Six players drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers over the past three years have each had their moments on the court, but what must each of those ‘Baby Lakers’ do to reach NBA stardom?
The biggest difference between an average NBA player and a star is consistency. For example, Kelly Olynyk looked like a star when he scored 26 points to lead the Celtics to a Game 7 victory over the Wizards. But in the following 5-game series against Cleveland, he returned to average, scoring a total of 39 points in the series.
An NBA star performs at a high level on a consistent basis, virtually game in, game out. That steadiness remains a challenge for every one of the Baby Lakers. So this offseason, there are different skills that each should work on to reach their potential and emulate an existing star:
Jordan Clarkson– he is the most experienced young Laker with three full pro seasons under his belt, following three NCAA seasons, he is closest to a finished product ,with likely less room for improvement. He is most effective driving to the hoop, so to round his game out he should work on his outside shooting, especially from 3-point range. Clarkson also has the athleticism to be a better defender than he’s shown so far. His ideal role seems to be as a sixth man to supply scoring off the bench, ala Lou Williams or Jamal Crawford.
Brandon Ingram– oozing with talent, he’s just a young pup still growing into his body. He is already a plus defender, ball-handler and passer, but needs to continue to work on his jumper and on his strength so he can finish at the basket through contact. He has frequently been compared to Kevin Durant, but will likely never be as masterful a sharpshooter as KD. A more realistic goal is to follow the footsteps of first-team all-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard, who is probably the most versatile all-around star in the league. If anyone on the Lakers roster is untouchable, it’s Ingram.
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Larry Nance Jr.– In addition to his tremendous leaping ability and spectacular dunks, he displayed an improved shot from mid-range, the 3-point line and the free-throw line this past season. His goal should be to continue to work on that shot and develop the confidence to take it anytime the defense backs off, much as Blake Griffin has done. Nance can also become more of a defensive stopper. He’s suffered numerous injuries in his two NBA seasons, and has to prove that he is not injury-prone.
Julius Randle– In some games, he’s been an unstoppable whirlwind driving to the hoop and aggressively gobbling up every rebound in sight. Yet in other games, he seemed more like a spectator, lacking the energy to compete. The challenge for Randle is to summon up his competitive drive every night. He has been compared with Draymond Green, but will likely never be as good a passer. But if he can develop consistency along with a reliable outside shot to keep the defenses honest, he has all the skills to carve out a very successful NBA career.
D’Angelo Russell– In his second season, he enjoyed small increases in per game points, assists, steals and rebounds. Yet Lakers fans seem to expect more. If the team drafts point guard Lonzo Ball, as expected, then Russell (assuming he’s not traded) will play more off the ball. That should free him to be more of a scorer, so his focus this offseason should be on developing a more consistent outside shot. Then his game might more closely resemble that of his role model Manu Ginobili, or even James Harden.
Ivica Zubac– In the summer league last year, commentators noted how well the young big man defended the basket without fouling. But when given a chance to play in the NBA down the stretch, the fouls mounted. Still, he seems loaded with talent and blessed with a good work ethic. All facets of his game need work, but Zubac ultimately could be similar to the player the Lakers traded away to obtain Pau Gasol (which of course led to two titles), Pau’s brother Marc Gasol.
As far as the Lakers’ draft pick, it’s easy to see why one of the greatest passers in NBA history, Magic Johnson, is likely to draft Lonzo Ball, one of the NCAA’s best-passing point guards. Ball seems to have a knack for finding the open man and loves a fast-paced game, and has been favorably compared to Jason Kidd, although Ball has a better outside shot at the same age. That passing ability could earn him the praise, once heaped on both Magic and Kidd, that he makes his teammates better.
It remains to be seen if Magic and Lakers GM Rob Pelinka will hold fast and resist the temptation to trade away one or more Baby Lakers in exchange for an established star. But it may be in the best interests of the team to remain patient and see how the youngsters develop. After all, Magic is one of the most popular men in L.A., and fans are likely to trust his judgment and give him the benefit of the doubt.
A recurring theme among all six players (and Ball too) is that each truly wants to stay in LA and help build the Lakers back into contention. By working hard in the offseason to continue to improve and become better, more consistent all-around players, new stars may be born, and Lakers management just might be convinced to stay the course.
What do you think?