With Christmas Day now here, it is time to do some last-minute shopping for your favorite Lakers’ players and their coach Luke Walton. No doubt they have their own wish lists, but as someone who lives and dies with the team and has done a lot of dying over the past few years, I decided to compile my own list of basketball hopes and dreams for the purple and gold during this holiday season.
The team has lost ten of their last 11 games. So with spirits sinking and injuries piling up, here are some holiday wishes for your Los Angeles Lakers.
1. Luke Walton: Number one on my wish list for Walton is a team that plays defense, something he has repeatedly preached, to no avail, from the moment training camp opened in October. If anything, the defense seems to be getting worse rather than better as these days opponents are regularly scoring in the neighborhood of 120 points a night against the Lakers. For Christmas, this year here’s hoping the team gets the message that you have to play as hard on defense as you do on offense.
2. D’Angelo Russell: He may be only 20, but this Christmas Russell needs a friend to tell him to stop talking and start playing. He keeps making silly proclamations like the team will make the playoffs this year and contend for a championship next season, which only makes him sound deluded and hurts his credibility. Right now, he needs to just concentrate on making it onto the court every night and improving his game, since his absence for much of the season has derailed the team’s progress.
3. Julius Randle: Randle needs the gift of consistency under his tree. One minute he looks like one of the league’s most dominant players and the next he looks like he is still in high school and this goes on from game to game and sometimes half to half. In the preseason, Randle explained how hard it is for him to keep up the energy and play hard all the time, which was scary coming from someone who was 21 at the time and about to start his second real NBA season. Randle can be frustrating, and that frustration won’t end until he becomes a player you can count on to play at a high level and with big time energy for all four quarters of every game.
4. Brandon Ingram: This is another easy one. Ingram needs to find his outside shot under the Christmas tree. He has shown he can do everything else at a high level, and he shows great poise and maturity for a rookie. But his shooting has been in hibernation all season and needs to improve for the Lakers to get better since he is playing significant minutes. If he can start making outside shots, he can still win Rookie-of-the-Year honors. If things keep going this way, he may not finish in the top five.
5. Larry Nance Jr.: At the risk of playing favorites, there are two gifts that Nance should receive under his tree this year. First, he needs the gift of good health. He has already been injured numerous times this season and missed games after each incident. Nance is pivotal to the team’s chance of winning – although his statistics on paper don’t explain it when he is out the Lakers become a decided underdog. The other gift he needs is to become much more aggressive on the offensive end. He actually knocked down a three-point shot the other night, and if he could just learn to shoot with confidence when defenses lay off him, he could be a heck of a good NBA player.
6. Nick Young: The gift Young deserves this Christmas is the award for NBA Comeback Player of the Year. He has been one of the team’s best and most valuable contributors this season when last summer no one expected him to return to the team at all. He is connecting on a solid 46.5 percent of his shots overall and an excellent 41.1 percent from three-point range. So far he shows no sign of slowing down. If these numbers stick, they would be by far his career highs in both categories.
7. Lou Williams: Williams should receive the gift of “staying power” this year. He is averaging 18.8 points per game while connecting on 44.4 percent of his shots overall and 35 percent from three-point range. He is also dishing the ball to others better than ever. At times he has been the entire offense, but while these averages are career highs across the board, unlike Young, Williams’ shooting efficiency is starting to go down. He needs the strength to keep making shots at a clip of 45 percent or better. And if he could try to play a little defense, that would help too.
8. Jordan Clarkson: For Christmas, Clarkson needs to receive a highlight reel of his rookie season so he can re-harness what he was doing when he was averaging nearly 20 points and nine assists in his final ten games that year. Surprisingly, with Clarkson recently in a slump, this is precisely what Walton forced him to do – watch film from his rookie season. Whether it is a coincidence or not, Clarkson has responded with back to back 20 and 25-point games to go along with more assists. This is what the Lakers expected from Clarkson when they gave him a lucrative contract extension this past summer.
9. Tarik Black: Every time Black plays he grabs a key rebound, makes a thunderous dunk and registers an impressive blocked shot. The gift he needs for Christmas is more minutes on the court. Starting center Timofey Mozgov has been okay but not great, so when Black returns from an ankle injury, let’s hope Santa rewards him with more minutes. With Nance out indefinitely, it might just happen.
10. Luol Deng: For his Christmas present, Deng needs the gift of stamina to keep playing like he has been performing the past eight games, in contrast to how he played the first 22 games of the season. Deng looked like he was through but out of nowhere resurrected his game. He has been active, engaged, and contributing on both ends of the court just as the front office envisioned when they made him the team’s highest-paid player.
11. Timofey Mozgov: Judging from the reception he received last week from his former Cavaliers’ teammates when they awarded Mozgov his championship ring for last season, he is a very likable guy and a decent NBA player. For Christmas, however, Santa should give him the gift of being able to jump higher. For such a big guy, he seems utterly incapable of winning a jump ball to start the game. Just once it would be nice for the Lakers to get the ball first to start the fourth quarter.
12. Ivica Zubac: The obvious gift for fan-favorite Zubac is the opportunity to play more, either with the Lakers or the Los Angeles D-Fenders. Zubac is young and raw but with a lot of skill. Since Mozgov is not going to set the world on fire, and with the Lakers losing ten of their last 11 games and beset with injuries, what is the harm in giving Zubac a few minutes here and there?
13. Jose Calderon: To finish the season in good health, and then to receive a gold watch and a comfortable retirement.
14. Marcelo Huertas: To continue to play with enthusiasm when called on, and an opportunity to play for a good team in Europe next season.
15. Metta World Peace: On Christmas morning, World Peace deserves to get an offer under his tree for a good coaching position with a Division 1 college team in the mid-west.
16. Thomas Robinson: The Lakers are Robinson’s sixth team in five NBA seasons. He plays hard, and what he lacks in skill he makes up for in hustle. For Christmas, it would be nice for him to receive the gift of an outside jump shot. He plays well under the rim but what is holding him back as an NBA player is the lack of a well-rounded offensive game.
There you have it Lakers fans, Christmas wishes for your favorite team. Let’s hope that as a group the Lakers stay healthy for the rest of the season because they’ve proven that when everyone is available, they are a fun and exciting team. To the Lakers and their fans, happy holidays.