After 30 games, it's safe to say we have a good idea of what the Los Angeles Lakers will be this season.
Exciting. Flawed. Loaded with potential. More than likely not a playoff team, though that should have been the expectation coming into the season, right?
Right. And with the Lakers slumping to an 11-19 record after a 7-5 record to start the season—even if injuries have played a factor—that expectation seems to be aligned with reality.
After all, the Lakers have a new head coach in Luke Walton. The team is a blend of young, potential stars (D'Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr.) and complementary veterans (Lou Williams, Nick Young, Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov). And it hasn't quite figured out how to play defense yet (110.5 points allowed per game, 27th in the NBA).
But the Lakers' young talent is unmistakable, they are fun to watch given the exciting brand of offense they play and even superstars have taken notice, including LeBron James:
Los Angeles Lakers @Lakers
LeBron James: “(The Lakers) shot the ball extremely well. They’ve got a lot of talent over there & Luke has got them playing the right way."2016-12-18 04:13:02
Russell, not surprisingly, has played well now that he's free of the long shadow cast by Kobe Bryant, averaging 15.0 points and 4.5 assists per game. Julius Randle (13.0 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 3.3 APG) has done a little bit of everything for the team, Lou Williams (18.9 PPG) has been a surprise as the team's top scorer in his sixth-man role and Nick Young has stretched defenses with his perimeter play (40.5 percent from beyond the arc).
Ingram, meanwhile, has started slowly during his rookie campaign, though it appears he's starting to find his footing. Against James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, he finished with nine points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, barely missing out on a triple-double.
"That’s the best and most confident he’s looked all season," head coach Luke Walton told NBA.com's Joey Ramirez. "When he was playing point today, he was kind of controlling and commanding the offense and getting people into position. ... He was great on the glass tonight. He really helped out against a great rebounding team."
For Ingram—who would have become the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double had he accomplished the feat—the goal is continual growth.
"My job is just to continue to get better," he said, per Ramirez. "Continue to be an asset for this team and affect the game on the offensive and defensive ends."
Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com, for one, saw a spark from Ingram:
On the second night of a road-road, back-to-back, on the home court of the defending champions, Ingram showed more promise than he has at any point since being selected No. 2 overall by the Lakers in the 2016 draft. He showed the kind of promise that makes the 6-foot-9 Ingram a potential cornerstone of the Lakers' future, the kind of player who one day might win a ring for himself—and help his teammates win one, too.
The question, of course, will be how the Lakers lay the foundation for any future championships. Russell and Ingram appear to be the centerpieces. Randle, Clarkson and Nance, too, should play a role in the future.
For example, will the Lakers look to swing any deals before the trade deadline? If they end their recent slump and get back into the postseason conversation, will they consider shaking up their foundation to add a big name?
Don't count on it. General manager Mitch Kupchak has been preaching patience, as he told B/R's Eric Pincus:
We're fun to watch. We're very competitive. We love our coaching staff. We love our young players. We're going to have to be a little patient. We're going to have to do our job, which is to look at opportunities that may come up in the next month or two. And if there are none—which is fine with me, because I like the young guys on the team—then during the offseason, we'll have to look at opportunities.
Kupchak was clear that he's high on the team's young talent, however.
"I think the players that we have...two or three years from now, I think you're going to be very excited and pleased with this group of players. I really do," he said.
He thinks the team hired the right man to guide them, too.
"We love Walton," he said. "He's not a Hall of Fame coach today, but we're betting that every year he's going to become better and better. He'll be a really good coach, and maybe a great coach, but a lot of that has to do with the players we get him, too."
The Lakers, then, have taken their own path to rebuilding. It's a bit different for every team.
For the Minnesota Timberwolves, trading Kevin Love to the Cavaliers to land Andrew Wiggins and having the opportunity to draft a potential generational talent in Karl-Anthony Towns defined their rebuild.
The Philadelphia Sixers tanked and #TrustedTheProcess to land Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and a mountain of assets and draft picks.
The Denver Nuggets, perhaps slightly under the radar, have used savvy drafting (Nikola Jokic in the second round in 2014, Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray in the first round the past two years) to fill their system with young talent.
The Lakers' future will be tied to their selections with the No. 2 pick the past two years, Russell and Ingram, the coach that leads them and the front office that decides how to surround them with talent. The early signs are encouraging, but patience is required.
Just as expected.
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