Projecting the starting lineup for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2017-18 NBA season.
As free agency continues into its second week, the Los Angeles Lakers have remained quiet to this point. As of July 6th they have re-signed guard David Nwaba along with draft picks, Lonzo Ball (UCLA), Josh Hart (Villanova), and Kyle Kuzma (Utah). Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson have vowed to not jeopardize the cap space they have next off-season when they plan to sign two max free agents. Possible targets will include Paul George, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, and DeMarcus Cousins. Check that out in my next article coming soon.
As the offseason moves along this summer, the Lakers have been linked to players such as Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, and Jamal Crawford. Adding a veteran leader to help the young core is their primary goal with a move like this. Though Lavar Ball predicted the Lakers to make the playoffs this season, it will most likely be another rebuilding season in the loaded Western Conference. It will be vital for young players including Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Julius Randle to continue developing.
Last season the Lakers finished 26-56 which was second to last in the West. With Pelinka and Johnson taking over the team, they look to improve upon that record, enough so, to attract marquee players next off-season. With that in mind, let's take a look at who I believe will be in the starting rotation this coming year.
Point Guard - Lonzo Ball
Lonzo Ball is the most hyped player the Lakers have had in quite some time. Ball attended UCLA last season, in what was his only year in college. In 36 games played, he averaged 14.6 points, 7.6 assists, and 6 rebounds. He will be thrown straight into the starting lineup this season. His strengths include scoring off the dribble, playmaking ability, and rebounding. Many people will criticize his unorthodox shooting stroke, but the numbers speak for themselves. Last season at UCLA he shot 55% overall from the field, and 41.2% from three point range. His passing ability is the best we've seen in a very long time. Analysts have compared him to Jason Kidd because of his size and athleticism.
Ball will immediately help space the floor and get teammates involved. The biggest reason that the Lakers were so hesitant to trade Ingram for Paul George is because of his potential fit with Ball. Another duo to keep an eye on will be Ball and Brook Lopez. Their potential pick and roll offense will be exciting to watch. With Ball's ability to score from anywhere on the court paired with his incredible court vision, the sky is the limit if he can handle the pressure his father has placed on him. I see many All-Star games in Ball's bright future.
Shooting Guard - Jordan Clarkson
After heavy speculation regarding a potential trade this offseason--especially in the rumors circling a possible Paul George trade to Los Angeles--it looks like Jordan Clarkson will be around for his fourth season with the Lakers. Clarkson has averaged 14.2 points, 2.8 assists, and 3.4 rebounds per game so far as a Laker. Last season, he put up impressive numbers averaging 14.7 points, 2.6 assists, and 3 rebounds. The addition of Lonzo Ball will also help improve Clarkson's overall numbers. He will look to improve upon his 44% shooting from the floor, and 32.9% shooting from long range from a season ago. The biggest strength of Clarkson's game is his ability to get to the basket and convert short range shots. He converted 58.6% of his attempts that were taken from less than 5 feet away from the basket (197-336) per NBA.com.
On the defensive end, Clarkson will look to improve upon solid numbers last year. He held opponents to a 46.5% shooting percentage from the field per NBA.com's defensive tracking numbers. As everyone knows, the Lakers need to get better as a unit on the defensive end. At 6-5, 195 pounds, Clarkson should commit himself to being the leader of the defense.
Small Forward - Brandon Ingram
Ingram, just 19, was the second overall selection in the 2016 NBA draft. During his rookie season last year, he averaged 9.4 points, 4 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. With so much potential, his ceiling will be sky high if he can add some weight to his frame. Ingram is 6'9", yet just 190 pounds. He shot just 40.2% from the field a year ago, along with a 29.2% conversion rate from deep. Look for Ingram to improve both those numbers as he enters the starting lineup.
Reports surfaced that Ingram has been working out with Kobe Bryant this summer, looking to use his skills to the best of his ability. At 6'9" he has the chance to take over a game physically. Look for Ingram to have a breakout season as the floor will be spaced drastically more than it was during his rookie season without Lonzo Ball next to him on the court. Ingram seems to be dedicated to becoming a star in the NBA. At only 19, he has a real chance for this to happen as his game matures in the next few seasons.
Power Forward - Julius Randle
Randle, 6'9 - 250 pounds, has shown a slight improvement over his two NBA seasons, after missing his rookie campaign due to a broken leg. Randle, 22, has averaged 12.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in his short career to this point. This includes last season when he played a career-high 28.2 minutes a game. In all he played 74 games in 2016, averaging 13.2 points, and 8.6 rebounds. Randle shot 48.8% from the field, including 58.5% from less than 5 feet, where he took more than 440 shots.
Going into this season, it'll be fascinating to see if Randle can rely on more than just his left-handed shot. Also, I expect Randle to exhibit more of his passing ability this season like he did at Kentucky. This skill is impressive for such a big forward. Next, the amount of playing time Randle will see is dependent upon how much his defense improves. Last season, he allowed opponents to shoot 50% from the field, 59.5% from less than 10 feet, and greater than 60% from less than 6 feet. Coach Walton will expect these numbers to decrease this coming season. If not, the Lakers will have plenty of depth at forward and won't be afraid to play the likes of Larry Nance Jr., Corey Brewer, and Ivica Zubac.
Center - Brook Lopez
Lopez was acquired from the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for D'Angelo Russell, and Timofey Mozgov just prior to this year's draft. He will slot in as a stretch five this season for the Lakers. At first, I wasn't a fan of the trade, but then took a closer look at the numbers, and though otherwise. Last season, Lopez surprisingly made just one fewer three-pointer than Russell. That's right, a center had almost the same number of threes than the guard who most Lakers fans were upset to see leave town. Lopez made 134, while Russell drilled 135. Quietly, Lopez averaged 20.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists last season for the Nets.
While doing so, he shot 47.4% from the field, including a 34.6% percent from deep. He lives on his solid mid-range shot, shooting nearly 48% from 10-15 feet. Lopez is the definition of a big who can stretch the floor and take centers away from the rim. This will clear up lots of space under the basket for the likes of Clarkson, Ball, and Randle to thrive. Despite the fact Lopez may only be a Laker for one season, as his contract expires, he will be a great leader for this young team. Everything about his career has shown he's a class act, and look for that to continue in Hollywood.
The Bench- Hart, Nance Jr., Zubac, Kuzma, Nwaba, Deng, and Ennis
So, in what looks like another rebuilding year, how many wins can this Lakers team get? Will Ingram take the next step to becoming a superstar? Lastly, will Lonzo Ball live up to all the hype? One thing is for certain, the 2017 Lakers will be fun to watch.