Complete L.A. Lakers Power Rankings After Season's 1st Month
Power may not be the first word that comes to mind for the current incarnation of Purple and Gold as they trail the pack in the Western Conference at 2-14. But there is still a hierarchy within the team itself, and it’s one that’s very fluid. Younger players are rising while older ones either fade or cling with fierce resistance to vestiges from the past.
One thing is certain—this current roster is not nearly as competitive as many would have hoped. And the only way back to prominence is through the ongoing rebuilding process.
An argument could also be made that real progress—the kind that results in deep playoff runs—won’t be possible as long as Byron Scott is sitting in the coach’s chair.
Nonetheless, players are measured by their own contributions on the floor and within a team setting. These early rankings may very well change as months go on. Hopefully the Lakers’ collective performance will also improve.
15. Robert Sacre
As the Lakers’ second-round pick in 2012, Robert Sacre isn’t known for rebounding, shot blocking or for offensive power in the paint. Still, the utility 7-footer does have a role on the roster—as an end-of-the-bench cheerleader. Sacre has a good attitude and can also play a little in a pinch.
14. Ryan Kelly
Ryan Kelly logged solid minutes during the first few games of the season before falling out of the rotation. The former NCAA champion from Duke is a streaky stretch 4 with good court vision. But he hasn’t yet been able to develop a reliable NBA game.
13. Anthony Brown
Anthony Brown could eventually be a very productive player in L.A. The three-and-D small forward has length, athleticism and a nice outside stroke. But for now, the Lakers’ second-round draft pick in 2015 is getting some seasoning with their D-League affiliate, the Los Angeles D-Fenders, averaging 16.6 points per game as a starter.
12. Brandon Bass
Now in his 11th season, Brandon Bass has carved out a solid role in the NBA—doing a little of everything. But so far this season, the results have been somewhat disappointing, with the 6’8” journeyman being primarily used as an undersized backup center in second-unit lineups that simply don’t have enough stopping power.
11. Marcelo Huertas
After years of stardom in Europe, 32-year-old Marcelo Huertas is an NBA rookie. A classic pass-first point guard, his talents are being wasted with the Lakers. This is a guy who needs a consistent role in order to thrive. Instead, Scott is keeping him on the bench or handing out short-minute appearances to the dime-dealer in equal measure. But when Huertas is in a game and on a roll, his ability to dish the rock is a thing of beauty.
10. Tarik Black
Tarik Black should be getting more playing time, plain and simple. The second-year big essentially plays the same role as Bass—as an undersized 5. The difference is Black’s youth and physicality. He bangs in the post, gets back fast in transition and is also an excellent finisher off the roll.
9. Metta World Peace
Heading into training camp, Metta World Peace seemed like a long shot to even make the Lakers roster. But the 36-year-old has returned to the NBA after nearly two years away, one of which was spent playing overseas. His legendary intensity is still evident, and he has also been mentoring younger players such as Julius Randle.
It is fair to ask whether World Peace’s roster position should have been given to a young, developing prospect such as 7'0" shot-swatter Robert Upshaw, who is currently with the D-Fenders. But for now, the veteran defender is averaging a solid 18.3 minutes per game and leading others by example.
8. Larry Nance Jr.
Larry Nance Jr. is fast emerging as a bright spot in another lost season. The No. 27 draft pick in June has a high motor and plays all out—chasing after every loose ball, disrupting opposing players and throwing down some seriously nasty dunks.
Nance Jr., a four-year power forward out of the University of Wyoming, has a sorely needed attitude for a sometimes lackadaisical team. “I get hyped if I see the team get hyped,” he said after a high-flying jam, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. “The bench is going crazy. It was something that if it sparks the team, that’s something I love to do.”
7. Lou Williams
The Lakers signed free agent Lou Williams this summer to do one thing—score the ball. Unfortunately, the 6’1” combo guard and reigning Sixth Man of the Year has had difficulty finding his range. Williams is shooting 34.8 percent from the field and just 23.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Williams’ 24.9 minutes per game come at the expense of D’Angelo Russell and benchwarmer Huertas. Only time will tell if the unrepentant gunner will shoot himself out of his current slump.
6. Nick Young
Nobody will ever associate Nick Young with a multidimensional two-way player. Like Williams, his main function is to put points on the board. And so far, he’s doing the better job of the two, shooting a career-high 41 percent from downtown. That’s still not helping his team win games, however.
“There’s a lot of one-on-one players, including myself,” Young said recently, per Medina. “That’s one of the major parts of why our offense is so stagnant.” The self-styled Swaggy P is at least owning the problem. The next step would be to actually correct it.
5. Roy Hibbert, C
When Roy Hibbert was acquired from the Indiana Pacers this summer, the hope was that he could rediscover his elite form as a feared defender under the basket. After all, defense has been one of the Lakers’ biggest weaknesses in recent years.
So far, the results have been mixed. Hibbert, a massive presence at 7’2” and 270 pounds, has been delivering a solid effort with 2.1 blocks per game. But he’s also getting the least playing time of all the starters at 26.7 minutes per game. And the team continues to leak points like a sieve.
In truth, Hibbert has become something of a dinosaur in a game that is constantly evolving. He doesn’t have the quickness to effectively hedge and recover, nor does his plodding offensive style suit the run-and-gun tendencies of the Lakers’ younger players.
And so the man mountain does his diligent duty in the paint on a team ill-suited to the priorities of its own coach. Scott can’t effectively govern or inspire, and Hibbert is left as a last line of defense while opponents swarm in from all sides.
4. D’Angelo Russell, PG
Heading into the season, many observers would have expected D’Angelo Russell to rank high among the Lakers starters. After all, he was selected with the No. 2 pick in June's draft with expectations of superstar potential.
But so far, things aren’t quite working out that way for the 19-year-old out of Ohio State.
Yes, Russell has started every game for L.A., but he is also playing a fairly modest 27 minutes per game and has often observed the action from the bench during crucial fourth-quarter situations.
Even more alarming, the 6’5” point guard who was so lauded for his playmaking abilities is only averaging three assists per game—not exactly what Laker fans were expecting.
This should not be laid entirely at Russell’s feet, however. Scott has been slow to trust the kid and is not particularly shy about sharing that opinion.
“Players have got to make me want to trust them,” the coach said, per Serena Winters of Lakers Nation. “He’s (D’Angelo Russell) one of those guys that I’m getting to that point where I’m trusting him, but I still want him to continue to learn and not try to do things on the fly just try to stick within the system as much as possible.”
Despite Scott’s own lack of success since taking over the reins of the Lakers, he does have a point. Russell is still learning the ropes, a process that has been complicated by absorbing a Princeton-based offense when his own strengths lie clearly in the pick-and-roll.
As the months progress, we’ll get a clearer picture of the young rookie’s progress. And perhaps he’ll develop into the type of system player Scott so clearly desires.
But wouldn’t it be great to see Russell entrusted to be more than a serviceable cog in the machine?
3. Kobe Bryant, SF
“My mind can handle the grind but my body knows it’s time to say goodbye,” Bryant wrote Sunday in the Players' Tribune. “And that’s OK. I’m ready to let you go.”
Fittingly, the website crashed soon after. The Mamba may be a shell of his former self on the basketball court, but he’s still a living legend whose words can destroy mere Internet servers.
Regardless of the sentiments sweeping through the NBA and beyond, it has become abundantly clear that a superstar's time has passed. His overall field-goal and three-point percentages are at all-time lows. And the moments of brilliance here and there are outweighed by the inevitable decline wrought by Father Time.
Despite all that, Bryant is just a fraction of a digit behind Jordan Clarkson in points and steals per game, and he leads all teammates in assists.
Just imagine if the Lakers’ young guns were dishing more dimes to No. 24, or if he had a coach who could maximize his fading skills. Wouldn’t that make a farewell tour a tad easier and more satisfying for a guy who has given so much to the organization?
Regardless, the five-time NBA champion has finally been toppled from the Lakers’ top spot when it comes to power rankings. And he’ll soon exit stage left altogether.
2. Julius Randle, PF
Randle comes to play, night in and night out. The prized No. 7 draft pick in 2014 missed out on all but 14 minutes of his rookie season with a broken leg. To say he’s making up for lost time would be an understatement.
Now 21, the one-and-done standout at Kentucky has a stocky 6’9” frame but moves with a fluidity that belies his size, running the court and shifting through traffic. He’s a natural lefty but has shown an evolving ability to switch hands when shooting and handling the ball.
He’s also catching the attention of established players around the league. After a Lakers loss to the Dallas Mavericks in early November, Dirk Nowitzki gave the kid a tip of the hat, per Winters. “He’s going to be tough in this league,” Nowitzki said. “He puts the ball on the floor like no other power forward...”
Randle has shown a clear hunger to improve and succeed, rehabbing relentlessly from his broken leg and working out with World Peace throughout the summer. The future success of the Lakers is clearly tied to a second-year player with just 17 NBA games under his belt.
1. Jordan Clarkson, SG
Jordan Clarkson has been the quintessential overachiever for the Lakers. Selected as the No. 46 pick in last year’s draft, the 6’5” speedster soaked up knowledge and seasoning from the bench and the D-League before earning the role of starting point guard halfway through his freshman season.
The icing on the cake was being named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
For his sophomore act, Clarkson was shifted over to shooting guard so that presumed rookie sensation Russell could run the point. This hasn’t deterred last year’s model one bit—Clarkson’s just fine with breaking down defenses and scoring the ball at will.
And he does so efficiently. Clarkson isn’t the type to heave up prayers or blindly plow into defenders. He’s got blow-by quickness but can also weave through traffic. He has been the most accurate shooter from the field and from beyond the arc of any Laker guard or wing this season at 47.6 and 40.0 percent, respectively, and is also a willing defender.
The player that the rest of the league passed on will be a restricted free agent next summer. This time, he’ll have plenty of suitors. The Lakers better be prepared to crack the piggybank and reward talent, motivation and a continually improving game.