Media Day and Training Camp are just around the corner! As we all know, the Lakers are overwhelmed with young players, two of which are still teenagers, and are both expected to start for the Lakers to begin the season. The rest of the Lakers starting lineup will join Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram at Training Camp in just a few weeks.
The Starting Lineup
The projected Lakers starting lineup will be composed of rookie Lonzo Ball, defensive-minded 24-year old Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, 2nd year phenom Brandon Ingram, tenacious rebounder Julius Randle, and newly acquired Brook Lopez.
As most of you reading this know, Lonzo Ball was the 2nd overall pick in June, and was surely fun to watch in Summer League. Unfortunately, Lonzo didn’t compete in the Championship game due to a mild calf strain, but really impressed in the rest of the games he did play. Averaging 16.3 points, 9.3 assists, 7.7 rebounds, and 2.5 steals per game in Summer League, he was named the SL MVP.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the 8th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, following two solid seasons at the University of Georgia. Over the past three seasons with Detroit, KCP has averaged 13.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game, while providing above average defense. KCP should thrive at the 2 spot with Lonzo Ball making things happen as the ball handler, but I’m also excited to see what he can do on defense as the lead defender.
Brandon Ingram was drafted 2nd overall in the 2016 NBA Draft, the 2nd of 3 Lakers #2 overall picks in a row. After a poor rookie season, can BI bounce back? Certainly. At only 19 years old, I’m not worried at all that Ingram shot 29% from long range, and only averaged 9 points per game. Ingram only played one game in Summer League in July, but he looked great. Look for him to add onto that.
Julius Randle is in an interesting spot this year. The Lakers front office has expressed how much they want to go after Paul George and Lebron James, and along with our forward of the future Brandon Ingram, where would there be room for Randle? Julius will be paid next summer, and IF somehow the Lakers can land one of two free agents, would the new husband be OK with taking a bench role? Would the Lakers be OK with paying Randle 100M to be a 6th man? Or do the Lakers pass on Randle and not match whatever someone else offers him? Tough situation.
Brook Lopez and his expiring contract came over from Brooklyn this summer in a trade for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov, a trade that many (including myself) were not fond of. Brook Lopez should lead the Lakers in scoring, but his future past this season is in question, again with the Lakers looking to go after big name free agents.
The Bench – Guards
This is a spot where the Lakers are a little thin. A reason why I love that Caldwell-Pope signing is because I don’t know who else would start at SG. Clarkson? Hart? I’d rather have both of those guys off the bench, so a true SG who plays both offense and defense was big for me, personally. The Lakers are bringing in a few guards to training camp, as I’ll talk about later.
Jordan Clarkson is the most popular name on the bench. He was incredible (for a mid-2nd round pick) in the 2nd half of his rookie season, but from there, he hasn’t improved much. I think he can be a solid scorer, but his playmaking and defending kind of scare me, which is why I see him as strictly a 6th-7th man on a team.
I was a HUGE fan of Josh Hart the past few years in the NCAA Tournament, and even had the Lakers taking him in my mock draft this year, and even hoped it was him to go 30th just minutes before he actually did. Boy was I glad to see them draft him. I love his all-around play, but I’m mostly impressed with his productivity. He was extremely efficient at Villanova, being only one of 11 players last year to use over 16 possessions per game and score over 1.10 points per possession. He really uses the most out of his physical tools and 6’8.5 wingspan, by high intensity and elite defense. Overall, he can shoot, he can defend, and his energy off the bench will be spectacular.
Tyler Ennis pretty much rounds out the Lakers guaranteed-contract bench guards. I’m so not a fan of Ennis, but he played his way onto the team last year after being traded to LA on Feb. 23rd from Houston. Tyler averaged 7.7 points and 2.4 assists in 22 games last season.
The Bench – Forwards
I would love to have Paul George and/or Lebron James next summer, but the Lakers are currently overstaffed at the PF position. A big reason why I didn’t like the Kyle Kuzma draft pick, was because, what does he do better than Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr.? Unless Kuzma was significantly better than one of those two at something, I didn’t like the pick. So here we are… Is Kuzma better than Nance?
Lets get this one out of the way. Luol Deng is older now, and physically not able to play as a small forward. Look for the Lakers to still give Deng time as a backup 4, something most Lakers fans don’t want to see. Luol has three (kill me) years left on his contract, and will earn $54M over the next three seasons. I would like to see the Lakers waive Deng, if not now, then next summer. If only this was 2k MyGM.
Kyle Kuzma, Summer League Championship MVP. The Lakers drafted Kuzma with the 27th pick, which was sent from Brooklyn in the D’Lo/Lopez trade. During our annual NBA Draft Podcast, we hated this pick. I just wasn’t convinced that Kyle Kuzma was above average at anything in particular. And I can admit, Kyle impressed me with his shooting range in the Summer League, but I still have to think to myself, IT’S JUST SUMMER LEAGUE. I would love to give Kuzma 24 minutes a game and see how he does, but where is the space?
Larry Nance Jr. is coming off back-to-back 63 game seasons and electrifying dunks. I really want to see Larry improve this year, because I’m not the biggest fan of his, and I don’t know what his future looks like with the Lakers. He should get more playing time this year, and SHOULD get an invite to the Slam Dunk Contest…
Corey Brewer came over with Tyler Ennis in the Lou Williams trade last February, which is ironic because Tyler Ennis and Corey Brewer are two guys I do not like. Unfortunately, Brewer should see the court a bit this year, unless the Lakers make a move for a backup SF. Kuzma should play minutes over CB, but I’m not Luke Walton, so who cares. Brewer has one year left, worth $7.6M, but shouldn’t be with the organization following this season.
The Bench – Centers
Youth, youth, youth! Who will earn more minutes as the backup 5?
Ivica Zubac is heading into his second season, another development year for him. At 20 years old, he’s still very young, and although he showed flashes of talent last year, he still has a lot to work on. The defense scares me a bit, and his mobility on offense can limit him to play in certain areas of the court.
Thomas Bryant played two solids seasons (11.9p/5.8r, 12.6p/6.6r) at the University of Indiana before being drafted 42nd overall by the Lakers. Bryant looked great at times in Summer League, but just like Zubac, he’s 20 years old and has a lot to learn before becoming anything special in the NBA. Bryant already has a spot on the roster, but with a plethora of bigs, he’ll have to compete for minutes.
The NBA and G-League took a huge step this season with the new two-way contracts. It’ll really keep the G-League alive, as in the past, players have chosen to play professionally overseas rather than make less money in a development league. The NBA will keep the roster max at 15, but also allow two two-way contracts. If signed to a two-way, the player will spend most of the season in the G-League, but can spend up to 45 days on an NBA roster (rather than signing one or two 10-day contracts). In the past, D-League (now G-League) players made less than $30,000 per year, but two-way contract players can now make up to $275,000 per year. The Lakers have signed one player to a two-way contract, as you’ll read below, but still can offer one more – most likely to a player they are bringing into training camp.
Alex Caruso. Summer League Hero. I only went to the first few Summer League games, so I never got to see the Starting Point God Alex Caruso. Alex was asked to start in place of injured Lonzo Ball, and he absolutely shocked the world. 18 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds and 4 steals, while shooting 7-9 and 4-5 from long range. Alex Caruso earned this two-way contract, and will serve as a backup guard for up to 45 days on the Los Angeles Lakers. Great for a guy like him, because he’ll also get better in the G-League playing with the South Bay Lakers, while still being paid.
Partially-Guaranteed (Camp Invites)
The Lakers can bring 20 guys into training camp, but only 15 will make the roster, and two more will be signed to a two-way contract. Right now, the training camp roster stands at 19, allowing one more camp invite over the next few weeks. If you’ve been keeping track, I’ve talked about the 14 guys who will be on the team next season, along with Alex Caruso, the lone two-way player. Note: all four of these below are partially-guaranteed camp invites.
Since going undrafted in 2013, Vander Blue has spent the last few seasons in the D-League, and averaged 24.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.6 steals per game last year as D-League MVP. Vander earned himself a Summer League invite in July, and played well enough for a training camp invite. Blue averaged 15 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists in Summer League, but his 20 points and 6 assists in the Summer League Championship win could have sealed the deal on LA giving him a camp invite.
The camp invite of Brianté Weber had some people asking, “who?”… I liked this signing because I like guys who play defense. Weber has been with four different teams in two seasons for a reason – he isn’t a good offensive player. Even though the Lakers should use their last roster spot on a guard, I don’t see Weber being the guy. I’d rather give that spot to someone like Vander Blue.
Stephen Zimmerman was a guy I really liked about a year ago, but not now. He had all the hype in high school, was average at UNLV, left too soon, got drafted late, and it’s all downhill from there. He bounced back between the NBA and the D-League, but the latter is where he belongs. I see why the Lakers wanted to bring a young big into training camp (compete with Zubac and Bryant), but there is no reason why Zimmerman should make the Los Angeles Lakers. I would love to see Stephen hang around and play for the South Bay Lakers, but don’t be surprised if he’s the first guy cut from the 20.
V.J Beachem is really intriguing. V.J. offers solid scoring from a wing, but I’m really excited to see what he can do as a 3 and D player. He has the tools and size (6’8 with a 6’10.25 wingspan) to be a solid defender, and is already a decent 3-point shooter (39.2% of 582 3’s in college). Beachem could be the guy to make the roster, or grab the other two-way contract slot, but if he doesn’t, I really hope he stays around and joins the South Bay Lakers.
The Lakers still have one training camp spot to fill in the new few weeks, which will put them to 20. The front office has a few decisions to make, the biggest being the final roster spot, but also the final two-way contract.
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