If you have read any of Lake Show Life’s Lakers player previews, you will have noticed a recurring theme centered around Darvin Ham’s designated desire for determined defense. If you are looking for an article more tailored towards the bucket-getting aspect of the game, those ones are coming. For now, let us ride the defensive wave.
Taurean Prince was the first of the flurry of new faces inked to contracts in free agency thus far for the Lakers. While he has never been mistaken for a star in this league so far, he has also never been mistaken for a scrub.
His career digits do not scream at you from your screen, but he has quietly carved out a nice role for himself in the NBA. And while it may seem like he is old in NBA years, he will not turn 30 until March. Does he not seem like the type of guy that has just been around for a long time? Heading into his 9th NBA season, Prince’s game has a calming feel on both ends.
Even more impactful, his reputation within the locker room should be big time looking ahead to the season ahead. 82 games is a lot of tread on a player’s body physically, but we also forget that it is equally wearing on the minds of NBA players.
Talent is obviously an important trait in basketball, but the mentality is arguably the superior section in the formula for success in this game. Taurean will be a welcome addition to the team for his shooting abilities on the offensive side of the court.
Branching off of that, his malleability on the defensive side of the court should prove Rob Pelinka correct in his selection for the bi-annual contract. But above all of the tangibles, his demeanor and presence as a battle-tested veteran should be what makes this such a W in the offseason contract Win/Loss column.
All things considered, are there really any tallies on the Loss side of that chalkboard? That debate is up for debacle, but any negative defense should easily be debunked when you look at the grand scheme of the offseason that the Lakers have had.
For crying out loud, the swift Prince signing was darn near sealed before the opening siren of free agency had a complete commencement. And if Doug McDermott, Nicolas Batum, PJ Tucker, and Joe Ingles (!!!) are considered steals at their current low seven-figure income figures, then scoring Prince’s swingman services for a modest $4.5 million is highway robbery.
Are you choosing any of those four gentlemen over Taurean Prince? They are all similar in stature, role, and position. Furthermore, they are all at about the same tier in terms of their prominence across the association (some casual NBA viewers may not recognize any of those names). Nonetheless, they are all solid role players in their own right. So, which of the five is really the alpha of the focus group? To start, you have to peep their numbers from a season ago:
- Batum: 78 GP | 21.9 MPG | 6.1 PPG | 3.8 RPG | 1.6 APG | 0.7 SPG | 0.6 BPG | 42/39.1/70.8
- Tucker: 75 GP | 25.6 MPG | 3.5 PPG | 3.9 RPG | 0.8 APG | 0.5 SPG | 0.2 BPG | 42.7/39.3/82.6
- Ingles: 46 GP | 22.7 MPG | 6.9 PPG | 2.8 RPG | 3.3 APG | 0.7 SPG | 0.1 BPG | 43.5/40.9/85.7
- Prince: 54 GP | 22.1 MPG | 9.1 PPG | 2.4 RPG | 1.6 APG | 0.5 SPG | 0.3 BPG | 46.7/38.1/84.4
- McDermott: 64 GP | 20.5 MPG | 10.2 PPG | 2.2 RPG | 1.4 APG | 0.2 SPG | 0.2 BPG | 45.7/41.3/75.7
Lakers’ Taurean Prince stands out compared to his peers.
These are all savvy veteran dudes who have earned the respect of their peers in the workforce. And while it is easy to group Prince in with these vets, it is easier to forget that he is the youngest of this bunch by over 2 years. That just reiterates the hypothesis of crowning Prince a wise veteran so early on in his career.
Within this collection of elders, you also have to factor in the seasonal success of the team of each player. With McDermott, the Spurs unsurprisingly finished tied with Houston for the 2nd worst record in the entire league. With Batum, the disappointing Clippers finished as the 5th seed in the West and were ousted by Phoenix in the opening round of the playoffs.
With Tucker, the 76ers finished as the 3rd seed in the East but once again came up short in their pursuit of Joel Embiid’s first ring, getting absolutely mopped by the Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. With Ingles, the Bucks finished with the best regular season record in the league before infamously collapsing at the hands of mastermind Erik Spoelstra and the 8th-seeded Miami Heat.
With Prince, the young Timberwolves fought their way through 2 tough games in the play-in to inevitably fall to the eventual NBA champion Denver Nuggets in 5 games. Props to the Wolves for stealing one in that series, something the Lakers could not do 2 series’ later.
When you combine those 2 criteria and factor in these guys’ strengths, weaknesses, and overall track records, Taurean Prince could easily be the one most likely to contribute to a winning team. Doug McDermott laps the field in the shooting event but does not bring anything else to the table.
Batum has always understood how to play within his role, but at his age are you really taking him over Prince? It was evident last season that he lost a step. PJ Tucker and Joe Ingles both have rock-solid resumes, but are each entering the twilights of their respective careers.
If given the choice to select any of these guys to round out a starting lineup RIGHT NOW, Prince would theoretically be the choice 8 out of 10 times. Notice there is a strong emphasis on the right now component of that last sentence because this is not to say that Taurean Prince has produced a more successful NBA career thus far than any of those other 4 guys. This is just to say that RIGHT NOW Taurean Prince would make sense in literally almost any lineup as a 29-year-old veteran who understands his role and always puts the team before himself.
Every team needs a guy similar to one of these guys on their team. A veteran guy who is always down to roll up his sleeves and never afraid to do some dirty work. A guy with a mild ego, accepting of the embodiment that is team success.
Someone who never keeps track of their individual numbers, only the numbers on the scoreboard. This season, Taurean Prince’s primary responsibility will be filling that role. Because while every team needs a guy like this, not every team has one. And with selfless nature comes selfless culture, and selfless culture within the walls of a professional basketball organization typically yields positive results.
Think of a young 23-year-old guy like Cam Reddish. Reddish came into the league packed with potential but has yet to effectively establish himself as a legitimate NBA player. Having LeBron James around is 100% going to benefit Reddish.
However, LeBron James is going to be busy piloting the entire Laker operation, meaning he can not allocate his undivided attention to helping groom some of the young (dare we say Baby) Lakers like Cam and Christie. That is where a guy like Prince can be so crucial to a team’s success.
Certainly, there will be times when Prince shares the floor with the stars, but barring a scorching start to the season it is reasonable to expect a decently modest minute intake coming Prince’s way this year. That is nothing against him, of course, it is just that the Lakers have one of the NBA’s deepest frontcourts. But even when he is not contributing via the court, he can provide just as much ancillary support from the sidelines.
Let’s bend time and flash forward to the start of the preseason. Let’s say rookie Maxwell Lewis is on the court alongside LeBron, AD, Austin Reaves, and Gabe Vincent (the chances of the Lakers rolling out that 5 man lineup at any point are slim but stranger things have happened). Lewis misses a rotation on defense and the opposing team scores an easy bucket. LeBron is not happy.
This feels like a make-it-break-it type of season for LeBron, so he does not necessarily have a ton of time for lessons. Noticing the King’s displeasure, Darvin Ham immediately calls for Cam Reddish to check in for Lewis.
Apart from a quick debriefing on why he was pulled, Ham and Lewis’s encounter is quick as he turns to take a seat. While dashing down the line of high-5s from his teammates, Prince grabs Lewis and makes room in the seat next to him. For the next 3 minutes, Prince first quickly provides Lewis with an in-depth lesson on what he did wrong. The remaining 3 minutes consist of Prince analyzing each rotation and movement on defense, preaching his messages into the youngster’s unsure ears.
After 3 minutes have passed, Cam Reddish makes the same exact mistake that Lewis made. Same mistake, same result. This time, however, it is Prince who is sent to check in for Reddish. Reddish has a quick encounter with Ham similar to the one that Lewis had previously before finding a spot on the bench next to his fellow youth. Despite being a rookie, Maxwell Lewis now has useful knowledge that he can pass along to Reddish which can help Reddish resurrect the same mistake that he made.
Seniority aside, Lewis decides to speak up and passes along the message he received from Prince, which Reddish receives warmly. During his next court appearance, Reddish’s rotations are flawless. You need superstars to make the plays, and you need superstars to lead your team. And while the role players might not be looked to as much for the playmaking, a sense of leadership should always extend throughout an entire roster. E
very player has their role on the court, and every player inversely shares a responsibility of sustaining positive vibes off the court. Off the court, Taurean Prince should have a large role in staying on top of the young guys. If we see a breakout season from a guy like Max Christie and/or Cam Reddish, think of Prince as a silent catalyst for whatever blossoming may transpire from them.
And on the court, it would appear that he understands his assignment. We will say it again and again, Darvin Ham is all about defense. Aside from Anthony Davis and Jarred Vanderbilt, who would you say is the first name that comes to mind when you start to ponder the next best overall defensive player the Lakers have?
If your answer was D’Angelo Russell, Jalen Hood-Schifino or Maxwell Lewis, you should immediately seek therapeutic treatment. If your answer was LeBron James or Rui Hachimura, we are not calling you crazy but we are not necessarily calling you smart either. If your answer was Cam Reddish, Austin Reaves, or Gabe Vincent then you are thinking logically, just not quite logistically.
At 6’6″ and 218 pounds, Taurean Prince is the prototypical size for a wing in the modern NBA. While not the most athletic, he can be capably counted on for solid defense against literally any 3 or 4 in the league. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, by no means is he a lockdown defender.
But with all things considered, Prince should comfortably hold the bronze position on the Lakers defensive hierarchy. You read the note about his ability to capably defend forwards, but he also has just enough athleticism and lateral quickness to get away with absorbing some guard matchups.
And while his frame might not be the sturdiest, the right circumstances could even see Darvin Ham experiment with him at the 5 in some spot minutes. That is probably not a realistic scenario given the fact the team will more than likely be signing another big man in the weeks to come but is still fathomable. Especially with the freedom to experiment in the preseason, Ham could try to spice things up a little extra with his rotations.
Assuming he can avoid the seemingly unavoidable Laker shooting plague which most recently consumed the gone but not forgotten Laker career of Malik Beasley (mostly forgotten), Prince should have a clear path to 15-20 minutes per night. He is a viable option on defense regardless of the opponent/matchups and has proven himself a reliable role player so far in his NBA journey.
But just like every other Lakers player not named LeBron James, Anthony Davis, or Austin Reaves, you are going to have to hit shots in order to stay on the floor consistently. Prince has never been a sniper, but his accuracy from outside has been on point on good volume through 8 seasons.
Will Taurean Prince start for the Lakers? Will he be the sixth man?
At least to start the season, there would seem to be a clear spot for Prince in the rotation. Obviously, that will have to be earned over time. However, given his track record he should currently stand ahead of Cam Reddish, the 2 rookies, Jaxson Hayes, and maybe (probably not) Max Christie in the rotational race. He understands what he offers and plays to his strengths, so it will just take some time for he and his new leagues in terms of on-the-court chemistry.
But in terms of off-the-court chemistry, that is truly where the hidden value may unfold when we look back on this free agent signing in the future. This is a farm composed of different breeds. You have LeBron and AD, that is self-explanatory.
Then you have the semi-young guard corps of D’Lo, Austin Reaves, and Gabe Vincent licking their chops at the smell of success. Next, you have an emerging young star in Rui Hachimura, looking to prove himself worthy of the throne.
Max Christie is noticeably better from a season ago, but are we fully comfortable entrusting him with a consistent role at just 20 years old RIGHT NOW? Jarred Vanderbilt, Cam Reddish and Jaxson Hayes offer a lot of energy on the defensive end, but are theoretically the most likely to grow disgruntled with their roles within the organization.
Meanwhile, this will largely be a developmental year for Jalen Hood-Schifino and Maxwell Lewis, but they are going to need some of the vets beyond LeBron and AD to lean on. All of these things are not even to mention there is still another roster spot needing filled, which may or may not be a veteran that can also provide wisdom to the puppies.
Regardless of whoever that 14th and final mystery man unveils himself to be, there is a lot going on within the overall structure of the Laker roster. Aside from LeBron and AD, everyone is still trying to prove themselves. Everyone is still competing for minutes.
There will be minor mistakes made on the court. In those cases, the superstars are expected to guide. However, if/when there are disagreements between teammates/complaints about minutes, it will be a collective effort when it comes to holding everything together.
Lucky for Laker fans, the front office brought in a solid connective piece to help support the foundation. His name is Taurean Prince, and if all goes well he should develop into a fan favorite before the end of the season.