Culture of Hoops

2016-17 NBA Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

Screen capture courtesy of the NBA/YouTube.

Screen capture courtesy of the NBA/YouTube.

Atlantic: Boston Celtics | Brooklyn Nets | New York Knicks | Philadelphia 76ers | Toronto Raptors
Central: Chicago Bulls | Cleveland Cavaliers | Detroit Pistons | Indiana Pacers | Milwaukee Bucks
Southeast: Atlanta Hawks | Charlotte Hornets | Miami Heat | Orlando Magic | Washington Wizards
Pacific: Golden State Warriors | Los Angeles Clippers | Los Angeles Lakers | Phoenix Suns | Sacramento Kings
Northwest: Denver Nuggets | Minnesota Timberwolves | Oklahoma City Thunder | Portland Trail Blazers | Utah Jazz
Southwest: Dallas Mavericks | Houston Rockets | Memphis Grizzlies | New Orleans Pelicans | San Antonio Spurs

Presenting an NBA preview of the Los Angeles Lakers that looks at the potential highs and lows for this coming 2016-17 NBA season.

For the first time since 1997 Kobe Bryant will not be suiting up for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Black Mamba is now a thing of the past. Moving forward Lakers fans can sulk and reminisce or they can look forward and feel excited. This season will not be about winning more than it will be about growing.

The Lakers are young from the head coach–Luke Walton–on down to their core. That young core of D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., and Brandon Ingram is the foundation of the future and that alone is reason to smile. So with no real shot of winning a title yet again what should Lakers Nation look forward to in 2016-17?

What’s Good… Youth: The best thing going for the Lakers is time. Last season’s Kobe Bryant retirement tour dominated headlines, but the Kobe era is officially over. It’s a new era for the Lakers and they have the pieces to make something special. D’Angelo Russell—the presumptive alpha dog—finished last season strong, averaging 15 points per game and shot 39-percent from three. Jordan Clarkson is a promising guard who played extremely well last season and could be a major player if the team opts to keep him around. Julius Randle was quietly productive last season, averaging 11 points and 10 rebounds. Larry Nance Jr. was a pleasant surprise coming in as a second-round pick showing that he could grow into an important bench role.

Then of course the Lakers added what they hope to be the final building block, Brandon Ingram, in the draft. Ingram will start out as the sixth man and slowly ease his way into the starting lineup. He and Russell have potential to evolve into a lesser version of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Ingram, like Durant, is a lanky scorer with a smooth jumper. D’Angelo, like Westbrook is a scoring guard who loves to have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line.

This is not to say the Lakers are the Thunder 2.0—they’re not—but more that they have the potential to be really good, just not right away. Luke Walton is not expected to get the Lakers into the playoffs this year. What he is expected to do is take this five players and get the most of their potential as possible.

What’s Bad… Leadership: Kobe’s departure was more than a changing of the guard. It left a Shaq-sized void in the leadership department. Kobe’s war stories alone were enough to teach the young guys how to deal with the journey of a full season. This season they don’t have that guy. The only accomplished veterans on this roster are Luol Deng, Lou Williams, and the savage formally known as Ron Artest.

Walton being a younger head coach could help fill this void, but he’s not going to be on the floor with them. Being a leader after the game is one thing, but on the floor is completely different. There’s going to be a lot of close games the Lakers lose this year because of inexperience. It’s going to take some time, but luckily they have nothing but time.

X-Factor… Julius Randle: We know more or less what to expect from Russell and Clarkson. Ingram could struggle early, but he’s a natural scorer. What to expect from Julius Randle is the million dollar question. Is he a hybrid big like his fellow Kentucky alums Karl-Anthony Towns and DeMarcus Cousins, or is he more similar to Patrick Patterson? Is he a star or a role player? Last season Randle was able to average a double-double, but it can be pointed out that those stats came in noncompetitive games.

This season Randle has to find out who he is. It will be his third season in the league (second on the court) and it’s time to see what he will be. Per 36 minutes he averaged 14 points and 13 rebounds, impressive regardless of the contest. He has the post moves, but has the knack for pulling a Josh Smith (shooting ill-advised jumpers). Walton’s offense should be able to accentuate his good (post scoring) and mask his faults (midrange shooting). If Randle can accept his role as a bully down low while Russell, Clarkson, and Ingram attack from outside the Lakers will be much tougher to beat.

Bet On… D’Angelo Russell quieting criticsD’Angelo Russell asked for the crown and now he has a chance to go get it. Prior to the 2015 draft Russell made it extremely clear he wanted to be a Laker. His wish came true and his rookie season was everything you could expect for a top draft pick— a rollercoaster ride with some rough spots. Rockbottom of his rookie season happened off the court and on SnapChat. He recorded Nick Young talking about some personal stuff that somehow made its way to the rest of us. Russell was chastised in the media and maybe even in the locker room.

The aftermath of that moment assured me he would be a star. That incident could have destroyed his season. He withstood the rough patch and finished the season strong. This summer he tore up the Summer League and in the preseason he has been just as good, scoring 33 points against the Nuggets including 4-for-7 from three. He’s going to have the ball in his hands often this season and will be the one taking the final shot on most nights. If his preseason and offseason work is any indicator the Lakers may already have their new face.

Crystal Ball Says… Young nucleus takes step forward: Like I said before, the best thing going for the Lakers is time. Right now they’re not the big free agent attraction so they cannot do a quick fix. Free agents are no longer running from small markets to get noticed. That means the larger markets who were used to plucking top free agents based off geography have to adapt.

The Lakers are no different and have shown they are ready to adapt. They’ve picked wisely over the past three seasons landing five legitimate players. Whether they decided to keep all them is up to them, but what will happen is this young group getting considerably better this season. There will be a lot of losing, but learning at the same time. The record may not indicate it (third straight lottery appearance on the way), but the 2016-17 season will be a good one for the Lakers in the long run.

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