Wednesday, August 13, 2014

2013-2014 Lakers in Review: Frontcourt

Note: All grades are handed out according to preseason expectations vs. actual production. 

Small Forward: Nick Young

17.9 PPG, 1.5 APG, 2.6 RPG, 2.5 WS, .067 WS/48 on 43.5% shooting and 38.6% shooting from deep. Grade: (B-)

At first, I didn't really know how to grade Nick Young, as I seem to remember him being better than he actually was. This was probably because the rest of the team was so terrible and I had such little expectations for the majority of the players involved (which is why a handful of players got a fairly high grade) that Swaggy P seemed better than he was.

The B- seems unfair to him because his production was better than a guy like Kendall Marshall, for example, but Young's preseason expectations were met and not really much else. His stats seem like they should net him at least a B, but most of those career bests are simply him playing more minutes. His shooting percentage was only slightly better than his career average and his defense remained non-existent, save for that game winning charge he took against the Pistons early in the season that earned him the nickname Swaggy D, if only for a few weeks. His high scoring was attributed to him taking more shots; he had the highest Per 36 average of shots taken for his career at 17.7. This isn't to say that he wasn't good, he had stretches where he was by far the best Laker player on the court, but those were quickly cancelled out with some very cold stretches as well. The one thing that really earned Young a B- and not a C+ was that he had a career high PER of 16, which was the highest among qualifying perimeter players on the Lakers.

Overall, Swaggy P did his job, which is to score, sometimes in the most infuriating way possible with contested, 20 foot jump shots early in the shot clock. Nonetheless, Swaggy gets a bit of an upgrade in his final grade because he was simply entertaining as hell.

Never change, Swaggy P.

Small Forward: Wesley Johnson

9.1 PPG, 1.6 APG, 4.4 RPG, 1.9 WS, .041 WS/48 on 42.5% shooting and 36.9% shooting from deep. Grade: (C+)

It's always hard to see such a highly touted prospect, like Johnson once was, completely flame out in such a fashion that he's taking league minimum contracts at age 25. Johnson was a low risk, potentially high reward signing last season. We didn't see much of the reward part, at least not on offense, because Johnson was exactly like Nick Young with his offensive production. Most of it was simply because of an increase in playing time. Unlike Young, he didn't see a big increase in Per 36 minute numbers one would normally see with a guy who saw a big increase in minutes from one year to another. It all just kind of stays the same, save for a few categories because of Mike D'Antoni's insistence on using Johnson as a power forward.

Johnson provided a major upgrade in the athleticism department and really came into his own as the corner three point shooting defensive specialist that the Lakers had him as last year. Johnson could barely create his own offense, relying mostly on late rotations and his athleticism to force himself to the rim, as well as fast breaks. He was basically your typical three point shooting, defensive specialist, except he didn't know his own limits offensively and his defense isn't good enough to make up for it, like it is with a guy like Bruce Bowen. Johnson was a solid enough player to have in the rotation, and was a pretty good defensive player but I expected at least marginal improvement offensively from the freakishly athletic 25 year old. As it is, his decision making hampered his grade, though I'm hopeful for some improvement from him with the addition of Byron Scott.

This really shouldn't even be possible
Small Forward: Xavier Henry

10 PPG, 1.2 APG, 2.7 RPG, 0.3 WS, .017 WS/48 on 41.7% shooting and 34.6% shooting from deep. Grade: (B-)

X-Man was had quite a few highlights last year, as well as a bunch of blunders that he hopes we could forget. He was another high draft choice that didn't pan out and the Lakers got the 22 year old from Belgium on a cheap, league minimum contract because, why not? It was a great signing at the time, and it's still a good signing, considering the production he had compared to the money he was getting. Henry was a nice part of the bench's offensive production, as his slashing ability was truly something to behold at times, sometimes reaching the paint despite team's basically gearing their defense for it.

Penetrating the defense wasn't a problem for Xavier, the problem came immediately after, as he would sometimes put up some major clunkers in heavy traffic, or simply turn the ball over. It's the major reason his shooting percentage is as low as it is, despite getting to the rim so often. It's also why he averaged more turnovers than assists this year. Poor decision making is not something you want to see out of a guy that was your starting point guard at one time because of injuries and Pringles. And then, in typical Lakers fashion, Henry himself succumbed to injury and missed half of the season. If not for injury, his grade may have been a tad bit higher. I'm hopeful Henry can develop even further; he's still a very young 23 years old and he did manage to develop an outside shot last season. He was a fun player to watch and his athleticism made things exciting on the offensive end of the ball. Hopefully, he can stay on the court next year.

Bah Gawd! He's killed him!


Small Forward: Shawne Williams

5.6 PPG, 0.8 APG, 4.6 RPG, 0.7 WS, .045 WS/48 on 38% shooting and 32.6% shooting from deep. Grade: (F)

There was nothing more frustrating last year than watching Mke D'Antoni continue to give Shawne Williams minutes at both power forward and small forward, despite the fact that he can't really shoot, or pass the ball or dribble the ball and his best quality, his defense, isn't anything eye popping either. And he gave him 20.9 minutes per game, which is still somehow more than what Jordan Hill got last season because Pringles.

I understand we didn't have the depth last year to flat out not play anybody, but playing three centers at the same time would have been about equally as useful as Williams was in the rotation last year. He was as inefficient as they come, yet he kept on taking shots as if he was a shooter who was merely on a cold streak. When the defense leaves you all alone and it still takes you 5.3 shots per game to get to 5.6 points per game, you need to stop. Immediately. If he could have gotten anything worse than an F, he would have if not for his okay defense and the fact that he was no longer on my TV after February. Good riddance.

Power Forward: Ryan Kelly

8.0 PPG, 1.6 APG, 3.7 RPG, 2.2 WS, .081 WS/48 on 42.3% shooting and 33.8% shooting from deep. Grade: (B-)

I bet not a lot of Lakers fans knew who Ryan Kelly was before the Lakers took him in the 2nd round of last year's NBA draft. Kelly didn't see any regular playing time until after the Christmas day game against the Miami Heat. What we saw was a surprisingly solid power forward who could stretch the floor well enough but wasn't a massive liability defensively, and helped provide some semblance of size (something the 6'7'' Wesley Johnson never could, despite the athleticism).

I don't think anybody expected anything out of Kelly, so his B- is inflated simply on the fact that he was a second rounder with no expectations whatsoever. He was still a solid part of the rotation and could be a nice piece to have going forward with his three point shooting ability from the four slot. You can't really ask for much more out of a second round rookie.

Power Forward: Jordan Hill

9.7 PPG, 0.8 APG, 7.4 RPG, 4.4 WS, .141 WS/48 on 54.9% shooting and 68.5% from the free throw line. Grade: (A-)

There is not enough praise that I can give to Jordan Hill. I spent most of the season praising him and asking myself why Mike D'Antoni refused to play him more than 20 minutes per game, especially considering that Hill was tied with Pau Gasol as the team leaders in PER (19.3), he is easily the leader on the team in WS/48 with .141. The second highest WS/48 on the team is Jodie Meeks' .084, which is also under the league average of .100. The only reason Hill is second on the team in total Win Shares is because he only plays 20 minutes a game, which is just a shame. I would have loved to see how many Win Shares Hill could have been worth if he played 30+ minutes a game.

I'm hoping Hill and Scott don't have the same relationship that Hill and D'Antoni had all through his career because that would mean more frustration for Lakers fans who want to put out the best possible team. I'm not saying he should get immediate starter minutes (though he might be our starting center next year), I'm only asking for more than 27 minutes a game for him, because his production is too good to continue to ignore. Hill isn't without weaknesses, however, as he can't consistently create his own offense, but that didn't really matter, as nobody would have confused Hill for a guy like Dwight Howard or DeMarcus Cousins. Hill can clean the glass like no other, and most of his points come off of offensive rebounds and easy baskets around the rim. His main problem last season was foul trouble, as he would have averaged 4.1 fouls per 36 minutes.

Hill's Per 36 minute numbers were outstanding, as he would have had a slash line of 16.7 points per game, 12.8 rebounds per game and 1.3 assists per game. Those 12.8 rebounds would have been third in the league, ahead of Kevin Love, Dwight Howard and DeMarcus Cousins. Clearly, Hill should have gotten more minutes, and one of the reasons I'm excited about Byron Scott is the possibility of Hill getting starter minutes in the rotation.

Center: Pau Gasol

17.4 PPG, 3.4 APG, 9.7 RPG, 3.0 WS, .076 WS/48 on 48% shooting and 28.6% shooting from deep. Grade: (C+)

I kind of feel bad for how much scrutiny Pau Gasol was under in his final few seasons in Los Angeles. Here's a guy who was one of the league's top offensive options at power forward, and left it all on the court, just to have fans clamor for management to trade him. I can definitely see why he chose to leave. Gasol wasn't exactly himself last year, relative to other seasons. He put up some solid numbers; 17.4 points per game and 9.7 rebounds per game is very, very good. He remains one of the best passing big men in the league today (Side note: the pairing of Gasol and Joakim Noah should be lots of fun). Gasol's problem may have very well been a product of D'Antoni, because the team still played primarily through the perimeter, despite the fact that Pau was easily the team's best available player.

Pau was never really put into the best position to succeed, and it showed in his efficiency; this was the only year as a part of the Lakers, that Pau had a PER of under 20 (not counting last year, for obvious reasons). Gasol also had a WS/48 of under .100 for the first time in his 14 year career. Gasol was still a pretty good, productive player. Unfortunately for his grade, I sincerely thought he was going to be at least a little bit better. Either way, thank you Pau. You will forever be a Laker great.

Center: Chris Kaman

10.4 PPG, 1.5 APG, 5.9 RPG, 0.5 WS, .036 WS/48 on 50.9% shooting and 76.5% from the free throw line. Grade: (F)

I'm sad and disappointed that Chris Kaman didn't really work out with the team. Whether that was a product of Pringles or not is up to you, but he never really got it going when he did play. He was a solid, if unspectacular player on offense, but his defense this year was a bit painful to watch, as he was frequently slow on his rotations and sometimes even got beat on the glass by much smaller players. Kaman spent most of his time playing garbage minutes and laying down on the bench. So much time, in fact, that I can't think of a single memorable moment for him, save for the bench moment. When the best thing you did in a whole season was lay down on the bench because the team barely had enough players to use, it's safe to say you didn't have a good year.

This will always be hilarious.


Center Robert Sacre.

5.4 PPG, 0.8 APG, 3.9 RPG, 1.4 WS, .061 WS/48 on 47.7% shooting and 68.1% from the free throw line. Grade: (C+)

Last year, I had 0 hopes for Robert Sacre. He was drafted in the second round after his four years at Gonzaga. Really, the only thing he had going for him was his size, as he was a true 7 footer. He had a pretty surprising season last year. He wasn't good, by any definition, but he was definitely a guy who could come in and play 10 minutes a game to give your center a breather. And, you know what? Sacre continues to be surprisingly competent. Aside from his amazing cheer leading abilities from the bench, Sacre provides legitimate value as a back up center, with solid passing skills and a nice jump shot from 15 feet out. He's not adept at scoring (that 47.7% shooting is not good at all for a big man), but he will work hard for your team night in and night out. You can't really ask for much more out of a second round pick. The past two seasons, the Lakers have made the most out of their 2nd round picks, which gives me hope for Jordan Clarkson, whom the Lakers picked in the 2nd round during this years' NBA draft.

All in all, it was a pretty bad season. We had a lot of very unproven talent that produced way beyond what we could have reasonably expected, which attributed to guys who got such high grades, despite the team finishing with a 27-55 record.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Cavaliers, Timberwolves agree to Kevin Love deal

In a move that shakes up the landscape for both the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference, the Timberwolves finally agreed to ship Kevin Love out to the Cavaliers. After about a month of trade talks not really going anywhere, the Timberwolves finally got a package centered around 1st overall pick Andrew Wiggins. The trade can't become official until August 23rd because Wiggins can't be traded until one month after he was signed.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, the full deal will be Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a protected 2015 1st round draft choice for Love. Cleveland is doing the trade on the basis that Love opts out of his current deal in the summer and re-signs with the team for the max salary. Although a deal was close to being finalized a few weeks ago, both teams are being quiet about it until it can officially go through, the reason being that the Cavaliers were apparently afraid of the Chicago Bulls coming in and taking Love in the last minute, basically ensuring their trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The trade means a lot to Cleveland because, not only are they now the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference, but they also acquired Love's Bird Right's to go along with him in the deal, ensuring that they can re-sign him despite not having the cap available to do so otherwise. Cleveland now sports a "Big 3" of Love, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James that will surely propel them to the Conference Finals, on talent alone.

For Minnesota, the trade comes off the heels of Love telling the team that he wouldn't re-sign with them in the off season. The Timberwolves chose the right decision in trading him, and they definitely got a good trade for him. Reports indicated that Golden State wasn't willing to include Klay Thompson in a deal, opting instead to offer David Lee and Harrison Barnes, which isn't a terrible trade, but not exactly what Minnesota was looking for. By doing this trade, they have just cut their rebuilding efforts in half by acquiring the last two first overall picks in Wiggins and Bennett. Granted, Bennett had one of the worst rookie seasons in NBA history last year, but that doesn't mean he can't potentially turn it around, and all reports so far have indicated that he has arrived to camp in incredible shape compared to last season. Wiggins is one of the most hyped players in years. Maple Jordan, as they call him because of his Canadian roots, is a freakish athlete who could use some work on some of his skills like perimeter shooting. He was very good in college, but his shooting percentage left a bit to be desired. His dribbling, likewise, is a little rough around the edges, but he still is just oozing with potential.

For Cleveland, this was definitely the right trade to make because there was no guarantee that Wiggins would ever develop into a superstar player at the NBA level, so trading him and Anthony Bennett for an established star was definitely the right choice. Love and Irving provide James with a few things that former teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh didn't; both Love and Irving can absolutely shoot the lights out from three point range and that should help open up space for the four time MVP. That's a thought that is absolutely scary, because teams definitely don't want to give James more space than he already has. Love and Irving are also younger than Wade and Bosh, though both of them are injury prone as well. Love has played only one full season and Irving has yet to complete an NBA season, while once breaking his hand while slapping a padded wall.

It was the right move for both teams, as Cleveland looked to get better to keep LeBron James happy and contend for an NBA Finals berth, and Minnesota looked to restock in the young talent department by acquiring the last two 1st overall picks and also getting a draft pick from Cleveland. Scary times for the rest of the East.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

2013-2014 Lakers in Review: Backcourt

Note: All grades are handed out according to preseason expectations vs. actual production. 

Point Guard: Steve Nash

6.8 PPG, 5.7 APG, 1.9 RPG, 0.1 WS, .017 WS/48 on 38.3% shooting and 33.3% shooting from deep. Grade: (Inc.)

Remember when we were excited about trading for Steve Nash during that amazing 2012 off season (that led to that frustrating 2013 season)? It feels like such a long time ago that Nash was stealing MVP trophies from Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and young LeBron James, while easily being top-2 in offensive production out of a point guard, his only competition being Chris Paul. Those days are long past us, as Nash can't even stay on the court anymore, let alone control a team's offense. 

Nash looked extremely bad this season, being one of the worst players on the roster for the 15 games that he played. This was emphasized, as he constantly had the ball on offense, and teams were constantly pushing their offense through him on defense. Nash's value has always been on the offensive side of the ball, but this past season, he had absolutely no value, as he could never get it going. To be fair to him, I don't think Nash is worthless (though he's certainly not worth the 9.7 million he is getting this year), but he cannot play the same style he used to prior to being traded. His value no longer lies in running an offense to perfection; the best he can be now is a spot up shooter that helps spread the floor and a guy who can bring the ball up without having any incidents. I'm assuming he can even play, because he was hurt all year long, with some serious leg strength problems. The only reason I'm hopeful that he can still be a good enough shooter is because he was a terrible shooter because he couldn't get enough lift under his legs.

It's difficult seeing such a great player decline so hard.

Point Guard: Steve Blake

9.5 PPG, 7.6 APG, 3.8 RPG, 0.8 WS, .041 WS/48 on 37.8% shooting and 39.7% shooting from deep (w/LAL). Grade: (B)

Good, old, reliable Steve Blake. I was sad to see him go because he was always a player who played hard on both sides of the ball. He was also the Lakers only reliable defensive player at point guard, so trading him became a problem. Blake was a steady presence on a crappy team, and really helped get everybody involved in the offense, which was incredibly helpful for guys like Wesley Johnson, who struggle to create their own shots.

Blake was never a spectacular player, but he at least tried to make the Lakers watchable last year. For as much heat that he got the past few seasons because of lackluster performance, he really made up for it in his last two seasons in Los Angeles. I do wish him well with Portland (except when he plays the Lakers). He might not be a guy we'll remember in 5 years, but at least we'll always have that game winner over Dwight Howard. #VinoBlanco

Pictured at the free throw line: All of Steve Nash's 0.1 Win Shares in one convenient GIF.


Point Guard: Jordan Farmar

10.1 PPG, 4.9 APG, 2.5 RPG, 0.7 WS, .039 WS/48 on 41.5% shooting and 43.8% shooting from deep. Grade: (B+)

At first, I felt a B+ was too high for Farmar, who barely qualified to even receive a grade, as he only played 41 games. But, then I remembered what he was doing in the NBA last season, which was nothing because he was playing in Turkey at the time. It looks like he never left, because he had a very similar season in his previous NBA season with the-then New Jersey Nets.

I don't think anybody thought Farmar would come in, fresh from non-NBA competition, and have such a big impact on the game. It certainly caught me by surprise, as he was driving past guys with ease, and making them pay later in the game for sagging off of him. He was a big reason why the bench was one of the best in the league early on, and they kept on chugging even after Farmar went down with injured hamstrings. It was nice having him around again, but he will be a nightmare to contain now that he plays on the Clippers and their three point heavy lineup because he showed notable improvement in the passing area. He averaged 7.9 APG per 36 minutes played, which is the highest of his NBA career. A solid season from a guy I didn't really expect to produce that much.

Point Guard: Kendall Marshall

8.0 PPG, 8.8 APG, 2.9 RPG, 0.9 WS, .029 WS/48 on 40.6% shooting and 39.9% shooting from deep. Grade: (A+)

If there was a surprising, emerging player on the Lakers last year (basically half of the team was) that deserves huge praise, it's Kendall Marshall. After being a lottery pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, he played pretty badly with the Phoenix Suns for his rookie season. So bad, in fact, that the Suns parted ways with the young point guard after one season. He was traded to the Washington Wizards as part of a package deal that sent Marcin Gortat to the Wizards before being cut three days later and finding himself in the D-League, with out an NBA team to call his own. The Lakers scooped him up a few months later, and suddenly we had a legit, distributing point guard on the roster.

Marshall started off really hot, as he averaged 12 PPG and 11.5 APG in his first month with the team. These numbers, predictably, dropped, but he was still distributing the ball well. He actually finished 2nd in assists per game (yes, really), tied with Ty Lawson and John Wall, behind Chris Paul. Marshall had become somewhat of a burden when it came to scoring, as he could only take open three point shots and couldn't create any sort of offense to speak of. Nonetheless, his assist numbers were eye popping for a guy who so blatantly discarded by the NBA a few short months before that.

He was placed on waivers last month, and the Milwaukee Bucks happily picked him up. Here's hoping he continues his run of success after being given a second chance.

Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant

13.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 4.3 RPG, -0.4 WS, -0.097 WS/48 on 42.5% shooting and 18.8% shooting from deep. Grade: (Inc.)

This past year was rough for Vino. After having an incredible 2012, he tore his Achilles tendon trying to carry his team to the playoffs. He went through his recovery period, watching his team play horribly without him before finally being cleared to play. Everybody was excited, and we got an (expected) sloppy Kobe Bryant before he broke a bone in his knee during the third quarter in a game against the Memphis Grizzlies. Kobe, being the insane person that he is, returned to play the fourth quarter and helped elevate the Lakers over the Grizzlies with a huge three pointer down the stretch. It was all for naught, as we found out the next day that Kobe had been seriously injured, and was expected to miss 6 weeks.

Except, those 6 weeks turned into the whole year because the bone wasn't healing well at all. It's clear that Kobe's age is finally catching up to him. He is now 100% healthy, but I doubt he is even close to being in game shape. It might be a while until we see Vintage Kobe again, if at all. For now, we can be hopeful that he will be back for the majority of next season.

Shooting Guard: Jodie Meeks

15.7 PPG, 1.8 APG, 2.5 RPG, 4.5 WS, .084 WS/48 on 46.3% shooting and 40.1% shooting from deep. Grade: (A)

And now we get to one of the bright spots on this train wreck of a team. Meeks was at his absolute best last year, averaging a career high in points, assists, rebounds and steals, while shooting a career high from the field and three point range. Meeks was one of the few players who stayed off of the disabled list, as he played 77 games, starting in 70.

Meeks is a very streaky player, but he seemed to improve on this last year, as he was able to cut down on his cold streaks because his decision making was notably improved, often times passing up a few shots he would have normally taken to make the extra pass, or to drive into the lane. His defense was average, as it usually is, but his offense was vastly improved. There is a reason why he went from 1.5 million this year to 6.3 million next year, as he starts his new 3 year, 19 million dollar contract with the Detroit Pistons. That reason wasn't because the Pistons are desperate for any and all three point shooters (they are), but because he was so good last year. It's a shame the Lakers didn't keep him because he would really helped the bench this upcoming year.

Shooting Guard: MarShon Brooks

6.4 PPG, 1.2 APG, 1.7 RPG, 0.3 WS, .072 WS/48 on 48.9% shooting and 57.1% shooting from deep. (w/LAL) Grade: (Inc.)

MarShon Brooks was acquired in the Steve Blake trade from the Golden State Warriors and... there's not really much else to say about him. He had a very promising rookie season in 2011-2012 with the Nets, but hasn't done anything since. Teams weren't really seeing any potential, evidenced by Brooks playing on 3 different teams this past season (Boston, Golden State and Los Angeles).

He is still a free agent, and nobody really has any interest, except for the Indiana Pacers, due to the aftermath of the Paul George injury. A very forgettable player and this might be the last we'll see of him in the league.

Shooting Guard: Kent Bazemore

13.1 PPG, 3.1 APG, 3.3 RPG, 0.4 WS, .029 WS/48 on 45.1% shooting and 37.1% shooting from deep. (w/LAL) Grade: (Inc.)

The other player who came in the Steve Blake trade, Bazemore was surprisingly productive for the few games that he played with the Lakers. Unfortunately for him, he tore a tendon in his foot (because this team was cursed) that ended his season in early April. That's very unfortunate timing for him, as nobody is looking to sign a guy who just had a pretty serious injury close to the end of last season. Hopefully, if he gets healthy, the Lakers will look in his direction, should they need bench help, because he really did look like an NBA caliber player last year.

Shooting Guard: Manny Harris

8.1 PPG, 1.2 APG, 3.8 RPG, 0.0 WS, .002 WS/48 on 42% shooting and 35% shooting from deep. Grade: (Inc.)

The amount of Incomplete players on this list is baffling. There were so many injuries, I'm forced to review guys like Brooks and Manny Harris for the few games they played filling in because of injuries. Manny Harris wasn't good in the small amount of time he played. That's pretty much all I can say about him.

Part two, coming soon!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Julius Randle scouting report

The Lakers had a lottery pick this year for the first time since the 2005 off season, where they picked Andrew Bynum, who was very good for the Lakers but hasn't done anything since being traded in the 2012 off season for Dwight Howard. Bynum has played 21 games in the past two seasons, being a member of the Philadelphia 76ers (0 games), Cleveland Cavaliers (24 games) and Indiana Pacers (2 games). The Lakers used the 7th overall pick in this years' NBA draft to select Kentucky power forward Julius Randle, who probably would have been the first overall pick in last years' draft (though, to be fair, everyone in the Top-7 of this years' draft would have been 1st overall in last years' awful draft class). Randle is a talented player, but will he be able to translate well into the pro's? Let's evaluate:

Physically, Randle has an NBA ready body, as he was one of the strongest players in the nation last season. He comes in at a bulky 6'9'', 250 pounds. By comparison, LeBron James is listed as 6'8'', 250 pounds. Apples and oranges, I know, so I compared him to a player with a very similar body type in Zach Randolph, who comes in at 6'9'', 260 pounds. So Randle can still put on a few pounds of muscle here and there, but he is, by all accounts, ready for the punishment of the low post in the NBA. Some scouts have said that Randle is too small, but the average power forward height from two years ago was 6'9.5'' and the average weight was 246 pounds. The landscape hasn't changed much since, which bodes well for Randle. What doesn't bode well for Randle, however, is his short wingspan; Randle is built like a T-rex, relative to NBA power forwards, as his wingspan has measured in between 6'11'' and 7 feet. Most big men in the NBA have wingspans in the 7'3'' to 7'5'' range and even Randolph (Randle's closest comparison in terms of body type) has a wingspan of 7'4''. Now, Randle is substantially more athletic than Randolph, as he is able to consistently play above the rim, while Randolph can barely dunk, but that doesn't mean I'm not worried about his lack of length going forward.

There are three starting power forwards in the NBA with sub-7 foot wingspans: Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and Thaddeus Young (all measured in at 6'11''). All three of them are substantially different from Randle, as Love is a master three point shooter and a great passer; Randle has neither of those skills. Griffin is a high flyer who doesn't only play above the rim, he practically plays in the rafters. While Randle is a very athletic guy, he will never be as athletic as Griffin. Young is a completely different beast altogether, as he is used as a small ball power forward, which is basically putting a small forward at power forward. All three of these guys are very talented players, which is to say that if Randle is good enough, there's no reason why his short wingspan will have a big negative impact on him. Whether or not he is that good is left to be seen.

This isn't saying that Randle doesn't stand a chance, but Randle will need to be put in the right situation to truly thrive. He is offensively talented and has a well polished post game, if he's going to his left hand. His right hand leaves a lot to be desired, but he has plenty of time to develop, seeing as he is only 19. He could still add a few moves to his arsenal, as his post game in college involved lots of bruising and sheer power, something he won't be able to consistently do in the NBA. He has good mechanics on his jump shot, but his shooting percentages from mid range are sub-par and he has shown nothing to indicate that he could shoot threes at all. He is a classic, back to the basket power forward. Randle will have difficulty defensively because of his short wingspan, as he simply cannot protect the rim (0.7 blocks per game in college), or pick pocket any big men in the low post (0.1 steals per game), therefore, Randle will not be able to be the one big man in a four perimeter player rotation because of bad defense. And, since Randle cannot stretch the floor, he can't be put with just any shot blocker because the spacing in the paint will be horrid. There aren't too many big men who can stretch the floor and are great shot blockers in the league and none of them are on the Lakers (though Jordan Hill certainly tried to improve on it last season). The absolute best situation for Randle would have been with guys like Serge Ibaka or Marc Gasol.

Now that he is on the Lakers, I do believe Byron Scott will see that Randle needs to develop a mid-range jumper to be able to play successfully in most rotations and, given his already pretty good mechanics, I think he will improve on it enough to be able to play with Hill/whomever the Lakers throw out at center. Randle is very energetic on all sides of the ball, and he has a nose for rebounds. He did average a double-double last season and I think his rebounding skills will translate well into the pro game, given his strength and rebounding fundamentals. Of all the prospects in this years' draft, Randle might be the most NBA ready player (alongside Duke's/Milwaukee's Jabari Parker), but he also probably has the lowest ceiling among the Top-7. That doesn't mean I think he'll be the worst of the bunch (I think Aaron Gordon will struggle the most), but it does mean that I don't think he will be lighting the league on fire as a top player. I do think he will be a good player because of the Lakers track record of success with lottery picks and his sheer talent.

Since 1979, the Lakers have picked in the top-10 a total of five times. With those picks, the Lakers have selected Magic Johnson (1979, 1st overall), James Worthy (1982, 1st overall), Eddie Jones (1994, 10th overall), Andrew Bynum (2005, 10th overall) and Julius Randle (2014, 7th overall). Of the four players that aren't Randle, two were great (Johnson, Worthy) and the other two were pretty good (Jones, Bynum). All four of those picks were good players, though not all of them were ready to produce upon being drafted like Randle is. It shows us exactly why the Lakers have rarely been in the draft lottery; great draft choices is the key to success.

1979 is ancient history for NBA standards, but Randle is still a top prospect and a very talented, very young player. And it helps that all reports point to him not being a headcase, and being a hard working, coach-able player who leaves everything on the court. At worst, Randle could be just a rotation player; a guy who scores but can't play defense. I think he has a pretty high ceiling that he probably won't reach, but he could still realistically become a more athletic version of David Lee (6'9'', 240 pounds, 7 foot wingspan), which is good offense, good rebounder, but needs protection in the back because of his sup-par rim protecting. 20-10 seasons certainly is something Randle should strive for, and I do think he could produce close to a double-double per game in his rookie season, if given starter minutes. There's a lot to like about Randle, and there are some concerning things about him. As it is, I am excited and cautiously optimistic about him going forward. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

There's a lot to be excited about next year

As bad as the Lakers were last year (and they were terrible last year, finishing with the second worst
Win/Loss percentage in franchise history with an awful 32.9%), there were still flashes of excitement here and there, mostly in the beginning of the season, where they were 13-13 at one point, believe it or not. The team had a horrific run of injuries; only 3 players played over 70 games last year, and the team's most important player only played 6 largely ineffective games due to an Achilles tear the year before. The Lakers had Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar and Pau Gasol miss significant time with injuries, which really helped derail last year. The run of injuries was so bad, the Lakers had 19 total players suit up for the team last year; most teams have around 15 players suit up, as they have 12 active players ready to play, and 3 waiting on the bench in case of injury. The Lakers way surpassed that limit and quickly had to put together a team full of sub-par players who wouldn't have cracked the team otherwise. The injuries to the starters did have one positive effect, however, as it made other players step up.

Last season, we saw the likes of Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly and (especially) Jodie Meeks really step it up last year and carry the Lakers' for long periods of time. The bench unit was particularly good, as they were second in points per game last year with an astonishing 42.3 points per game. The bench usually helped keep the team in the game, and they really made the most of the opportunities they got with the massive amount of injuries the team had last year.

Why am I excited about a team who was the second worst in franchise history last year? Because of the return of the Great One. Because of the cost effective, and really smart moves Mitch Kupchak has done this off-season. Because Mike D'Antoni's reign of terror is over and Byron Scott gets to take over in his place. Because Byron Scott will probably give Jordan Hill the minutes he deserves. Because there's no possible way the team could be as bad as they were last year.

It might be a bit delusional on my part, but I'm excited because I really like what this team had done so far. They went out and traded for Jeremy Lin (and a first rounder, to boot). I'm not a big fan of Lin, but Mitch went out and got a starter caliber point guard for a team that desperately needed a starter caliber point guard who isn't 40 and extremely injury prone. Mitch went and got the freshly amnestied Carlos Boozer for a cool 3.2 million (yes, Boozer is definitely worth that) to help replace the departed Pau Gasol. The Lakers also signed the young Ed Davis for 2 years, 1.9 million dollars, which is really cheap for a guy who will probably crack the rotation. Mitch also managed to keep the core of the bench unit by re-signing Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly, Jordan Hill and Xavier Henry. All this without mentioning the 7th overall pick in the draft, Julius Randle (more on him later).

I'm not saying this team will make the playoffs, they will be fringe contenders/late season spoilers, at best, or a few games better than they were last year, at worst. There's no possible way this team even comes realistically close to making the playoffs next year, especially not in the loaded Western Conference. And yet, I still get pretty excited to see what this team can do. A healthy Kobe Bryant could really make things difficult for a lot of teams. Maybe Randle becomes a terror on the low-block and maybe Jordan Hill leads the league in rebounding next year. Maybe the bench stays extremely productive, but instead of having broken down Pau Gasol leading an abysmal starting unit, we get a middle of the pack starting unit anchored by Kobe Bryant and we get a playoff push in March?

Whatever happens, this season should be about 1000 times better and more captivating than last year, if not for the return of Kobe, then because Lakers fans finally have a young, talented player to look forward to. It's been nearly 10 years since Lakers fans had a young lottery pick to cheer for and it's hard not to be excited about Randle; the last two lottery pick players the Lakers acquired were pretty successful, for the most part, though Andrew Bynum has had a rough past 2 seasons, but I'd say that gets overlooked because Kobe has been one of the league's best for about 15 years now.

It's still going to be a hard season, but it leaves us a lot to look forward for next year. It will be the end of Steve Nash's terrible contract and it will be a year closer to ending Kobe's albatross deal. The bench is kept together with really cheap, affordable deals and it wouldn't surprise me if most of these guys returned next year on similar deals. Julius Randle may develop into a monster on the low block, and the Lakers will have more money to spend in Free Agency to possibly bring in an impact player in his prime. And, we can always hope the Rockets somehow miss the playoffs, inadvertently giving us a lottery pick. Things are slowly looking up and, with some good luck, it might not be that long before the Lakers can eye the playoffs as a realistic goal to end a season.

Oh, and if we're terrible next year too (it's likely we will be), the Lakers at least do have their own draft pick and could get a Top-5 pick, should we have the worst case scenario happen for us. The situation seems a lot better than it was just one year ago, all things considered.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Lakers are interested in Michael Beasley

Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com has reported that the Lakers have worked out Michael Beasley. It isn't known how much interest either side has shown with each other, but I'm all for giving Beasley a contract; the Lakers only have the minimum to give him, so it wouldn't be damaging at all to the team's finances if he takes a one or two year deal for the minimum. Given Beasley's current stock around the league, the minimum should be enough to sign the former 2nd overall pick.

Beasley has actually been receiving interest from several teams around the league, especially since the Heat do not seem very keen on keeping him. Beasley wasn't a part of the regular rotation for Miami, playing in 55 games for them last year, and playing only 23 minutes in 4 games during the playoff run for the Heat, but he was a lot more efficient last year than in previous years. Beasley shot 49.9% from the floor, 38.9% from three point land and 77.2% from the line, while putting up a 16.8 PER, which is the second highest in his career, behind the 17.2 PER he put up in his rookie season. Beasley's Per 36 numbers also looked pretty good last year, as he would have averaged 18.9 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game. Obviously, these likely would have gone down if he had actually played the 36 minutes per game, but with that said, Beasley might still be a pretty good player, especially if he were brought on with a cheap contract.

Maturity problems have been with Beasley for his whole career, but it seems he's starting to turn it around; on top of his solid efficiency, teams that are interested in him apparently found him to be mature last season as a role player with the Heat, and they hope he can continue to be so with their teams.

The Lakers could benefit from having a guy like Beasley on the team. He's a player who is talented, but because of mental hiccups, could never really put it together. I'm not saying he'll magically reach his potential now, but he is still only 25 years old. He has a solid chance of improving and becoming a pretty good player for most teams. I'm all for giving him a chance on a one or two year deal. What's the worst that could happen? He gets cut and we forget who Michael Beasley was in 10 years? Low risk, high potential is what Mitch Kupchak should be looking for while rounding out the bench, and Beasley is the definition of that.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Lakers are looking at Marcus Smart with the 7th pick

The 7th pick in this years' draft is giving me
a headache. After the top-3 of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid (in no particular order), which is basically chiseled in stone already (though, again, in no particular order), then the draft gets really, really interesting. After that, nobody seems to have any idea who gets selected for the rest of the top-5, let alone of the top-10. So far, the top choices to fill out those remaining 7 slots are: Dante Exum, Noah Vonleh, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, Zach LaVine, Doug McDermott and Aaron Gordon. And so far, it's looking like Exum and Vonleh will round out the Top-5, leaving the Lakers with two very intriguing options.

Let's ignore McDermott, LaVine, Randle and Gordon, I'll get to them in a later piece. Let's focus on Smart, a guy who was supposed to be sure-fire Top-5 picks until Exum and Vonleh started gaining some traction. Ultimately, Smart is very talented, and there's always the chance that he ends up going in the Top-5, leaving the Lakers with one of Exum or Vonleh (a problem that I'm happy to have). Anyways, here's a quick scouting report on the one of the players who will be strongly considered come draft day:

Smart is such a strangely frustrating and completely exciting player to cover. He is a pretty physically gifted athlete, being, by far, the strongest guard in the draft. He is listed as 6'3'', and weighing in at 227 pounds, so he can easily play both of the guard positions. Despite being such a big guard, he has very good quickness and he uses that and his superior strength to get to the rim and then routinely finishes through contact. He plays hard on the defensive end, and has good lateral quickness that combines well with his massive wingspan of 6'8'' that helped him produce 3 steals per game at the college level, and helped him become one of the better perimeter defenders in the draft.

He has been very aggressive on driving to the rim, and as a result, he usually draws multiple defenders with him on any given drive; he also creates a lot of contact and reaches the free throw line at a very high rate because of his strength. Smart still has the vision to see which teammates were left open as a result of the help defense, and he usually can give a pass that is on target, despite all of the defensive attention. Smart has great offensive awareness and will usually look to involve his teammates.

Most of Smart's negatives are things that can be worked on: his offensive decision making needs some work. For example: Smart only shot 42% from the field last season, despite shooting over 51% from two point range. It was his willingness to take the three point shot (which he shot at a 29% clip) that proved to be his doom. I would hope that is corrected at the pro level, lest he become the guard version of Josh Smith; ultra-talented, and good at a lot of things that aren't three pointers, yet he can't stop jacking up threes. Smart's jump shot isn't very reliable, and he could use some work with his mechanics to help him hit on a more consistent basis. Opponents at the NBA level will find it easier to cover Smart's dribble drives to the rim if they can sag off of him because of his inconsistent jump shot. Smart needs to cut down on the turnovers and take better shot attempts, both of which can be fixed with some experience.

And then, of course, there is the Texas Tech incident, which got him suspended for 3 games. Ugly stuff.




Overall, Smart is a very talented athlete, a very hard nosed, capable defensive player and a player who can penetrate a defense with the best of them. Smart has an inconsistent jumper, and his intensity can sometimes get the best of him, but he easily holds his own against the rest of the Top-7. You could even argue that the Top-4 were set before the Texas Tech incident, with Smart taking that distant fourth place behind the Big 3 of draft prospects this year.