future.
Errant Snapchats aside, there’s no reason why Russell shouldn’t be able to take a huge leap in Walton’s point guard-friendly offense. Russell is a lefty, less polished version of Damian Lillard; he’s a wizard in the screen-roll game, and he can jack 3’s off the bounce if his defender ducks under the pick. Something like 18 points and six assists per game with 45/38/85 percentages seems doable in 2016-17. The Lakers would take that in a pinch.
Though often compared to Kevin Durant in college, the latter was a far superior prospect coming out of Texas. Still, Ingram is a stud, and though he’ll have his growing pains this season, it would be nice to see him showcase his versatility. In time, Ingram projects as someone capable of playing either forward spot while scoring 20 points per game and defending multiple positions.
That player would be an All-Star. Try not to pay a ton of attention to Ingram’s numbers this season – instead, see how many boxes he’s able to check on both ends. Can he hang with bigger forwards? Can he switch onto point guards? Can he post up smaller guards? Can he blow by slowpoke centers? If Ingram flashes those abilities, the numbers will come once he develops an NBA body.
Randle’s raw numbers were quite impressive in his first full season with the Lakers. The throwback lefty averaged a double-double in less than 30 minutes per game, so we know he can score and rebound. But what else can he do?
That’s what this season is about for Randle. On offensive, it would be great to see him develop a mid-range jumper, but it might be even more valuable to see him improve his playmaking. The Russell-Randle pick-and-roll duo will be utilized heavily, and the former Kentucky Wildcat could make the Lakers extremely hard to guard if he becomes 70 percent of the 4-on-3 player that Draymond Green is for the Warriors.
Picture it now: Russell comes off a pick, the defense doubles, Russell dishes to Randle who finds Ingram in the corner for a 3. In time, that’s what the Los Angeles offense needs to look like. Randle holds the keys.
There’s some redundancy with Clarkson and Russell, but that doesn’t mean this combination will fail. It very well could, mind you. But for Clarkson, this season is about finding ways to use Russell’s strengths to his advantage.
A three-dimensional scorer, Clarkson isn’t a natural away from the ball, but he improved in that regard as last season wore on. He shot almost 35 percent from 3 last season, and if that figure jumps a few percentage points, look out. A two-point guard offense in which both players need the rock to succeed won’t work. On the flip side, a two-point guard offense in which each player can excel on or away from the ball is extremely tough to defend. For the Lakers’ sake, Clarkson and Russell need to find a way to complement each other on the court.