The Los Angeles Lakers 2017-18 campaign is underway, and so far the young Lakers team has shown mixed results through their first four games.
The season began with a very underwhelming performance against the crosstown rival Los Angeles Clippers, resulting in a blowout loss at Staples Center.
Los Angeles bounced back in its second game though, hanging on for a victory over the Phoenix Suns behind a near triple-double from rookie Lonzo Ball. They followed that up with a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, although they erased a 22-point deficit to take the lead in the fourth quarter at one point.
Looking to get back to .500, the Lakers took on the Washington Wizards Wednesday night. Again they were able to erase a double-digit deficit, and this time they came away win a 102-99 win in overtime behind solid performances from Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle, particularly.
Through the first four games, some Lakers have impressed, others haven’t. In this week’s Lakers Nation roundtable, our staff debates who the biggest surprises and disappointments have been to this point:
Corey Hansford (@TheeCoreyH):
Plenty of players have been impressive so far, but the one who has been most surprising has been Larry Nance Jr.
I’ve always felt that Nance could shine if he were given the starter role, but he has been even better than I expected. He is averaging 13 points and 7.8 rebounds (2.3 offensive) while shooting a ridiculous 62.2 percent from the field. To be a much better weapon on offense while still providing the defense and hustle fans have come to expect, it’s hard to see Nance relinquishing that starting spot anytime soon.
On the other end, I’ve been very disappointed in Tyler Ennis. Walton pointed him out as someone who was standing out during training camp, but that hasn’t translated to games.
He was completely outplayed by Alex Caruso during the preseason which led to Caruso getting first dibs at backing up Lonzo Ball during the season. When Ennis did get some minutes he did little to stand out and it now looks as if Luke Walton has decided to use Jordan Clarkson as the team’s backup point guard.
Ennis earned a return to the Lakers with his play last year, but he has done nothing with it so far this season.
Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane):
The biggest surprise for the Lakers so far has to be Kyle Kuzma. As the 27th pick in the NBA draft, no one was expecting him to burst out of the gates and win the MVP award in the championship game of the Las Vegas Summer League. Even after that, most expected Kuzma to struggle to find minutes behind veterans Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr.
Instead, Kuzma has emerged as one of the Lakers most consistent threats and is currently averaging the 4th-most minutes on the team despite coming off the bench. The Lakers have developed a habit of finding talent late in the draft, but it appears that they got a massive steal when they picked up Kuzma.
The most disappointing Laker is a tough one to pinpoint so early in the season. Were Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram’s early struggles a symptom of a small sample size? And what about Ivica Zubac, who had a rough Summer League, got into shape, and now can’t crack the rotation?
Still, despite these candidates, Luol Deng has to get the nod here. He’s making a ghastly $54 million over the next three seasons and is dead last on the depth chart at both small forward and power forward. He might see the floor again this season but it appears it’s going to take an injury or trade for it to happen.
Things can turn around quickly in the NBA (just ask Nick Young), but Deng appears to have a major uphill battle to earn minutes in the Lakers’ rotation.
Eric Avakian (@EAvakian5):
The Lakers have gotten off to a 2-2 start, with some major surprises and flaws for Luke Walton. At times, this team has looked like a well-oiled machine, competing against other playoff hopeful teams. As with any team, there have been surprises and disappointments.
To me, the biggest surprise this season has been the results of Larry Nance Jr., both on and off the floor. Whether against the Clippers or Wizards, Nance Jr. has provided stellar play and double-doubles along the way.
As the fifth option in the starting lineup, Nance Jr. doesn’t need many plays revolving around him to make an impact. However, his consistent energy and basketball IQ provide scoring opportunities throughout the contest. Nance Jr. has remained a nice rebounding presence alongside Brook Lopez and the crashing guards, while also being a supportive teammate when not on the court.
Now for the negative. While Lonzo Ball’s scoring hasn’t panned out, I believe the biggest disappointment has been Brook Lopez. With just 16 points over the last two games, Lopez has seen a diminished role while Walton plays at an up-tempo pace.
At the same time, Lopez has shot under 38 percent from the field in three of four games this season. His three-point shot hasn’t been consistent yet, as he continues to find his role with this team. I do want to point out that Lopez has done well with his leadership role, encouraging teammates and helping box out against opposing bigs, but the Lakers desperately need his offensive presence moving forward.
Daniel Starkand (@DStarkand):
There have been more surprises than disappointments so far for the Lakers, but for me the biggest surprise has been the play of Brandon Ingram.
I know everyone set high expectations for him going into training camp, but after his preseason struggles if someone told me that he’d be averaging 15.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists with a shooting percentage line of 42.6/33.3/77.8, I would take that in a second.
Ingram has also begun to establish himself as the team’s closer late in games, so it looks like he is on his way to developing into that All-Star caliber player that the Lakers were hoping for when they drafted him.
The biggest disappointment has to be Luol Deng. I know expectations were low for him going into the season, but with his salary, he should at least be able to contribute in some way as a role player, but he has fallen out of the rotation completely.
Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen):
The biggest surprise for the Lakers has been the play of Jordan Clarkson. Over the summer he was often talked about only in regards to the team having to move his contract in order to have enough space to fulfill its free agency dreams next offseason.
Clarkson has made it look like that might be a lot easier by coming into the season averaging 16.8 points on almost 50 percent shooting in four games off of the bench, looking like the type of instant-offense sub a playoff contender might want to acquire rather than a contract the Lakers have to dump.
The biggest disappointment for the Lakers has to be the play of Brook Lopez. He was sold as “manna from heaven” and the big man the Lakers needed. Lopez has been okay so far, but the team has been far better off going small over their first four games and his 3-point shot hasn’t been as big of a threat as advertised. Lopez still has plenty of time to rebound, but so far he’s been underwhelming.
Matt Borelli (@MattDodgerBlue):
In my opinion, the biggest surprise for the Lakers so far has been Jordan Clarkson’s efficiency on the offensive end. In four games off the bench, he’s the team’s second-leading scorer (16.8 PPG) behind Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (17.0), and is shooting a career-high 49.1 percent in just over 20 minutes per game.
If I had to nitpick, I’d say the biggest disappointment has been Lonzo Ball’s shooting. The season is obviously still young, and Ball will almost certainly improve as the year goes on, but he shot a team-worst 31.6 percent from the floor in the first four games (not counting Tyler Ennis’ 16.7 mark).
On the bright side, Ball is doing everything else well. He leads the Lakers in rebounds and assists (nine apiece) and is creating shots for his teammates all over the court — just as advertised.