The lights are bright in LA especially when it comes to basketball. Just ask the Lakers’ young core.
Playing for one of the most historic franchises ever, the Lakers’ young core has been tasked with a big first job: Bring back Showtime.
Showtime Lakers are a staple of LA basketball. The fast-paced, high-energy style of play entertained the fans but also brought them success with championships. For as long as anyone could remember, the Lakers were always Showtime. Recent history, however, has been the complete opposite.
Ever since the Dwight Howard saga, things haven’t exactly panned out for the Lakers. Their superstar, Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles and was never the same. The Steve Nash signing turned out to be one of the worst moves for the Lakers. Dwight Howard left them without a plan. Issue after issue troubled the Lakers to a point where Showtime was no more.
They tried to rebound by going after free agents such as Carmelo Anthony and LaMarcus Aldridge, but the Laker lore that once attracted the big time players lost its appeal and the Lakers were left without an answer.
Their only attainable solution? Rebuild.
It’s something the Lakers are unfamiliar with. As they have always attained that superstar that keeps them in contention for greatness. From Jerry West to Magic Johnson, to Wilt Chamberlain, and to Shaq and Kobe, the Lakers were never out of stars. However, things are not what they once were. If they want to put themselves in a situation with a clear path, they were going to have to rebuild.
The Lakers started their rebuild in 2014, where they drafted Julius Randle with the 7th pick. Then traded for Jordan Clarkson at the 46th pick via the Wizards. A solid start to the rebuild, but they didn’t stop there.
They lucked out in the 2015 draft lottery by getting the 2nd overall pick, drafting guard D’Angelo Russell. They also selected Larry Nance Jr. later in the first round. Again, they didn’t stop there.
Los Angeles yet again received the 2nd overall pick in the 2016 draft and selected Brandon Ingram while taking Ivica Zubac in the second round.
Fast forward to this season.
The Lakers’ young core are on the way to completing their first full season together. With a fresh start, the Lakers were ready to help bring the Lakers back to what it once was.
With the regular season coming to a close, the Lakers nowhere near the playoff picture. As expected, the season was a rollercoaster. Seeing the young core show flashes of their full potential gave fans hope, but their glaring mistakes and youthfulness also made fans want to quit on them.
It is their first full year playing together as a unit, which means they have time to get better. However, you can start to get an idea of how players might pan out down the road.
So what is to make of the Lakers young core?
The All-Star Potential: D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram
D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram seem to be the players on LA’s young core that have the most All-Star potential.
D’Angelo’s skill set and statistics has proven this.
D’Angelo, for most of the season, had to play behind an on-fire Lou Williams which meant less playing time and opportunities. After the Lakers traded Sweet Lou however, D’Angelo has flourished. Since the All-Star break Russell has averaged around 19 points and 5 assists on around 43% shooting. If he’s able to post these stats at such a young age, what more could he do once he hits his stride?
Video courtesy of FreeDawkins
Brandon’s case, however, is little tougher to make. Ingram hasn’t been all that special this season, often struggling to find his footing. That shouldn’t be an issue, however, since he is a rookie after all. His skillset and intangibles are why he has All-Star potential. Brandon has turned it up after All-Star break as well, becoming more comfortable on the offensive end and getting to the rim more despite his slight frame.
Since the ASB, he has averaged around 14 points and 4 rebounds a game on nearly 51% shooting. Not eye-popping, but a step in the right direction. His desire to be great will also help him reach All-Star level. Ingram’s work ethic is second to none and that should only help him in the long run.
Video courtesy of the NBA
On the bubble starter: Julius Randle
Coming into the season, a lot was expected of the former Kentucky Wildcat.
With Luke Walton taking charge of the team, many expected him to play that Draymond Green type of role. Many thought he would be the all-around forward for the team that stretched the floor, played defense and did every little thing to help win games. While he does a lot of “little things” that help win games, he hasn’t been the defensive player the Lakers need him to be nor is he the stretch 4 the team expects him to be, yet.
While Julius has ways to go with his defense, he has been steadily improving with his 3 point shot. Post ASB, he has been shooting around 32% from distance. Not great, but better than before. He has started shooting the ball with confidence and that’s all the Lakers are asking for.
It remains to be seen if Randle can put it all together and be a solid starter for the Lakers, but if he fixes his flaws, there’s no doubt he can be a solid starter in this league.
Raw, but promising: Ivica Zubac
Zubac is a fan-favorite in LA. The center out of Croatia has shown flashes of becoming a very solid player for the Lakers but of course, still, has ways to go.
His ability to score shows a lot of promise but has to get better with his man defense. His traditional back to the basket game is a blast from the past and definitely adds another dynamic for the Los Angeles Lakers. He is a raw prospect no doubt, but Zubac has all the tools to succeed in the long run.
The role players: Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson
Being a role player is no insult at all. In fact, all championship winning teams had those important key players off the bench to help out the starters.
Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson are those types of players that help win championships.
After Clarkson’s rookie year, many thought that he would the point guard of the future Lakers. While that doesn’t seem likely now, he has proven he can do one thing pretty well while on the court: get buckets. Clarkson has a knack for scoring that makes him an ideal 6th man, providing energy and a scoring punch off the bench. He may not be the PG we all thought he was going to be after his rookie year, but his scoring off the bench would definitely be of help.
Larry Nance Jr. was also a surprise to almost all of Lakers nation.
Taking him at 27th overall was seen as a stretch since he was projected to be a 2nd round pick. The Lakers took a risk with drafting him at this position, but they couldn’t be more happy with the results. Nance has been one of the most versatile players in the Lakers’ young core. He is doing the little things on the court that helps win basketball games, and those players are just as important as the stars of the team.
Video via NBA
Nance can do almost everything on the court. Making a key defensive play, diving on the floor for loose balls, and even show his athletic ability by putting players on his posters. Larry’s play has certainly pleased the Lakers, who deserve credit for having the insight to draft someone like him even if it was a “stretch” to draft him.
Where do the Lakers go from here?
The Lakers have plenty of ways to go about this. They could stick with it and hope that the Lakers young core reach their respective potentials quickly or even make a couple moves that make them better immediately (hey Paul George).
The latter, however, would mean that the Lakers young core would have to be broken up. The potential All-Stars, Russell and Ingram, might be safe from trade talks. However, that is not the case for guys like Randle and Clarkson. Again, that’s only if the Lakers feel the need to get better immediately.
They also have a pick in the upcoming draft, but only if it falls within the top three. Being able to retain their pick would certainly give more flexibility either by trading it or adding to the Lakers young core.
As Michael Jordan said, the ceiling is the roof.
The Lakers are not a finished product but they’re certainly on the right path to regaining the excellence of the Purple and Gold tradition.
*Featured Photo credits go to Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images*