In case you missed it, the Lakers will be without Kobe Bryant for the first time in nearly 20 years, ushering a new era for Lakers basketball. Enter D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson. This young core with the support of veterans Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov will be taking the court soon for the start of the 2016 regular season. The Lakers brought on a familiar face to lead the youth movement in Los Angeles in Luke Walton, who aims to bring the same style of play that saw the interim head coach win 24 straight games to start last season with Golden State. The question is, what should their goal be for the season?
“General improvement and for the players to show progress from the last two years with Byron at the helm where everything was bad and the offense had more isolation than the Tom Hanks movie Castaway?”
Specific, but yes. I’ll be focusing on how their main goal is improvement. The head coach knows this will be the focal point of the season as well.
“The expectations, to me, aren’t going to be wins and losses, right now at least. The expectations are going to be the way we play.”
He does not expect the team to be judged by wins and losses for right now and this is a welcome reality check with all of the delusion of playoff talk at the start of last season.
During media day, when asked about whether winning games or player development would be his emphasis, Luke replied:
“It’s going to depend more on how those guys are playing. I know we need to develop them”
The Lakers have so much potential, and I fully trust Luke Walton to help them reach that, as it will be an uphill battle throughout this season.
Improvement is going to be very important for the last 3 players that the Lakers picked in the lottery as well.
Despite a good season, D’Angelo Russell still has a long way to go to prove himself as an NBA player. If Summer League is an indication of how he’ll be utilized differently than last season, he will be poised to have a breakout year and finally silence any of the people who think Okafor should’ve been picked second in the 2015 draft. In a more fluid offense, his play-making will be showcased more as well as his scoring as more opportunities will be opened up for him.
Julius Randle will have to show that he is more than a one dimensional player. A rebounding machine, he was not one to show much efficiency throughout last season. Some clear weaknesses that were showcased were his lack of a midrange jumper, inability to finish with his off hand, and tunnel vision. John Ireland said on the Locked On Lakers podcast “Everybody I’ve talked to over there says [Julius has been] shooting 1,000 jumpers a day, he’s working at it relentlessly.” Footage from team USA select practices and training camp has shown Randle at least attempting to lay it up with his right hand. It will be nice to see Randle pass the ball more instead of just taking a direct route to the rim. He showed that he is more than capable of it when he had 10 assists en route to his first triple double last March against Denver.
There is not much to say about Brandon Ingram for right now as what we have seen is limited to Summer League play and some snippets from training camp. All we know is that he will be coming off the bench behind Luol Deng for now. With the never ending comparisons to Kevin Durant because of his slim frame, wingspan, and knack for scoring, Ingram has a lot to live up to.
A huge complaint from the past few off-seasons is the lack of free agents the Lakers bring in. This can be remedied from setting a solid foundation for this team and showing that this is a team worth playing with. If and when the young core shows that they will be a force to be reckoned with, they’ll be able to add more pieces and get closer and closer to contending. It all starts from improving. It’s rare to see a group of young players with this much raw talent, but they’re still unproven. If this season the Lakers end up with a losing record (which they will) but show their competence and coherence as a team other teams will notice.