Final Regular-Season Grades for Every Los Angeles Lakers Player

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistApril 17, 2015

Final Regular-Season Grades for Every Los Angeles Lakers Player

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Assigning report card grades for a Los Angeles Lakers roster with the worst record in franchise history at 21-61 is primarily about one thing: What, if anything, can these beleaguered players bring to the table next season?

    The 2014-15 campaign went in the dumpster early on as far as any playoff hopes were concerned, with evaluation becoming about effort, adaptability to new coach Byron Scott’s grind-it-out system and the chance that unlikely rotation players might become low-cost investments for the future.

    The biggest commonality on the team was the inordinate number of injuries. Those included Steve Nash being lost for the entire season and then retiring—thus precluding a report card grade—and last June’s No. 7 overall draft pick, Julius Randle, playing all of 14 minutes before being lost for the remainder of the season with a broken leg.

    Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant returned from missing most of last season due to injury, only to be lost for the majority of this year’s campaign with a torn rotator cuff.

    And then there was the curious statistic of 14 different players starting at least one game (with 12 starting more than 18 times).

    An oddball season is now over, and things can only get better from here, right?

    Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

    Salary information courtesy of Spotrac.com.

Kobe Bryant, SG

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    Bryant's season lasted just 35 games because of the injury bug. He had shoulder surgery in January with a nine-month recovery timetable.

    Prior to that, head coach Byron Scott ran Bryant into the ground with way too many minutes, leading to intermittent appearances interspersed with rest periods until the operating table finished things off. 

    This was supposed to be a triumphant return for an aging superstar. But Scott ultimately admitted blame for Bryant’s battered body.

    “I was wrong,” Scott said, per Shahan Ahmed of NBC4 Southern California. “I didn't take in serious consideration [Bryant] almost missing a whole year and getting back and playing.”

    The five-time NBA champion averaged an impressive 27.3 points, 5.8 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks in December, while playing a heavy 37.1 minutes per game. But his usage rate of 35 percent for the season was too high, and his 37 percent field-goal percentage was the lowest of his long career.

    One of the game’s true giants will return again in the fall for his 20th season, with a hefty $25 million salary for the final year of his contract. If used correctly and sparingly, the future Hall of Famer can go out on a high note.

    That will take discipline and tough choices for both Bryant and Scott. 

    Grade: B

Jordan Clarkson, PG

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Jordan Clarkson was drafted at No. 46 last June, with the Lakers purchasing the rights to the pick from the Washington Wizards.

    Nobody expected the 6’5” prospect from Missouri to be a starting point guard his first season in the NBA, but that’s exactly what happened.

    The Western Conference Rookie of the Month for March is also firmly in the conversation for NBA All-Rookie first team.

    “I think he is one of the top rookies in the league this year,” Scott said, per Mike Trudell of Lakers.com. “To me, there’s no doubt he’s in that top five.”

    Clarkson averaged 11.9 points and 3.5 assists for the season and 15.8 points and 5.0 assists as the team’s starting point guard. To say he was the brightest spot in the Lakers’ dismal season is understating the obvious.

    The slashing speedster loves to score the ball and has the length to play both guard positions. But he has also shown an increased willingness to share the ball and facilitate for others while manning the point.

    The ceiling has yet to be established for the overachieving rookie, and that makes his case even more intriguing.

    Grade: A-

Jeremy Lin, PG

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Jeremy Lin arrived in Los Angeles last summer via a trade with the Houston Rockets. The former “Linsanity” sensation had one season left on an overpriced contract and a chance for a new beginning.

    But the 26-year-old’s open-court pick-and-roll improvisations were not a fit in Scott’s staid Princeton-based system, and by January he had been pulled from the starting lineup and replaced by Clarkson.

    But Lin turned things around late in the season, sometimes coming effectively off the bench and eventually as a starter alongside Clarkson in an interesting dual point guard set.

    “I’m definitely encouraged and very optimistic in terms of the progress that was made,” Lin said after his exit interview, per Lakers.com. “If you talked to me in December and January, I would have a very different opinion than what I do now in April.”

    The guard out of Harvard had some good moments during a strange season, often hitting Ed Davis right in stride as the big man rolled to the basket. But on the whole, Lin’s time with the Lakers has been a mixed bag—electrifying and frustrating in equal measure.

    The free agent’s future in Los Angeles is a big question mark.

    Grade: B-

Jordan Hill, C/PF

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Jordan Hill is the $9 million question for the Lakers this summer. That’s the price it will take for the Lakers to pick up their team option on the 6’10” combo center/power forward.

    On one hand, the 27-year-old out of Arizona had his best season yet, averaging 12 points and 7.9 boards while starting 57 of 70 games. On the other hand, he’s not a particularly sturdy center, and picking up his option could preclude making a max-contract offer to an elite-level big man.

    Hill showed some development in his game this season, taking 36.8 percent of his shot attempts from 16 feet out to the three-point line. But his new love for a mid-range game meant that only 24 percent of his tries were at the rim. Also worth noting is that his per-36 offensive rebounding was a career low of 3.3 per game.

    In other words, Hill strayed from his strengths while attempting to expand his game. But his flat-footed set shot is not apt to lend itself to a meaningful floor-stretching presence.

    After his exit interview with Scott and general manager Mitch Kupchak on Thursday, Hill acknowledged a lack of satisfaction from his head coach.

    "He was disappointed," Hill said, per Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times. "He wanted to see more energy from me this year, which I didn't show."

    A one-year rental would not be a disaster—Hill’s expiring contract would become highly tradable. But his future in purple and gold is still very much up in the air.

    Grade: C+

Ed Davis, PF

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Ed Davis was one of the most consistent performers for the Lakers during their woeful 2014-15 campaign.

    That said, the 25-year-old big man and former NCAA champion at North Carolina did see his minutes decrease toward the end of the season as Tarik Black got increased development time.

    Davis, a 6’10” power forward and sometimes center, will opt out of his $1.1 million player’s option in order to test the free-agency waters this summer. The former No. 13 pick for the Toronto Raptors in 2009 plays a no-nonsense brand of basketball with an emphasis on rebounding, rim protection and point-blank scoring.

    And he never wants to take a night off, even when he understands the reasoning.

    “It’s been difficult and sitting on the bench watching when I want to be out there,” Davis said, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. “But I’m staying ready, working out before games and after practices and things like that.”

    Overall, Davis had his most productive season yet in the NBA, averaging 8.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in just 23.2 minutes per game. He also had a team-high field-goal percentage of 61 percent, and the team’s highest win share by far at 6.3. The next highest was Clarkson at 2.4.

    If the Lakers can re-sign Davis at a reasonable bump, they certainly should.

    Grade: B

Wesley Johnson, SF

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Finishing up his fifth NBA season, Wesley Johnson continues to be a frustrating basketball presence.

    The former No. 4 pick for the Minnesota Timberwolves hasn’t yet remotely lived up to expectations, a fact driven home every time he connects on a spectacular play, only to fade back into the woodwork again.

    At age 27, the 6’7” wing would logically seem to be running out of chances. Yet his potential and deceptively consistent stats manage to keep him employed in the NBA. Johnson averaged 9.9 points per game this season, compared to 9.1 last season and 9.0 his rookie year.

    But those numbers are simply a matter of his knack for interspersing good nights with disappearing acts with stupefying regularity.

    One can hope the front office finally cuts bait and moves past Johnson. However, it would not be surprising to see him show up in camp with another minimum salary contract in the fall. 

    Grade: C-

Tarik Black, C/PF

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Tarik Black was picked up off waivers from the Houston Rockets in late December and wound up becoming a steady rotation player in a season that was all about evaluation.

    The undrafted rookie played collegiate ball at both Kansas and Memphis and isn’t particularly tall—measuring 6’8.5” during a predraft workout for the Los Angeles Clippers. That said, he has a 7’3” wingspan to go along with a 257-pound body.

    Black was used mostly as a center for the Lakers this season, though he also logged minutes at the 4. He started 27 out of 38 games in L.A., averaging 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds. He also converted 59 percent of his field-goal attempts—mostly from close range.

    With an energetic physical presence as well as a high basketball IQ, Black was one of the Lakers’ most promising experiments this season. The 23-year-old is under an unguaranteed contract for next season at $845,049.

    “I feel like I found a home here,” Black said after his exit interview Thursday, per Lakers.com.

    There is little doubt he’ll make the roster in the fall. 

    Grade: B

Wayne Ellington, SG

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    Wayne Ellington has been with five NBA teams in six seasons. The 6’4” shooting guard doesn’t make many mistakes and had a solid, if unspectacular, season for the Lakers, averaging 10 points on 42 percent from the floor. He also started 36 of 65 appearances, playing 25.8 minutes per game.

    Ellington, who won an NCAA Championship at North Carolina alongside Davis, provides a steady presence and works well off the ball. He has fit well with Scott—both here in L.A. and during a 38-game stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half of the 2012-13 season.

    The journeyman makes nice cuts off the ball, has an underrated pivot-step and legitimate long-distance shot. That said, he can also be quite streaky.

    Ellington missed the last part of the season with a shoulder separation. He’s a free agent, and it’s hard to predict where he might fit with the Lakers in the future—his best season has been during a lousy year, and he probably wouldn’t get substantial minutes on a playoff-bound team.

    Grade: C+

Ryan Kelly, PF

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Ryan Kelly—taken 48th overall by the Lakers in 2013—had a promising rookie season under former Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. The stretch 4 out of Duke averaged 8.0 points on 42 percent shooting and was generally used in accordance with his specific strengths.

    But this season, Kelly’s wheels came off the bus. It all began with injuries to both hamstrings. And when the 6’11” sophomore was ready to play, he was primarily used as an unlikely small forward by his new coach.

    To be fair, Scott was trying to find minutes for Kelly in a crowded frontcourt rotation. But the gangly big man, who has never been the fleetest of foot, struggled mightily against legitimate wings. He also seemed to lose confidence in his stroke, averaging 6.3 points and dropping to 34 percent from the field.

    Kelly has another year on his contract and, hopefully, will be better used next season. Because if he doesn’t regain his ability as a floor-spacer, it will be hard to envision a future for him in the league. 

    Grade: D+

Jabari Brown, SG

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    Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

    Jabari Brown only played 19 games for the Lakers this season, but he left a solid impression nonetheless.

    The former backcourt teammate and roommate of Clarkson at Missouri wasn’t drafted last June. But he received an invite to Lakers training camp and made it to the final cut, ultimately accepting the consolation prize of a roster spot with the team's D-League affiliate, the Los Angeles D-Fenders.

    The 6’5” shooting guard was the D-League’s scoring leader this season at 24.4 points per game. He got a call-up to the Lakers and wound up with a multiyear non-guaranteed contract.

    “He guards people and is a tough kid,” Scott said, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. “Offensively, he takes what you give him. He makes good decisions too, which is important.”

    The 22-year-old averaged 11.9 points in 29.9 minutes per game during a season dominated by auditions.

    He’ll be battling for a spot once again during training camp in the fall.

    Grade: B

Reserve Players

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Nick Young

    This has not been the season anyone would have predicted for Nick “Swaggy P” Young. The bubbly volume scorer was re-signed to a four-year, $21.5 million contract last summer and slated for a key role with the Lakers.

    But a torn right thumb delayed the start of his season, and a fractured left kneecap ended it. In between, sub-par shooting and clashes with a hyper-critical Scott have left many wondering about the swingman’s future with the organization.

    Recently, per Robert Morales of the Long Beach Telegram, Scott warned that Young needed to improve his game, adding: “And if he doesn’t, there’s no telling what we’re going to do this year in the free-agent market.”

    It looks like rough seas ahead for Swaggy P.  

    Grade: C

    Carlos Boozer

    Carlos Boozer was picked up off amnesty waivers from the Chicago Bulls last summer and, at age 33, has been a solid performer for a team in transition.

    The 6’9” forward averaged 11.9 points and 6.8 rebounds while starting just 26 out of 69 games. His 24 minutes per game have been the lowest in his career, and he has accepted a diminished role like a professional.

    Boozer will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and it’s difficult to know whether there will be a future here, given the team's direction. 

    Grade: C+

    Julius Randle

    It’s hard to give a report card grade to a rookie who was lost for the season just minutes into his NBA debut, but that’s what happened. Randle also utilized his down time by having surgery to repair a foot issue that dated back to a high school injury.

    The 20-year-old power forward is now taking part in limited basketball activities and is expected to be at full strength for next training camp. It may have been a wasted season, but the high-energy power forward is still expected to be a featured player in the Lakers’ youth-driven rebuild. He gets his grade for preparing scouting reports for Kupchak, rehabbing diligently and offering undeterred potential. 

    Grade: B

    Robert Sacre

    At 7’0” and 270 pounds, Robert Sacre is not a volume defensive rebounder or shot-blocker and lacks any kind of vertical explosion.

    On the other hand, the utility center has a decent nose for timing offensive rebounds and defends decently against the pick-and-roll. As for scoring, only 16 percent of his shot attempts come at the rim, with a preference for mid-range baby jumpers and an anemic overall field-goal percentage of 41 percent.

    The Lakers have until June 20 to decide whether to keep their No. 60 pick from 2012 for $981,348 for next season or to waive him. 

    Grade: C-

    Ronnie Price

    Ronnie Price has been with five teams in 10 seasons and offers leadership skills and a gritty defensive mindset. The 6’2” guard made just 42 appearances for the Lakers this season but still had career-high averages of 5.1 points, 3.8 assists and 2.6 steals in 22.8 minutes per game.

    Price also had a broken nose along the way and sat out March and April after having surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow. The veteran guard plays hard and doesn’t make many mistakes. 

    Grade: C+

    Dwight Buycks

    Dwight Buycks joined the team at the tail end of the season after being called up from the Oklahoma City Blue D-League team. Buycks went undrafted in 2011 out of Marquette and has bounced around professional basketball ever since.

    Buycks has a ton of speed and a reputation for playing a little loose and reckless. He averaged 8.7 points per game over six appearances with the Lakers before breaking a finger on his shooting hand, ending his season.

    Grade: B

    Vander Blue

    Vander Blue was called up from the D-League after Buycks broke his finger.

    The 6’5” guard went undrafted out of Marquette in 2013 but played for eight different professional teams that season. He spent his sophomore year with the D-Fenders, averaging 23.3 points per game.

    Blue averaged 11 points in the last two games of the season. It’s a microscopic sample size, but he has potential.

    Grade: B

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