June 2, 2017, 11:32 am
Hoop-Ball’s Post-Mortem series takes a look at the 2016-17 season and what went right and wrong for every team. From coaching analysis to fantasy impact, we dive in to the year that was and make sense of it all. If you’ve missed any, you can find them here.
This season was the Lakers’ most important one in years. The departure of Kobe combined with a completely new coaching staff set the Lakers up for the beginning of a new era. It was a season filled with highs and lows where the highs were really high but the lows were extremely low. They managed to show definite improvement from last year’s 17-win team by finishing with a 26-56 record and gave a glimpse of how bright their future can really be by finishing the season strong, winning five of their last six games. However, they also had a ton of front office drama, a really bad overall second half of the season, and didn’t set themselves up very well to keep their top-3 protected draft pick. Hoop Ball’s Post-Mortem series dives deep into exactly what happened in La La Land.
Just like last year, this season was split up into two different parts for the Lakers. The first half of the season they were legitimately trying to make the playoffs, starting off the season at 10-10 and fluctuating between the seventh and eighth seed. Luke Walton was even drawing consideration for the Coach of The Year award, and the front office seemed to be okay. That was all set to change after the All-Star break.
After the break, the Lakers imploded – sort of. It all started with their refusal to trade for DeMarcus Cousins. They were one of the last two teams the Sacramento Kings were considering trading their All-Star center to, but Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss, the former Lakers’ GM and Executive, refused to include Brandon Ingram in the deal. Later on, news came out the Buss actually wanted to include the rookie but Kupchak refused. That always seemed to be a problem for the Lakers – their front office was never on the same page and no one ever really knew whether or not they believed in their young talent or not.
Shortly after all the details of the botched trade were released, the Lakers announced that they had relieved Kupchak and Buss of their duties and hired Magic Johnson as the President of Basketball Operations and Rob Pelinka as the GM. With the former front office tandem of Kupchak and Buss signing center Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng to expensive multi-year contracts last offseason, the failed Cousins trade was viewed as the last straw.
The Lakers’ record post All-Star break was 7-17, with five of those seven wins coming in the last 6 games of the season. They traded Lou Williams and Marcelo Huertas to the Rockets in two separate trades and acquired Tyler Ennis, Corey Brewer and the Rockets’ 2017 first round pick, which will be the 28th selection. Mercifully, they also kept their top-3 pick in the draft despite playing their way into a lower probability with that late season surge.
For the second half of the season, the Lakers gave their young core of D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Ivica Zubac the keys to the franchise and began to see how far they could drive it. Sure they only won seven games, but they were as encouraging as losses can be and throughout all the turmoil, the Lakers definitely gave their fans something to look forward to next season.
The Lakers managed to ink the most sought after coach of the offseason, former Laker Luke Walton. He led the Warriors to a 24-0 start last season and they ended up being the best regular season team of all time.
When the Lakers signed Walton it truly felt like the beginning of a new era in LA. Fresh off Kobe’s last game, the Lakers were ready to start over and create something fresh and new. That’s exactly what they did and Walton was receiving Coach of the Year consideration early in the season but that quickly subsided as the Lakers’ sunk further down the standings in the Western Conference.
However, Walton brought a sense of happiness and energy that the team was sorely lacking after two seasons under former coach Byron Scott. Every player spoke glowingly about Walton, saying that they would “run through a wall for him” and that he was a “player’s coach.” Being the youngest coach in the league has it’s perks, as Walton was able to make a young group feel like they were working with someone who knew what it was like to be in their shoes. He connected with a young roster and worked to earn their respect, rather than setting archaic rules and demanding they be followed. He instilled a brand new set of offensive sets into the Lakers’ playbook and it was visibly noticeable. For the first time in two years the Lakers had a competent offense, finishing 17th in scoring with 104.6 points per game. It’s not completely there yet, but there was definitely progress.
On the other hand, Walton’s rookie season didn’t go without any blemishes. The team did finish 14th in the Western Conference and his lineup decisions were constantly questioned by fans of the team. There would be times where he would elect to play 30 year-old Lou Williams over 21 year-old D’Angelo Russell, and he developed a habit of pulling entire five man lineups at a time if he felt they weren’t playing well.
Overall, if the only bad things to say about Walton’s first season as a coach is that he could only win 26 games with an extremely young team and that he was a little shaky on lineup adjustments, it means he had a pretty good rookie season. The Lakers do have a lot of things they have to do in order to secure a bright future, but finding a coach isn’t one of them. They hit the jackpot with Walton.
ADP: 57/80 (ESPN/Yahoo) , Total Value: 91/127 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 68/101 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 63
Russell said his exit interview with Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka focused on him becoming more of an all-around leader, developing his body, and becoming more consistent, which is Russell’s biggest problem. One game he looks like he’ll be franchise’s best player, other games he looks like he shouldn’t even be on the court. Focus in that area should help him improve again.
Of course, D’Lo’s value drops drastically in a 9-cat league due to the number of turnovers he racks up (2.8 per game) but that’s to be expected from a second year point guard. D’Angelo definitely improved his numbers this season, but he especially shined after the All-Star break as the Lakers traded Lou Williams and began running him at shooting guard. After the break Russell averaged 18.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.8 steals in 33.3 minutes, proving that he can produce when given the chance. Playing off the ball should help cut down his turnovers and would let him focus on scoring, so it’ll be interesting to see how he gets used next season.
With the new front office in place, no one knows whether or not they are truly untouchable and that should give him a little extra motivation. Pair that with the fact that the Lakers seem committed to running him as the off guard, he seems poised for an big third season. If he can work on his consistency and keep his turnovers down, Russell could jump into middle-round value next season and continue to keep #Loading.
ADP: 83/109 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 82/117 ( 8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 100/131 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 74
Randle flashed his strong 8-cat potential this season, recording three triple-doubles and putting up averages of 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He took a slight hit in rebounding, but every other aspect of his game improved. Luke Walton seems okay with Randle bringing up the ball in transition and initiating the offense, which is how he gets most of his assists.
That also means plenty of opportunity for turnovers, of which he had many. His 2.4 mark is tough to swallow in 9-cat leagues but another year of growth might help him with that. The Lakers don’t really have an established center worth dedicating touches towards, so the rebounds and the offense in the paint both go directly to Randle.
While the triple-doubles and counting stats were nice, Randle benefited most from vastly improving his shooting. After he posted a .429 mark in his second season, he shot right up to .488 last year. He was way better inside the arc, improving by nearly six full percentage points on his way to 48.8 percent from two point range.
Walton clearly sees Randle as another of the modern NBA’s versatile bigs and he seems to be going in that direction even if the defense isn’t there yet. He brings an all-around stat profile on the offensive end as well as a certain attitude that always has a place on a successful team. By the end of the season, Randle had even began adding a 3-point shot to his arsenal, averaging half a three per game throughout the last month of the season. It doesn’t seem like much but it was enough to make defenders respect his jumper in pick-and-pop situations, allowing him to drive right by most bigs with his speed. If he can find a way to add defensive stats even marginally more often and his upward trajectory continues, Randle is on the way to middle-round value.
ADP: 88/92 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 78/108 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 117/148 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 82
Clarkson’s season was split into two parts. In the first part of the season, he was coming off the bench as the seventh man behind Lou Williams but after the break he became the true sixth man and eventually took over the starting point guard job, playing next to D’Angelo Russell. That’s what the starting backcourt was projected to be going into last offseason but Luke Walton surprised everyone when he announced journeyman Nick Young would be starting next to Russell.
Throughout the season, Clarkson displayed his ability to both create his own shot and play off the ball. He played the most games of any Laker this season with 82 and finished the season averaging 14.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.6 assists. However, after the break he averaged the second most points on the team and his numbers bumped up to 17.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists, while also leading the team in minutes with 33.7 per contest. His 1.1 steals per game also helped him contribute even when he took a backseat on offense. In keeping with the theme so far, turnovers hurt him – 2.0 per game, to be exact.
This season seemed more like an experimental one for Clarkson and he might not be keeping that starting spot for long if the Lakers add a point guard in the draft. However, Clarkson showed that he can produce for owners whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, making him a solid pick in the second half of drafts.
ADP: 94/121 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 217/256 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 269/312 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 79
The Lakers used the second pick in the draft on Ingram a year ago because they believed he could be their franchise player, and he can – in about four or five years. The biggest worry with Ingram was his weight, as many believed he would get pushed around by NBA athletes. While that was true at times, it wasn’t as noticeable as many thought. He is stronger than he looks, as we’ve heard from multiple teammates, and he’s one of those payers that draws your attention on the court.
Ingram’s rookie year was up and down and one of his major problems was his ability to shoot the ball. It was a bit of a surprise because he was scouted as a good shooter coming out of college, but that just goes to show the difference between the college 3-point line and the NBA 3-point line.
Ingram got better as the season went on and he got more comfortable. Throughout the entire season his field goal percentage was .402, but after the all-star break it improved to .475. He also gained more confidence as the season continued, averaging the second most field goal attempts on the team with 14.0. While he improved from the field he really struggled with his free throws. Throughout the season he shot .621 from the stripe but he got worse as the season wore on, shooting just .583 in the last two weeks.
Ingram has perhaps the most secure spot on the roster going into the offseason as the front office sees him as the best prospect on their team, and he plans on working out with Kobe Bryant this offseason. He’ll be a better player ff he can learn anything from the Black Mamba, full stop. Owners should look to pick up Ingram in the later rounds of their drafts next year.
Larry Nance Jr.
ADP: N/A / 142 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 134/114 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 108/89 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 63
Nance began the season coming off the bench behind Julius Randle and ended the season starting next to him after Ivica Zubac was shut down. He bumped his numbers in every single category, increasing his points per game from 5.5 to 7.1, his rebounds from 5.0 to 5.9 and his assists from 0.7 to 1.5. He also led all Lakers that played more than 20 minutes per game in field goal percentage at .526, so he’s also an efficient scorer.
Although he started for the last couple weeks of the season, he will most likely go back to his bench role next year. He finished this season inside the top-115 in 9-cat leagues and there’s no reason why he can’t do it again next year. He’s a fine late-round pick with steady all-around production.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 307/298 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 237/220 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 38
Zubac emerged as a fan favorite throughout the Lakers fan base this season and although he only played 38 games he flashed his potential as the Lakers’ future starting center. He clearly struggles on defense and picks ups a lot of fouls, but that’s just because he’s young and inexperienced – his time shall come.
Where he excels is his post game. It’s one of the best in the league for a young big man, and if he continues to improve it, he could make for an extremely tough matchup for opposing centers. The last two months of the season is the best indicator of Zubac’s potential success, as he averaged 10.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.1 blocks per game, which was good enough to place inside the top-150 in 9-cat leagues.
As of now his competition for the starting job is Timofey Mozgov and based on how Mozzy played this season, it shouldn’t be hard for Zubac to win the job. He could be a draft day steal next year and is definitely worth a late round flier and might be a popular sleeper depending on the offseason.
ADP: N/A / N/A, Total Value: 176/152 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 134/106 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 60
Nick Young managed to provide one of the most surprising seasons in the entire NBA, practically reviving his career in only 60 games. Last offseason he was expected to be released by the Lakers but when the season started he was their starting shooting guard and primary perimeter defender. Young played his most games since the 2013-2014 season while notching career highs in 3-pointers made (2.8) and effective field goal percentage (.564).
Young has a player option this offseason and is still deciding whether or not to opt out or not, but either way he probably won’t have a repeat of this surprising season. Besides, even if he stays with the Lakers, he most likely won’t be starting. In Young’s best season in three years he managed to put up top-110 value. That’s guaranteed to drop next year and he won’t be worth drafting outside of deep leagues, but you can wait and see how this offseason works out for him to make a final call on Swaggy P.
Tyler Ennis basically proved he was capable of playing in the NBA over the final 20 games of the season, averaging 8.3 points, 1.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Ennis is a free agent this offseason and the Lakers might not re-sign him if they take a point guard, as that would then push Jordan Clarkson back to the bench. They seem to like him, however, and he could get signed to a low-end contract. Either way he’s not worth a look in drafts next year.
David Nwaba was a late signing for the Lakers this season and Tarik Black was a staple in the lineup all season, though neither one of their games translates well to fantasy. Black is more of a low-end rebounding specialist and Nwaba is regarded as one of the Lakers’ best defenders but doesn’t do a ton on offense. There should be better options available come draft day.
Timofey Mozgov had a disappointing season, and was actually thought to be fantasy relevant before the season began. ESPN and Yahoo had his ADP at 108 and 136, but he ended the season putting up 22nd round value. In Mozzy’s defense, he was shut down for the majority of the second half of the season in order to allow Ivica Zubac to develop. He and Zu should battle for the starting center spot this offseason, but either way the Lakers know their future lies in Zubac and Mozgov can be left on the board when draft day rolls around.
This Lakers offseason proves to be one of the biggest in recent memory, with the new front office seemingly eager to acquire a superstar in exchange for some of their young talent. Paul George has been connected to the Lakers recently and they might just try and make the move to acquire him. The Lakers’ future is still up in the air, and their roster could look drastically different come the beginning of next season with Brandon Ingram looking like the only player that they aren’t willing to trade. As for the draft, LA is in a prime spot to pick UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, one of the top prospects in the draft. Ball (and his dad) have made it clear that he wants to be a Laker – maybe the team feels the same way.
With this season down, the Lakers showed progress and the potential of their young players was put on full display in the second half of the season, with each of them flashing greatness at different times. As for now, the Lakers shift their sights to the NBA Draft and will look to let Walton lead them back to success once the dust settles.