Lakers Analysis: Finding The Positives And Keeping Sight of the Goal


The Lakers lost their fourth straight game to start the 2015-16 season, this time to the Denver Nuggets 120-109, but fans should focus on the positives at hand. 

The situation is dire on many fronts, not the least of which is the fact that this was supposed to be the softest part of the Lakers’ schedule. None of the four teams they’ve played so far is expected to make the playoffs, three of the games were at home, and they are about to start an extended stretch where they will be on the road for most of the next six weeks.

The team is giving up an astounding average of 117 points per game. They made the Nuggets, who are not exactly an offensive juggernaut, look like the Golden State Warriors.

Until the defense improves, it is unlikely that the Lakers will win many games. Since Coach Byron Scott has preached defense for two years without a lick of success, one should not anticipate that he and his staff are capable of finding the key to turn things around.

The team is engulfed in negativity right now, and it is easy to pile on when things are this bad. But weren’t fans warned early on that this was going to be a rebuilding year, that things would get worse before they get better, and that the team’s record was secondary to allowing the young players to play and mature?

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  • Add to the mix the fact that Kobe Bryant has clearly reached the end of his career, and the roster consists almost entirely of new players who have never played together before. Is this dreadful start really so surprising?

    Perhaps it is time to look for some positives. Believe it or not, there are a few.

    Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle are just starting their NBA careers, but already there is evidence that they can become a formidable duo for years to come. They share certain traits which portent future success for themselves and the team. They are fearless, they are constantly on the attack, and they hate to lose.

    Randle is essentially a rookie after missing all of last year with an injury. He has a mere five NBA games under his belt, including the first game last year when he was injured, so he has a long way to go before he comes close to reaching his potential. As with all young players, he will struggle to be consistent from one game to another and is out of control at times.

    However, watching Randle grab a rebound, drive the length of the court with incredible power and speed, and slam the ball home or dish to an open player, is pretty awesome. Randle was aptly described by Bryant as Lamar Odom in Zach Randolph’s body.  It is going to take a couple of years to see just how good Randle can become, but if he stays healthy, the sky really does appear to be the limit for Randle.

    Clarkson is also a second year player but with this caveat: he languished on the bench the entire first half of last season and really only played from January to April, when he burst onto the scene and earned first team All-Rookie honors.

    Some doubted that Clarkson could repeat that success, and he was all but forgotten this summer with the hype surrounding the drafting of D’Angelo Russell and the return of Randle from injury. Instead of sulking, Clarkson worked hard on improving his game this summer. While other players were vacationing abroad, Clarkson and Randle were very visible working out day after day, week after week, in the gym and in the sand.

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    Clarkson scored 30 points against the Nuggets, connecting on over 50 percent of his shots.  Along with Randle, he is one of the few Lakers with the speed and strength to attack the basket, where he has vastly improved his ability to finish at the rim.  He worked hard at improving his outside shooting this summer, and so far it has paid off.

    Randle and Clarkson both need to improve on defense, but they have the skills and determination to do it.

    Anthony Brown played only a few minutes in one game so far, and he did not even dress for the contest against the Nuggets.  Larry Nance, Jr. finally dressed for the first time this last game, but he has not played at all so far after shining in the preseason.

    Last season, Scott made a big mistake sticking too long with veterans like Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Price, and Wayne Ellington, at the expense of giving the younger players more playing time.  After the first dozen games it was clear the season was a loss, yet Scott missed out on the chance to give younger players like Clarkson and Ed Davis, and later Tarik Black and Jabari Brown, more minutes.

    Scott cannot afford to make this mistake again. Brandon Bass, Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams, and Marcelo Huertas are decent players but they will not make any difference this season, just as Lin, Boozer, Price, and Ellington made no difference last year. They are just filling space until the team can further re-tool with younger players or superstar free agents.

    For this reason, Brown and Nance Jr. deserve to play and need to play. The sooner Scott recognizes this fact, the better.

    Nance Jr. has a wide array of skills and provides much needed hustle and energy, in addition to his highlight moments around the rim. He is already a fan favorite.

    Brown started five preseason games, so Scott must have seen something positive in him. He has the potential to be strong wing defender on a team which is in desperate need of defense, and we got to see in the last preseason game against the Warriors that he can be a deadly outside shooter. In fact, when he entered his one regular season game, he immediately hit a three point shot.

    So, too, does D’Angelo Russell need to play more minutes no matter how poorly he has looked so far. He’s 19 years old, and while he was seriously overhyped by the front office, he is here. The team has a huge investment in him and we need to cut him some slack.  He needs to relax and play ball, rather than overthinking every situation.

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    When the Lakers cut Robert Upshaw, which seemed to make no sense at the time, there was a fear that behind the scenes he had relapsed in some way. Were that the case, however, they presumably would not have signed him to play for the D’Fenders.  Assuming he is okay, the Lakers should seriously consider getting him back and giving him a shot.

    Roy Hibbert played only 17 minutes against the Nuggets and grabbed only two rebounds, after sitting out more time than expected the game before.

    Scott may be losing confidence in Hibbert, which leaves an enormous gap in the middle where the Lakers are getting killed on the boards.

    Why not give Upshaw a chance to sink or swim? What do the Lakers have to lose?

    Finally, there is Black, who barely played this season until the last game. The Lakers were going with a second-unit front line of Ryan Kelly and Brandon Bass, which has been utterly destroyed each night.  It happened again in the first half against the Nuggets.

    In the second half, Scott finally inserted Black instead of Kelly. Black responded by leading the team with eight rebounds, and he scored seven points. Black is undersized, which will always be a problem, but he is more skilled than people give him credit for. He hustles and seems to have a knack for making a key play here and there. Hopefully, Black will continue to get playing time over Kelly.

    Putting everything in perspective, Laker fans temporarily lost sight of reality and the true goal. This season is all about developing the young talent. Nothing else matters, including Bryant, whose skills are so diminished that it is sad and painful to watch him play.

    Win or lose, the young players have shown they have potential, which the team needs to fully explore this year. It will take time, and it will not always be pretty, but Laker fans should be patient and enjoy the journey as the young players develop. Of course, Scott must get out of the way and allow it to happen, rather than fighting it and delaying the process for no good reason.

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    In sum, this season is about the youth and that is positive all things considered. The veteran core, are secondary, hardly worthy of any mention in a season that should be all about the future.