Lakers Players Who Can Benefit Most from Strong Training Camp Performances

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 23, 2021

Lakers Players Who Can Benefit Most from Strong Training Camp Performances

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Lakers are built to follow the lead of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook during the 2021-22 NBA season.

    But what happens around those stars remains up in the air.

    The Lakers overhauled almost their entire roster this summer, which created no shortage of question marks for their upcoming training camp.

    Roles and minutes are up for grabs with just about everyone, but the following players in particular have plenty to gain from a strong showing.

Talen Horton-Tucker

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Lakers coach Frank Vogel might disagree with this, but from my vantage point, only James, Davis and Westbrook are locked into starting roles. Everyone else could play their way into that position, and Talen Horton-Tucker might have a head start.

    For one, he was with L.A. before this offseason, which separates him from a big chunk of this roster. Secondly, his age (20) and upside give him unique growth potential, meaning he might have the biggest say in setting the Lakers' ceiling among all of their non-stars.

    Horton-Tucker started showing what he could do last season. Armed with an array of shot-creating moves and an impossibly long wingspan (7'1" for the 6'4" swingman), he paired plucky defense with some encouraging stretches co-piloting the offense. But he also shot just 28.2 percent from distance and couldn't compile a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio (2.8 and 1.6 per game, respectively).

    There are areas for the Iowa State product to iron out, which should be expected for someone so young and inexperienced. Still, he must show substantial improvement in training camp, because these Lakers can't afford to be patient. They're all-in on a championship push, and it's on Horton-Tucker to prove he can play a significant role in that quest.

Kendrick Nunn

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    When the Lakers looked outside the organization, they gave everyone minimum money—except Kendrick Nunn.

    For him, they found a two-year, $10.3 million pact. He's already the team's fifth-highest paid player, trailing only the stars and Horton-Tucker, which should give Nunn a leg up when it comes to camp competitions.

    However, the 26-year-old is not so highly paid that the Lakers would hesitate to move other players in front of him if they outperformed him. He needs to earn his keep, and camp is where he can make his first big stride toward doing that.

    Nunn packs a mean scoring punch (career 15.0 points per game) and wowed last season by spiking his shooting rates (48.5/38.1/93.3). But he hasn't shown the willingness or vision to be a plus-passer, and he leaves plenty to be desired on defense.

    His camp challenge is either showing improvement with his weaknesses or proving his strengths are powerful enough to outweigh them.

The Centers

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Ever since teaming James and Davis together in 2019, the Lakers have made sure to keep some traditional bigs on their roster—and one in the starting lineup.

    Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee shared interior duties on the 2020 championship team. Last season, the Lakers split the center position between Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell and Andre Drummond.

    The position now seems to belong to Howard (back for a third tour of duty with the team) and DeAndre Jordan. But there have been rumblings about L.A. trotting out Davis at the 5, a look the Lakers have often saved for the postseason.

    One (or both) of Howard and Jordan needs to show why that would be a mistake. They might have specific niches at this stage of their careers—providing size, a bit of bounce and a lot of rim-running—but the Lakers have had success with this style of center before.

    Depending on how camp goes, either of the two traditional bigs could emerge as a starter, a deep reserve or land somewhere in between.