Final 2015 Player Power Rankings for the Los Angeles Lakers

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistDecember 28, 2015

Final 2015 Player Power Rankings for the Los Angeles Lakers

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    With 2015 coming to a close, the Los Angeles Lakers are the dead-last team in the Western Conference at 5-26. Despite the wretchedness of this record, there is still a fluctuating dynamic between the players themselves.

    The emphasis in Los Angeles is on young, developing talent. At the same time, Kobe Bryant is in the midst of his farewell tour with performances that sometimes evoke memories of a brilliant career and, just as often, remind us that Father Time is undefeatable.

    This is the state of the current Purple and Gold—an odd mixture of past, present and future, overseen by the ghosts of championships past in both Bryant and Byron Scott.

    But if Bryant can at least still wield on-court firepower while also mentoring teammates, Scott seems to be ebbing further and further from relevancy.

    Indeed, if the Lakers’ current head coach were to receive a power ranking, it would be at the lowest end of a sliding scale. Scott seems out of touch with the modern NBA, and he's equally unable to connect when it comes to fundamental basketball principles.

    Meanwhile, the roster members, some rising and others fading, continue their dogged march forward.

    Stats are courtesy of NBA.com, ESPN.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are current as of the start of games December 28.

Reserves 10-15

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    15. Ryan Kelly

    Ryan Kelly was used out of position last season as a small forward. Now, he’s hardly being used at all with just three appearance in December for a total of 31 minutes. Once an NCAA champion, the former Duke stretch 4 has become the Lakers' invisible man, hence his lowliest-of-the-low ranking.

    14. Tarik Black

    Tarik Black does not deserve to be stuck this far back in the power rankings. The second-year backup center has great hustle and a sneaky-good knack for rolling to the rim and finishing. Unfortunately, he hasn’t seen a shred of game time this month—except with the Lakers’ D-League affiliate, the D-Fenders.

    13. Robert Sacre

    Robert Sacre isn’t a particularly good basketball player. But after a string of 17 DNPs in a row, the sturdy 7-footer returned to the rotation, averaging 3.8 points and 3.4 boards over his last 10 appearances. Maybe he’s being showcased as trade bait? One can dream.

    12. Anthony Brown

    During his five-year collegiate career at Stanford, Anthony Brown enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as a lockdown defender with a deadly outside stroke. But the rookie wing hasn’t seen much action since being chosen as the No. 34 pick last June—1.6 points during 9.3 minutes per game, in only eight appearances.

    11. Metta World Peace

    After playing pro ball in China and Italy, Metta World Peace was able to resurrect his NBA career this season, averaging 17 minutes of trademark tenacity in 17 appearances. And then he was put back on the shelf—10 DNPs and counting. He’s still a valuable presence, however, mentoring younger players and providing a positive attitude.

    10. Marcelo Huertas

    A longtime star in the Spanish League, Marcelo Huertas joined the Lakers as a 32-year-old rookie this season. While his role has been limited, there have been some entertaining moments, including a furious fourth-quarter surge in a Christmas Day loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. After the game, per NBA.com, Lakers coach Byron Scott praised the guard’s “energy, leadership and trying to get guys where they need to be." But in Sunday’s blowout loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Huertas received just seven minutes of garbage time. Go figure.

Bench 6-9

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    9. Brandon Bass

    The numbers for Brandon Bass in L.A. are down from last season with the Boston Celtics—5.4 points in 15.8 minutes per game compared with 10.6 in 23.5 minutes. It’s not because the 30-year-old’s skills are eroding, but more due to his role—he’s just not getting the same number of touches as he was in Beantown.

    Bass plays backup minutes as a power forward and also shifts over to center for small-ball matchups. He has a nice short-to-midrange shooting touch and can rebound the ball. That said, giving those minutes to a still-developing prospect like Black would be a better benefit for the Lakers in the long term, and flipping Bass to a contender for a cheap asset would probably help all parties even further.

    8. Nick Young

    Nick Young is shooting a decent 35.8 percent from beyond the arc this season and taking better advantage of catch-and-shoot situations, rather than his customary tendency to try and create for himself.

    Despite his efforts to fit into Scott’s system, however, Young’s opportunities continue to wane. This is not the same Swaggy P who romped his way through Mike D’Antoni’s run-and-gun system two years ago. And it’s kind of sad.

    7. Larry Nance Jr.

    On December 7, in the middle of a long and draining road trip, Larry Nance Jr. was given an unexpected starting nod over Julius Randle. Since then, the No. 27 draft pick out of Wyoming has stepped into the breach, playing tough-nosed defense and throwing down nasty jams with regularity. The power forward recently contributed a rookie diary entry for the Players’ Tribune, expressing his attitude about commitment, even when a team seems written off.

    “In the NBA, you’re supposed to be an ultra-competitor,” Nance wrote. “If you’re not, you shouldn’t be here. And even if it might actually be 'delusional' at times, sometimes delusional thinking is exactly what you need to reach your goals.”

    On Sunday, Nance Jr. had a career-high 17 points and 11 rebounds in another Lakers loss. He’s continuing with that ultra-competitive spirit.

    6. Lou Williams

    Lou Williams is the other recent beneficiary of Scott’s rotation shake-up—starting in place of prized rookie D’Angelo Russell. And while the change seemed curious, last year’s Sixth Man of the Year has generally played well, serving as an attack guard rather than a facilitator.

    Williams was signed last summer to a three-year, $21.5 million deal. It’s hard to envision the 10-year vet as a long-term starter, given the potential of youngsters like Russell and Jordan Clarkson. But regardless, he can put up points in a hurry and also knows how to effectively close out quarters.

5. Roy Hibbert, C

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Roy Hibbert tries hard enough. He’s also a solid team presence, a case in point being the team-building paintball event he sponsored in October. But his actual on-court production just hasn’t been that good lately—an average of 4.6 points, 3.5 boards and .66 blocks in 22.5 minutes over his last six contests. 

    This is a problem for the Lakers, who are currently giving up 107.2 points per game, putting them last in the league on defense. It will also be an issue for Hibbert this summer when he hits free agency. The 7’2” low-post anachronism doesn’t hold the same appeal as he once did in a league that’s trending smaller, faster and more versatile.

    So why does he warrant a top-five spot in these rankings?

    Because the Lakers' abysmal defense can’t be blamed on a guy whose per-36 shot-blocking average is actually the highest it’s been in five years. Hibbert is often the sole stopper under the basket as teammates fail to rotate or stay in front of their man.

    Hibbert still holds value as an enforcer and a rim protector in the right system. But whether that includes next year’s Lakers is a major question mark. With a nucleus of young players who can run the floor, the front office would do well to acquire a mobile, floor-stretching center.

    And that will never be Big Roy’s M.O.

4. D’Angelo Russell, PG

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Success in professional basketball won’t be handed to Russell on a silver platter. The Lakers’ prized No. 2 draft pick has to get stronger and more confident. He also has to learn how to adapt to systems that may not seem second-nature to his skill set.

    Exhibit A is Scott’s off-ball, screen-heavy preferences, compounded by the inconsistent minutes he graces the 19-year-old with.

    Suck it up, rookie—this is the NBA, not prep school or your one-and-done season at Ohio State.

    Ultimately, Russell will have to avoid getting caught up in the expectations game from being an elite lottery pick. Fortunately, he continues to show progress despite the loss of his starting gig.  

    Gaining the full trust of his coach may be a lengthier endeavor, however. Scott recently went public with the assertion that Russell only knows 20 percent of his playbook, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.

    “At times, he does know,” Scott said. “Then at other times in the game, I think he has no clue. He’ll call a play for a high pick-and-roll and we’ll call it off. I’ll say, ‘No. Let’s do something that involves two or three passes.’”

    And so the season goes for a developing talent—learning and evolving alongside other prospects on the one hand and getting his leash yanked on the other.

3. Julius Randle, PF

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    Randle should be a cornerstone of the Lakers’ future success. It’s really just a matter of logical progression—of utilizing the natural talents he already possesses and augmenting them with certain other skill sets, including a more reliable jump shot and improving his off-the-ball defense.

    The 21-year-old has dealt with a couple of roadblocks during his embryonic career, however. The first one was major: missing his entire rookie campaign save for 14 minutes with a nasty broken leg. The second hindrance is a bit more subtle and odd: the loss of his starting position for 11 games and counting.

    Scott hasn’t necessarily been happy with the result, pointing out Randle’s struggles as a reserve in mid-December, per Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.

    “His energy hasn’t been the same,” Scott said. “I made the change with the first unit because the first unit was getting off to terrible starts. Now they’re getting off to real good starts and the bench is coming in and not sustaining.”

    In Randle’s place has been Nance Jr., and herein lies a conundrum—they’re both young players who occupy the same power forward position, benefiting equally from extra minutes and the opportunity to start.

    But a case can also be made that Randle’s extended demotion, coming on the heels of a lost season, is more of an unnecessary deterrent to logical progression rather than a character-building lesson.

    Is Scott’s tough love helping the future growth of Randle, and the Lakers in general? Only time will tell.

2. Jordan Clarkson, SG

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Clarkson is second only to Bryant in scoring this season and has started every game except for two that he sat out with an ankle injury. He has also handled repeated shifts between on-ball and off-ball duties, and he never seems to lose his competitive zeal.

    It’s not all smooth sailing, though. Clarkson’s improved outside shooting stroke has largely abandoned him of late, perhaps a lingering after-effect from his injury. He also needs to be more aware on the defensive end, sometimes failing to rotate properly and other times getting lost when trying to fight through screens.

    But this is a player who vastly outperformed expectations as last year’s No. 46 draft pick, to the point that he wound up on the All-Rookie First Team. This season, Clarkson continues to play aggressively with a chip on his shoulder, outscoring everyone in his draft class save No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins.

    The speedster from Missouri and Tulsa has good size at 6’5” and a stunning array of hesitation fakes and other direction-shifting wizardry. No wonder an opposing coach in college once referred to Clarkson as a “ninja blender” for his ability to slice and dice through the opposition.

    Clarkson will be a restricted free agent this summer, and there’s little doubt that the Lakers will match all offers. Apart from a certain swan-song superstar, the 23-year-old is the best player on the team.

1. Kobe Bryant, SF

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Bryant may be old and on his farewell tour. But let’s be serious—he could still beat anybody on this current Lakers squad in a game of one-on-one.

    At 37, there have been plenty of nights when the five-time champion is a mere shadow of his former self—jacking up shots on tired legs and barely drawing iron. Yet he’s going out like a lion in December, averaging 20.6 points on 42.7 percent shooting over his last five games.

    Put aside the stats and simply watch when he’s feeling right, hitting those patented fadeaway jumpers and dealing delicious dimes. Are any of the baby players on the roster—no matter how important they are to the team’s future—actually more powerful than the Mamba?

    Prime-time moments have included Kobe’s first dunk of the season on December 17 against the Houston Rockets.

    “That was crazy,” Randle said, per ESPN’s Baxter Holmes. “That was vintage Mamba right there. That was nuts. It caught me by surprise. I haven't seen him dunk all year.”

    Bryant can also still pull out a strong two-way game on occasion. This past Tuesday, he dropped 31 points in a win against the Denver Nuggets and also locked down hot-shooting Will Barton in the second half. Barton went from 23 points during the first two quarters to only two with No. 24 on his tail.

    “It was a great test for me tonight to see if I could still play both ends of the floor,” Bryant said afterward, per Joey Ramirez of Lakers.com. “I felt like I could do one. I didn’t know if I could do both. It felt good to be able to do that.”

    Bryant may be on his last legs, but he’s still the top dog in Lakerland.