The season has been going by fast. The Lakers have played 31 games and surprised many with a fast start, however they have slowed since then. I still think the season has been a positive and these are my grades for the Lakers so far.
D’Angelo Russell: B+
When D’Angelo is on the court he has been great. The Lakers have an offensive net rating of 105.5 when Russell is playing. But when he is off that number falls to 101.5. He is averaging 15.5 PPG and 4.5 APG in just 25.6 MPG. He has a 40.1-38.2-77.8 shooting line. He has a PER of 16.63. His per 36 numbers are beastly.
However the problem been staying on the court. He has missed 12 games, and has had minute restrictions in a large amount of his games. None of this is his fault, but it still effects his grade. I even considered giving him an incomplete. But the point is Laker fans should be happy with his play so far.
Resolution: Limit turnovers
This is not shocking. D’Angelo is a turnover player, like most young guards. It is only fair that I point out his 4.3 turnovers per 36 minutes, since I also used it to point out his high scoring and assist numbers. D’Angelo is our guard of the future and we need that guard to be reliable with the ball in his hands.
Julius Randle: B+
Julius has improved more than any other young Laker from last year, and to many has been the most surprising for some. (I, however, am sipping tea.). Julius struggled while Russell and Nick Young were out, as he was the only consistent scorer in the starting line up and had no one to kick to on his drives. (Luol Deng‘s resurrection had not occurred yet.) But he has been under more control this year and has taking great steps forward in his passing, and getting closer to his potential as a ball handling/playmaking big man. People will bring up his shooting because of narratives, but it has been much improved in reality. If you don’t believe me
The Lakers have been slightly (and I mean slightly) better with Randle off the court, but that is skewed by the bench playing fantastic. (Which makes Russell even more impressive). The reason I can not give Julius an A is because he has been inconsistent at times, and has had trouble taking care of the ball. But Julius has silenced most of his doubters who cried to trade or bench him. Most only see Brandon Ingram and D’Angelo getting to this level, but I believe Julius will be an all star and this year has only strengthened that belief.
Resolution: Be more consistent
I think it is fair to say Julius has struggled to be consistent through out his career. As a young player this is expected, but that does not mean he should not try to improve it. Some nights he is ice cold (and not in the “ice in my veins” way”), while other nights it seems like he can’t miss and bullies his way inside. Some nights he turns over the ball on simple plays, and on others he makes brilliant passes. Some nights he is great on switches, help defense, and as a rim protector and other nights he is lost. Again, he is young and this is understandable, but is something he must work on.
Brandon Ingram: B
A few will be surprised at this grade, as Ingram has not lived up to his hype as a scorer. But he also has surpassed expectations in every other category. Ingram has been a very good defender. He has been excellent at using his length to his advantage, staying in front of his man, and while he makes rookie mistakes, his weak side help defense and rotations have been excellent. Offensively Ingram has been a solid playmaker, even running the point at times. His I.Q has been great for a rookie, as he only 1.4 turnovers, and according to Laker Film Room (@LakerFilmRoom, if you are not following him, go follow him right now) only 3 of those turnovers have been off bad passes. Considering he averages 2 APG (good for 9th among qualified rookies) this is very impressive. He is also 4th among all rookies in rebounding at 4.1 RPG. He is the only rookie to be top 10 in scoring, rebounding, assists. And the is top 10 among rookies, in blocks also. If you still are not convinced about his versatility, he nearly became the youngest ever player to have a triple double with a stat line of 9 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assist, against the defending champions. He likely would have got it too if Timofey Mozgov did not blow a dunk. Still not impressed? He has logged minutes in four different positions.
This also does not tell the story of how much he has run the point for the Lakers, as often either Lou Williams or Jordan Clarkson will be listed as point guard, but Ingram is the one who brings the ball up and runs the offense. All this versatility and to think somewhere in that skinny frame is an elite scorer….that’s just scary. However Ingram has struggled tremendously to shoot the ball and play through contact. With a field goal percentage in the 30s and a 3 point percentage in the 20s, I can not give Ingram a grade higher than a B. In the end the most telling stat is that the Lakers have an offensive and defensive net ratings of 103.6 and 109.8 when Ingram is on the floor. Take Ingram off and they regress to 101.8 and 110.4. Simply put, Ingram makes the Lakers better. Laker fans should be excited as Ingram has been showing he can be one of the best all around players in the NBA in time.
Resolution: Unleash the scorer within
Ask any box score watcher or casual fan and they would say Ingram is a bust. This is completely wrong, but the reason they say this is Ingram’s low scoring numbers. Ingram has been great in everything else like I said, but a major reason the Lakers drafted him is because he the potential to be a 25+ point guy. This will come slowly as he gains muscle, but Ingram should be adjusting to the 3 point line of the NBA and the increased pace, especially after the all star break. This should hopefully open the game for him, and we should see what made him have the label of a scorer in the first place.
Jordan Clarkson: C-
Clarkson has been a roller coaster this year. He showed a huge amount of growth on defense in the preseason and early season, but that has evaporated. His shooting has been extremely streaky. Before the latest 5 game stretch, where he has been a white hot 54.8% from 3, he was in the 20s. I am not going to go into to much detail on JC as I just wrote an article on him, but he needs to be more consistent, especially as he is a relatively older 24 years old. However I can’t give him to low of a grade, because, as I said, he started the year amazing, and he has been very good the past 5 games. All in all the first section of the year has been a disappointment for JC, but I still believe he can turn it around, and be a part of this young core for a long time, even if it as a 6th man, which I believe it will be.
Resolution: Wake up on defense
I can live with not being a play maker. Clarkson is a scoring guard, and his long term back court make has divine court vision. I can live with streaky shooting as long as he is above 33%. That is not even average, but as someone who can get red hot from the 3 point line, it is something the defense will need to respect, and playing more with D’Angelo should help him. But I can not live with a long and athletic guard being bad at defense, especially when we have seen what he could potentially be on that side. Clarkson has to take it upon him self to be stopper for this team.
Tarik Black: B+
I was not going to do a grade for Black at first, but I realized for someone with no basketball skills, Black has been very good. His 5.6PPG-5 RPG-0.6 BPG may not jump out, but he is doing so in only 14.9 MPG. He has a Plus/Minus of 10.4 per 100 possessions. The Lakers have an offensive and defensive net rating of 102.2 and 112.1 when Black is off the court. When Black is on, those ratings improve to 105 and 103.1. His free throw percentage has jumped 32.4%(!) from last year.
Resolution: Win your minutes back
Tarik Black got injured. Tarik Black has not played recently. Simple story. Thomas Robinson has played well in his time, but Black is a much better player, and pick and roller finisher which is essential for this team. Apparently Luke doesn’t want to rush Black back from his injury, but Black was essential for the team before he got hurt, and we need him back.
Larry Nance Jr…….man I still can’t get over the West and Lopez career enders. In all seriousness Nance has been solid this year when healthy. The problem is that has not been often. Nance has missed less game than Russell, but has been the most effected by injures. At the beginning of the year his wrist seemed to bother him, then his concussion, and now he is out with his knee. But with 7 PPG-5.5 RPG, Nance has shown he is a solid back up big man. His energy and off the bench has been invaluable, and has sparked many comebacks. He is arguably the Lakers best defender. They are 4 points better defensively, when he is on the court. and he has those 2 dunks.
Resolution: Be healthy and shoot when you are open
Nance talked about how much he worked on his shooting in the summer, and even hit a couple of 3s. But this year, he has passed up many open shots. I am not looking for him to being Steph, but he hesitates too much on wide open mid range jumpers. He also suffered a wrist injury, a concussion, and a knee injury. None of this is his fault, but he should stride toward recovering and just being on the floor.
Ivica Zubac: INC
Zubac just has not played enough to get a grade.
Resolution: Get playing time
Zubac just needs to play well enough in practice to get some burn on the court. Nothing else to say.
Luke Walton: A-
Yes, he has made mistakes at the end of game. Yes, he doesn’t play D’Angelo enough. Yes, he once started Metta. But he also got Nick Young to play defense. He has put Lou Williams in a position to have have a career year. He has developed Julius Randle’s and Russell’s skills really well. He has made it so Ingram gets involved. Luke has made mistakes, but like the title says this is about young Lakers. And Luke is a young, rookie head coach, who will make mistakes. The Lakers are fun again, because of Luke. Despite having a insanely tough schedule and begin decimated by injures, the Lakers are on pace to win at least 10 games more than last year. And it will likely be more once the team stabilizes from the road trip and injuries. If anything has been made clear this year, it is that Luke Walton is the right man for the job.
Resolution: Figure out a consistent rotation
Injuries and rookie coaching mistakes has made the Lakers rotation a little strange. Clarkson should not be averaging more minutes than Russell. Ingram should start over Deng in the near future. A Russell-Clarkson-Ingram-Randle-Nance lineup should be heavily used and close games, as they are our best long term assets, and the most likely to be long term pieces.
The Lakers were suppose to have up and downs this year. That’s what young teams do. And with the 3 pillars of Julius, D’Angelo, and Ingram all playing well, the surrounding pieces of Nance, Clarkson, and Black being solid the Lakers future looks bright. And of course, they man leading them is the right one.