Midseason Player Grades for Each Los Angeles Lakers Player
The Los Angeles Lakers are a study in contrasts as they reach the halfway mark of the 2016-17 season.
They can be fun to watch as they romp up and down the court, but they can throw that enjoyment right out the window by inexplicably caving from one quarter to the next. No lead is safe with this young squad.
L.A. is in 12th place in the Western Conference and two games out of a playoff spot at the crowded bottom of the bracket. Any serious run will have to happen fast, before the standings begin to harden.
But as we wait to see what kind of collective fortitude the 2016-17 edition can muster, we can also pick apart the roster individually.
15. PG Jose Calderon
Jose Calderon has barely played since early December due to lingering hamstring issues followed by a crowded backcourt rotation. He logged five scoreless minutes Friday after missing the previous 17 games, followed by a DNP Sunday against the Orlando Magic. Calderon is not without talent, but grading in such a vacuum is iffy.
14. SF Metta World Peace
As noted by Los Angeles Times reporter Tania Ganguli, Metta World Peace's contract became guaranteed for the rest of the season on Saturday. The 37-year-old doesn't get many minutes these days, but he's a team motivator and keeps himself in great game shape.
13. PG Marcelo Huertas
Marcelo Huertas is a passing wizard, but he doesn’t get to demonstrate that skill often. A veteran star overseas, he has been buried in the rotation this season behind D’Angelo Russell, Louis Williams and sometimes even Calderon. But Huertas did get to showcase during a loss to the Houston Rockets in early December with 10 points, seven assists, five steals and three boards.
12. C Ivica Zubac
Rookie center Ivica Zubac hasn’t gotten much burn for the Lakers this season, but he has thrived when assigned to the team’s D-League affiliate. The 19-year-old Croatian is averaging 15.3 points, 9.7 boards and 1.0 blocks for the D-Fenders over 12 games. He remains an intriguing prospect for the future.
11. PF Thomas Robinson
Thomas Robinson has been a legitimate bright spot for the Lakers this season due to his toughness and all-out hustle. Like World Peace, Robinson had his contract fully guaranteed on Saturday. The former lottery pick doesn’t have much of a shooting stroke, but he’s a dogged defender and crashes the glass with abandon—he's averaging five boards in 12 minutes per game.
10. C Tarik Black
Now in his third NBA season, Tarik Black provides a useful role as an anchor and energizer for the Lakers' main bench unit. He's a strong rebounder and has a great knack for setting bruising picks and quickly rolling to the hoop. However, he doesn’t have much of an offensive game outside the paint.
9. SG Jordan Clarkson
Jordan Clarkson’s talent for scoring the ball has been obvious since he entered the league three years ago. But he isn’t a markedly better player now than he was during his first season when he earned All-Rookie first team honors. If Clarkson can develop into a consistent two-way threat, he’ll be a star in the league. Until then, he’ll remain a solid second-tier player.
8. SF Brandon Ingram
Brandon Ingram’s body is evolving, his shooting is unbelievably streaky and he’s being thrown into a lion’s den of stars, fellow prospects and hardened NBA vets on a nightly basis.
But he’ll get there—eventually. The second overall pick in the 2016 draft has a high ceiling, probably second to no other player on the current roster. Embedding him in a strong bench unit was one of the best things head coach Luke Walton could have done for a talented and green 19-year-old who’s soaking it all up like a sponge.
7. PF Larry Nance Jr.
Larry Nance Jr. hasn’t played over the last 10 games and counting due to a deep bone bruise in his left knee. The Lakers miss the sophomore’s energy, defensive versatility and high-flying dunks. Nance still gets the same grade he received in Bleacher Report's quarter-season grades, which came shortly before his injury.
6. PG Louis Williams
Now in his 12th NBA season, Louis Williams spearheads the league’s top-scoring bench. He also leads the Lakers in scoring averages at 17.9—his own career high.
Sweet Lou is instant offense, probing the seams of opposing defenses and putting up floaters, teardrops and layups at will. He’s also highly gifted when it comes to drawing fouls, whether driving to the basket or coming off high screen-and-rolls and baiting contact beyond the three-point line. This has resulted in a team-high 5.8 free-throw attempts per game.
He’s not a point guard in the purest sense, but definitions are beside the point—Williams gets buckets!
5. C Timofey Mozgov
When the Lakers signed Timofey Mozgov over the summer, they were hoping to acquire a defensive stalwart. So far, the results have been mixed—especially when judging by the numbers.
The 7’1” Russian ranks 37th among centers in the league at rebounding, pulling down 4.9 per game—that's sixth among his own frontcourt teammate. He’s 45th among NBA compatriots when it comes to rim protection, collecting just 0.45 blocks per game.
But the guy who’s earning $64 million over four years does understand the need to become a stronger deterrent.
Mozgov moves well for a 275-pounder, has a decent shooting touch and is often the last man between an opponent and the basket while covering for the lapses of fellow Lakers. Regardless, he needs to do better.
4. SF Luol Deng
The Lakers seem to have snagged an expensive and only somewhat effectual role player in Luol Deng. Signed for $72 million over four years, the veteran forward is averaging 8.3 points per game—well below his career average of 15.2.
So what’s eating the two-time All-Star, and how worried should Lakers fans be?
For one thing, it’s a matter of role. Despite his paycheck, Deng is no longer a featured player in the classic sense. He doesn’t have a lot of offensive sets run for him, thus he doesn’t take as many shots and seems to lack confidence when he does let it fly.
However, the 13-year vet is showing better on the other end of the floor. His defensive rebound rating is actually at an all-time high, grabbing 18.7 percent of available boards. And he does a decent job in the passing lanes, collecting one steal per game.
Deng had perhaps his best game as a Laker Friday night with 19 points and 14 boards during a win against the Miami Heat. It could be a sign of more consistency to come, or it may be just another outlier in the inevitable decline of an NBA player.
3. PF Julius Randle
One of the most telling observations about Julius Randle recently came from ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe:
"I know no one loves bigs who can’t hit 3s or protect the rim anymore, but I still kinda love Julius Randle," Lowe tweeted. "Dude can make plays."
Randle manages to combine a level of ball-handling fluidity with the power of a wrecking ball. He also continues to make advances in his game—jumping from a respectable average of 1.8 dimes last season under former head coach Byron Scott to an impressive 3.8 under Walton.
If the former No. 7 overall draft pick can learn to be an adequate shooter from distance, he’ll become a highly coveted commodity in the league. At 22, Randle hasn’t hit his ceiling yet and possesses the kind of passion and purpose that bodes well for the Lakers’ future successes.
2. SG Nick Young
Nick Young was once a ray of sunshine in an otherwise lackluster year under then-Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. And then came the dark days—two seasons of diminishing returns under Byron Scott.
By the time that was over, Young was an untouchable pariah destined for the waiver heap.
But somebody took a chance on the veteran shooter, and that somebody was Walton.
"He’s a players' coach," Young said of Walton, per Medina. "He knows how to relate to players. He's not stuck in his ways. He doesn't hold grudges or anything."
Swaggy P is back, and in a retooled and improved edition no less. The perennial reserve has started in each of his games and is scoring with startling efficiency—42.9 percent from downtown and an effective field-goal rate of 59.4 percent.
One of the knocks on Young has been his penchant for having the rock in his hands and attempting some downright ridiculous shots. But this season he’s playing to his strengths and shooting off the catch rather than the dribble.
But most importantly, at 31, Young has finally embraced the challenge of playing both ends of the floor. He’s chasing elite scorers around the court, fighting through screens and disrupting passing lanes.
Young is not only the most improved Laker this year, he’s also making a case for the NBA’s Comeback Player of the Year.
1. PG D'Angelo Russell
The path of D’Angelo Russell’s development is akin to the daily financial stock charts—a series of jittery peaks and valleys but gaining territory over the long run.
There’s an obvious question of what kind of player he ultimately wants to be. Some nights he’s focused on dealing dimes and bettering his teammates. Other times he seems to want to drink every last drop of the ocean—jacking up shots with abandon.
Russell is also on his second head coach in as many years. Scott was a restrictive taskmaster, while Walton has loosened the reins considerably. Despite some hiccups here and there, the change has been positive.
The sophomore point guard hit another temporary snag with a knee injury in December and initially looked hesitant after coming back. But he has since launched another upward trajectory, averaging 20.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.0 steals so far in January.
Russell won’t turn 21 until February. Fans shouldn’t expect to have a definitive view of how good he can be this season or what his ultimate maturation process will look like. But 16 months into his NBA career, the young floor general seems to be piecing the puzzle together.