Los Angeles Lakers 2016-17 NBA Training Camp Roster Rankings
D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr., Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Anthony Brown, Brandon Ingram and others have been getting in summer workouts and shooting drills in a self-named "Breakfast Club," according to Mark Medina of the Orange County Register.
"These are the guys that want it," Russell said. "You don’t have to be there. But guys that show up like that, they really want to be there."
This is a team yearning for a fresh start. It will get that with new head coach Luke Walton, who takes over after historically bad back-to-back records under Byron Scott, an old-school authoritarian. In an interview with Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding, Walton spoke about his love for the process and building an enjoyable culture.
"Grab a coffee on your way in," the 36-year-old said. "Can’t wait to see the players in there. Get them out on the court and start working on things in a game that I love. I might be young and naive, and when we're in February and our record's not that great, I won't feel the same way, but as for right now, which is all you can control, I'm very excited about the future."
The team’s fate isn’t only up to the millennials—there are veterans around as well. And while it’s chancy at best to rank a roster before the first day of camp begins, there are certainly some expectations going in. There will also be surprises before the season is done.
On the Bubble: 20-15
20. Julian Jacobs
Julian Jacobs was the starting point guard at USC for three years running, but he went undrafted in June. The 6'4" prospect is a two-way player who led the Pac-12 in assists at 5.4 per game last season. He could be a decent pickup for the Lakers’ NBA D-League affiliate—the Los Angeles D-Fenders—but he won’t make the main team.
19. Zach Auguste
All-out hustle, athleticism, crashing the boards—those are signature traits for Zach Auguste. The 6'10" undrafted power forward out of Notre Dame acquitted himself nicely for the Lakers during Las Vegas Summer League. But his jumper is iffy, and the team’s already plenty deep at his position.
18. Travis Wear
The Lakers need more snipers who can stretch the floor. Travis Wear fits the description but hasn’t managed to stick in the NBA. The reedy 6'10" forward played for the New York Knicks two years ago and then plied his trade overseas. He has an outside chance of making the roster, but it will take some spectacular shooting. Plus, L.A. would have to cut a guaranteed player to make room.
17. Thomas Robinson
Thomas Robinson was the No. 5 overall pick by the Sacramento Kings in 2012 but has had a strange odyssey since then, bouncing through frequent trades and playing for five teams in four seasons. The athletic power forward crashes the boards and finishes hard at the rim, but his NBA fate seems forever interconnected with landing in crowded situations. That hasn’t changed with a Lakers training camp invite.
16. Nick Young
Nobody would have considered Nick Young a bubble player three years ago, when he was one of Mike D’Antoni’s favorites. But the happy-go-lucky shot-chucker fell out of the rotation altogether under Scott. The self-styled Swaggy P has two years left on his contract, but the Lakers may well cut their losses if they don't find a trade partner.
15. Metta World Peace
Veteran forward Metta World Peace re-signed with the Lakers last week, as first reported by The Vertical’s Shams Charania. World Peace is a former teammate of Walton’s. And while it’s doubtful the 36-year-old will see much playing time, he can certainly reprise his role from last season as a mentor to younger players.
Secondary Reserves: 14-11
14. Yi Jianlian
The free-agent signing of Yi Jianlian came out of left field this summer. The Chinese 28-year-old was the No. 6 overall draft pick for the Milwaukee Bucks in 2007 but never lived up to the hype. Yi played for four NBA teams over five seasons and returned to pro ball in China during 2012. He’s now back on a partially guaranteed, one-year $8 million contract loaded with incentives, according to Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders.
It’s hard to see where the Guangdong Southern Tigers star will fit in on a crowded Lakers squad. But the slender 7-footer can stretch the floor and showed well for China in the recent Rio Olympics.
13. Anthony Brown
In theory, Brown brings something to the table that the Lakers need: The 6'8" wing established a rep as a modern three-and-D guy at Stanford, prompting L.A. to select him in the second round of last year’s draft.
But Brown only appeared in 29 games during his rookie season, shooting a woeful 28.6 percent from outside the arc. That said, he did get some extra experience with the D-Fenders, averaging 14.6 points over seven games. Brown better start sinking his shots this season if he wants to stick in the NBA.
12. Ivica Zubac
The rookie center from Croatia has sleeper-hit potential written all over him. After the conclusion of Las Vegas Summer League, I wrote that the team’s 32nd overall selection in June had played like a borderline lottery pick—averaging 10.6 points, 7.2 boards and a hearty 2.6 blocks while starting every game.
At 7'1" and 265 pounds, Ivica Zubac is a kid who possesses both classic low-post fundamentals and the ability to sink shots out near the perimeter. He’ll be competing for minutes in an extremely crowded frontcourt, but this is an enthusiastic prospect with huge upside.
11. Jose Calderon
Jose Calderon was acquired this summer through an interesting trade with the Chicago Bulls, who had obtained him from the New York Knicks as part of the Derrick Rose deal. The veteran point guard is in the final year of his contract, and the Lakers also grabbed two future second-round draft picks while only giving up the rights to long-forgotten former pick Ater Majok.
Calderon is a longtime NBA starter as well as an overseas star in Spain. But despite his ability to shoot the ball and dish dimes, he’s a notoriously weak defender. The Lakers will be pinning their point guard hopes on D’Angelo Russell; Calderon will battle it out with other guards for leftovers.
Key Reserves: 10-6
10. Marcelo Huertas
At this point, it’s a toss-up whether Marcelo Huertas or Calderon gets more burn as the primary backup point guard. But given that Huertas, 33, already has a year with the team, as well as considerable on-court chemistry with key players, he may wind up getting the nod.
The Brazilian-born guard was a longtime star overseas before signing with L.A. last season as the league’s oldest rookie. His defense is spotty, but his passes are a thing of beauty.
9. Tarik Black
Tarik Black was woefully underused by Scott last season, but the 6'10" backup center was re-signed during the offseason and will now have a chance for a more significant role.
"Tarik is a player whose strengths are well-suited for the style of play we envision for our team going forward," general manager Mitch Kupchak said in an official statement. "He plays the game with a mix of athleticism, energy and physicality that make him a valuable frontcourt contributor in today’s NBA."
Black has plenty of hustle and a knack for finishing hard at the rim off the pick-and-roll. He’ll have to improve his shot-making ability to truly maximize his worth in an open-court system.
8. Louis Williams
Louis Williams was an integral part of the squad last season, starting 35 games and averaging 15.3 points in 28.5 minutes overall. Scott used the former Sixth Man of the Year at both guard positions and gave him free rein as a scorer. And that’s what Williams is all about—having the ball in his hands and putting it in the bucket.
But whether that flies with Walton—or lead assistant Brian Shaw for that matter—will be a closely watched storyline this season. If Williams doesn’t show a greater willingness to share the rock and play both ends of the floor, his role is likely to be diminished.
7. Larry Nance Jr.
This could very well be a breakout year for Nance Jr. The high-flying dunker was a highlight reel in his rookie season, although hampered at times by a continued recovery from college knee surgery. He has since continued to grow his shooting game and was a major force in summer-league action before spraining his wrist.
But where does the sophomore power forward best fit in on this roster? He shares the same natural position as Randle, but Nance Jr. (6'9", 230 lbs) also showed real promise as an undersized center last season and can even slide to the 3 in certain matchups.
Walton’s free-flowing offensive system and shared accountability should be a great fit for the four-year man from Wyoming—a dedicated two-way player with loads of untapped potential.
6. Brandon Ingram
The Lakers selected Ingram as their No. 2 overall draft pick in June with hopes of future superstardom. But the skinny 6'9" wing will need seasoning and added strength before he achieves such lofty expectations.
"We’re not going to throw him into the starting lineup right away," Walton said, per Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. "You develop the young core by rewarding them when they play well."
Luol Deng will likely get the starting nod at small forward to start, and it should not be surprising for the 19-year-old Ingram to experience major growing pains as a rook. He’ll also flash more than a little brilliance along the way.
5. Timofey Mozgov
Fans were stunned when the Lakers netted Timofey Mozgov with a four-year, $64 million deal, moments after the opening of summer free agency. The question wasn’t whether the hulking 7’1” center held any worth; but why such a pricey contract while so many other candidates were still available?
Team executives work the phones and relationships for months heading into the offseason and generally have a pretty good sense of who’s willing to come on board. In L.A.’s case, there was also the undeniable fact of the Western Conference's worst record.
Mozgov didn’t play heavy minutes during the Cleveland Cavaliers’ championship run, partially because of a surgically repaired knee that had troubled him all season long.
But when he’s right, he can be an effective asset. He is able to move well for a man his size and shows a surprisingly smooth touch with his mid-range jump shot. In fact, the big guy even possesses three-point potential. Watch him swish shots during practice with the Russian national team in this video posted by CBS Sports’ James Herbert.
And as Herbert pointed out, Shaw once drew up a three-point play for Mozgov for the Denver Nuggets (it missed).
Mozgov won’t be expected to play heavy minutes or be a stretch-5 savior. But he’ll provide defense under the rim and veteran leadership, while being an upgrade over last season’s Roy Hibbert.
4. Luol Deng
Combo forward Luol Deng is growing long in the tooth, but he’s still got some quality basketball left in him. The Lakers signed the 31-year-old to a four-year, $72 million contract this summer for his defensive grit and ability to play-make on the other end of the floor.
The multipositional stalwart has been a starter throughout his career, and that isn’t likely to change for the time being. However, he’ll also be a transitional component while the Lakers groom Ingram to be a franchise star of the future.
Deng’s contract is long and expensive—management will have to deal with any repercussions of that down the line as the veteran’s game declines and he becomes more difficult to move.
But for now, he’ll be a great fit on a mostly young squad, providing mentoring skills and the flexibility to play both forward positions. How Walton balances his vets with a large crop of first-, second- and third-year players will be one of the most analyzed aspects of the season.
The Lakers aren’t viewed as serious playoff contenders at this stage, but it’s certainly important to show improvement from the last few miserable seasons. Deng will play an important part in that—whether as a starter or crucial backup component.
3. Julius Randle
Julius Randle’s rookie season was all but lost when he broke his leg during his NBA debut. Now, with a new head coach and a solid year of experience under his belt, the third-year player is poised to break out.
Randle’s strengths so far have been as a bruising playmaker who is able to run the court and handle the ball from the power forward position. He’s also a solid rebounder, averaging a double-double in his sophomore campaign.
But despite his overall athleticism and ability to score the ball at close range, Randle has some obvious weaknesses: He lacks lateral quickness on the defensive end and doesn’t have a quality jump shot. There’s also the very real question of whether Nance Jr. is actually the better all-around player.
Randle has continued to hone his shooting stroke this summer with the young Breakfast Club contingent. He has also been working at getting his body right with Lakers strength and conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco.
"For lack of a better term, he plays a violent style of basketball," DiFrancesco said in an interview with Joey Ramirez for the team’s official website. "I feel bad for the guys that are on the other side, because he’s giving hits. He’s not taking them. The speed and explosiveness and power that he can develop with his size is really scary for those people on the other side."
It will be interesting to see if the 6'9", 250-pound Randle can be shaped into some proximity of the Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green, a player he has long looked up to. As a member of USA Basketball’s select team, Randle was able to scrimmage against Green and the senior national team this summer.
But competition from within Randle’s own Lakers ranks could be even more intriguing.
2. Jordan Clarkson
Jordan Clarkson has shown steady progress for the Lakers since he was drafted as the 46th overall pick two years ago.
The combo guard capped off a Cinderella rookie campaign with NBA All-Rookie First Team honors and was second only to Kobe Bryant in points averaged the following season. That resulted in a new four-year, $50 million contract this summer.
But Clarkson still has plenty of room for improvement, as noted by his new head coach, per Medina for the Los Angeles Daily News.
"I think he can take his biggest strides by embracing the challenge of being a solid defender in this league," Walton said. "The big thing for him in becoming a better basketball player and us as a team is the way he gets after it on defense."
This will take a concerted effort on Clarkson’s part. While his natural instincts as a slasher/scorer were on full display last season, he often gambled or was simply late to his spots on the other end. If he keeps showing mental lapses, it could open the door to increased minutes for other players.
The third-year guard heads into training camp ranked second on the roster, but that could change in a hurry.
1. D’Angelo Russell
This is D’Angelo Russell’s year—or at least it could be.
Last summer's No. 2 overall draft pick had an up-and-down rookie campaign under Scott. Some nights, the precocious point guard shined, then he'd inexplicably watch from the bench when there was nothing else at stake except teaching moments.
That was then, and this is now. The relationship between Russell and Walton could not be more different from the one experienced by an impressionable teenager partnered with a seemingly inflexible taskmaster.
As Bleacher Report’s Ding observed, the comfort level and bond between Russell and the NBA’s youngest head coach is unmistakable.
"I look at him more as a big brother figure," Russell says of his new coach. "I can't say father figure. Not just like an old guy walking around…or a guy who is just talking and talking."
The reins were loosened in Las Vegas this summer as Russell directed teammates with confidence and scored at will. But the regular season will pose challenges on a higher level as the sophomore attempts to lead a mixture of newbies and vets, all while learning on the run against the best teams in the league.
This is the honeymoon period between Walton and his staff on one side, and Russell and his fellow Lakers on the other. But things are about to get serious.
And Russell will have to find the balance between fun-loving prodigy and deadly assassin.