The halfway point of the 2016-17 NBA season has officially come and gone for the Los Angeles Lakers. The loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday marked the 42nd game played by Luke Walton and company with the team now sporting a 15-27 record.
With 42 games in the books, there’s a number of different debates we can have about this young team. What does the future hold for the Lakers? Should the team make a deal before the NBA trade deadline on Feb. 23? Is this team playoff bound?
Although there’s plenty of topics, we chose to go with:
Who has been the best player for the Lakers thus far?
We asked our panel of experts at Lakers Nation who they believe has been the best player on Walton’s squad at the halfway point. This is what they had to say:
Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane)
I wrote a piece near the beginning of the season stating that Lou Williams has become the Lakers’ best player, and despite some strong performances from Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell, I think he still has the top spot. Williams’ shooting has fallen back to earth after he seemingly couldn’t miss a shot during the month of November, but he is still posting career-highs in points, steals, free throws, and three-point percentage when adjusted for minutes played.
He provides instant offense off the bench and leads the team in scoring despite playing just 24.2 minutes per game. The only real statistical knock on Williams is his sky-high usage rate of 29.7, but with a career-high PER of 22 he has been surprisingly efficient for a player with the reputation of being a checked.
That said, the gap between Williams and the Russell-Randle duo is closing as he regresses to the mean and they hit their stride. If I had to bet, I would say that Russell usurps the title of “best player” by the end of the season, but for now, Lou Williams still gets the nod.
Eric Avakian (@EAkavian5)
To this point, the best player on the Los Angeles Lakers, in my opinion, has been forward Julius Randle. The third-year player has taken a tremendous leap with head coach Luke Walton, as the 26th head coach in franchise history has connected phenomenally with this young core.
Randle has been not only a primary scoring option but also a playmaker in the system. When playing against any opponent this season, Randle has never seemed intimidated by his opponent and is always on the attacking end (see confrontations with DeMarcus Cousins and Tyson Chandler).
His two triple-doubles speak volumes to his potential, as he surely garners attention on the offensive end of the floor. His youth and athleticism, paired with his strength, make for a deadly matchup and difficult cover.
In 37 games played this season, Randle is averaging 13.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. Although his three-point shot lacks any consistency, he is still shooting 49.2 percent from the field.
Randle has been the only player to resemble an All-Star on the Lakers’ roster this season, as he has received praise from the likes of Draymond Green.
When taking a look at the Lakers this season, Randle’s success has correlated into victories. Of the 17 games this season Randle has had less than 15 points, the Lakers are 4-13. In the 18 games this season where Randle has had 15 or more points, the Lakers are 9-9.
As he continues to develop with each game, his game and basketball IQ will only evolve, giving him that necessary experience. While many basketball aficionados expected D’Angelo Russell to take a huge leap, it appears as though Randle is slowly turning into the star player.
Daniel Starkand (@DStarkand)
As much as I would love to say that a young guy like Julius Randle or D’Angelo Russell has been the team’s best player through the first half of the season, I have to give that honor to Lou Williams.
Not only is Williams the team’s leading scorer at 17.7 points per game, but he averages 6.9 of those points in the fourth quarter, which is the ninth-highest mark in the NBA.
There have been many occasions where Williams has carried the Lakers offensively late in games, and for that reason, I think that he has had more of an impact on the team’s 15 wins than anyone else of the team. I think the Lakers would only have 10 wins or so if Williams were not on the team, and we would be looking at this season much differently if that were the case.
In addition to his ability to score, I think Williams brings a veteran leadership and feel for the game that has helped out the young players on the team. Everything just looks smoother when Williams is on the court. At 30-years-old he may not necessarily fit into the Lakers’ future plans, but this season Williams has been the best player in the purple and gold.
Corey Hansford (@TheeCoreyH)
While Julius Randle has undoubtedly been more consistent than any other player, I believe that D’Angelo Russell has proven that he is the best, and most important, player on the Los Angeles Lakers.
Russell has been up and down this year, particularly at the beginning of the season, but it was pretty clear that the offense as a whole ran smoother when he was on the court. He’s one of the few players who can consistently get shots for both himself and others, and he was a leader on the floor. In fact, you could argue that the Lakers’ issues in December really ramped up because Russell was out with injury.
Obviously, he wasn’t the only player injured, but his absence was really felt because of the lack of playmakers on the team.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Lakers started turning things back around once Russell got comfortable after returning from his knee injury. When he began attacking the basket and taking smaller guards to the post, in addition to getting his teammates easy shots thanks to his outstanding passing, the Lakers looked like a completely different team. Most importantly, he has also cut down on his turnovers.
At the end of the day, for all of his criticisms, there are only five other guards who have put up Russell’s numbers at the age of 20: Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Derrick Rose, and Russell Westbrook. That is outstanding company and proof that Russell is not only on the right path, but he is the key to the Lakers’ success at this very moment.
Nick Torres (@Nickotee)
Julius Randle has been absolutely the Lakers’ best player at the halfway point of the season. It seems like when he is playing well, the Lakers play well and usually find themselves being competitive. He is such a mismatch because he can do everything; score, rebound, and dribble really well. He reminds me of Lamar Odom, but only faster and stronger. His finesse may need a little fine tuning, but his play this season has brought a lot of excitement to the fan base.
The only knock is his consistency, but that does not take away from what he has been able to do on the court. Randle has a very bright future ahead of him. I am sure all Lakers fans are exciting to see how he develops as a player and with the glimpses he has shown, it is very likely that he will be a force to be reckoned with in the future.