When the Los Angeles Lakers realized their veteran-heavy roster wouldn’t work without a few extra pairs of young legs, they turned to the free-agent market in an attempt to add some juvenile energy to the team — and salvage their season. Among the mid-season signings they made, they brought in NBA globetrotter Wenyen Gabriel.
Gabriel had already gone through a couple of short stints with the Brooklyn Nets and L.A. Clippers earlier in 2021-22 — having already represented three teams in his first two years in the league. The 6-foot-9 forward made seven appearances in the first part of the season before signing with the Purple and Gold on March 1.
Head coach Frank Vogel looked forward to utilizing the 25-year-old’s “interesting skill set” that included a solid 3-point shot in addition to his length, hustle and energy.
Gabriel ended up setting new career highs during his time with the Lakers, averaging 6.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 0.5 blocks and clocking in 16.4 minutes per game. He made 19 appearances for L.A., starting in five of them.
As Vogel predicted, Gabriel turned out to be a good fit with the Purple and Gold, bringing in the athleticism and girt their frontcourt had severely lacked. Although he occasionally showed his inexperience, the forward bolstered the Lakers’ presence in the paint, boosting their shaky rebounding and helping them score second-chance points.
His performance earned him a standard NBA contract with L.A., which is believed to include a team option for 2022-23.
Gabriel put up the best game of his NBA career when he scored career-high 17 points in an overtime win over the Toronto Raptors on March 18. He was fired up right out of the gate, going 6-for-6 in the first quarter to score 14 of L.A.’s 33 points. Each of Gabriel’s shots in regulation found the net with his only miss coming in overtime.
His performance helped the Lakers earn a long-awaited win, ending their 11-game losing streak on the road. The victory also kept the team’s playoff hopes alive for a little longer.
Although Gabriel’s return for the 2022-23 season isn’t guaranteed, it’s hard to see the Lakers not bringing back the young, determined and versatile forward — especially considering their cap space situation. The forward said he’s already talked about his future with the franchise’s decision-makers, adding they were “excited to have him here this summer.”
Gabriel has definitely earned the right to spend the offseason with L.A. and prove he deserves a spot on next season’s roster. If he can smoothen some of the rough edges, he could be a valuable — and affordable — role player for the Lakers.
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