With opening night for the Los Angeles Lakers only a week away, Luke Walton and his staff will soon have to trim down their roster from 17 to 15 by releasing two more players. By most accounts, the battle for the final roster spot is between Yi Jianlian, Metta World Peace, and Thomas Robinson.
Each player brings something completely different to the table. World Peace is known for his defense, toughness, and brings veteran leadership. Yi is a stretch big man who has three-point range and has also shown the ability to rebound fairly well. Robinson brings constant energy and hustle and is a force on the boards as well as a solid defender.
Walton is undoubtedly in for a difficult decision and he has consistently praised all three of these players, but only one will claim that final spot.
So we asked our panel of experts which player they believe deserves the Lakers’ final roster spot. This is what they had to say:
Ryan Ward (@RyanWardLA): I’m finding it increasingly difficult to make a case for Yi Jianlian to secure the final spot on the roster for the Lakers. Yi has a unique skill set with his ability to stretch the defense as a seven-footer. However, Yi has yet to show that ability and also seems to be a step slower than anticipated regarding his quickness on the floor. With that being said, Yi must be one of the two cuts in my opinion.
Now it gets tough when it comes down to Metta World Peace and Thomas Robinson. World Peace may not be the defensive stopper or offensive threat that he used to be. He’s 37 with no telling how much basketball he may have left in him. Although World Peace is no longer the player of old, he has the respect of the young players on the squad as well as his former teammate and now head coach, Luke Walton.
With World Peace, Walton and co. would be adding a player that would be making an impact more off the floor rather than on it. If World Peace still has a palpable presence in the locker room and if Walton finds values in that for this young squad, he’s the guy this team needs. If not, and the coaching staff wants a player to contribute when called upon, they’ve got to go with Robinson.
The journeyman hasn’t been able to find a team he’s been able to stay with long-term since coming into the league in 2012. Robinson has proved he can play and will do what is needed when his number is called.
At 25, this kid has a lot of basketball left in him and may be a valuable asset if they choose to retain him. The smart move is sticking with Robinson and parting ways with World Peace and Jianlian.
Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane): First and foremost, let’s get this out of the way: Metta World Peace is a Laker legend, and will forever hold a place in the hearts of Los Angeles fans. However, it’s tough to see him winning a spot on the team due to his declining play on the court and Luol Deng filling his role as a veteran mentor off of it. World Peace has done well working with the team’s young players, and a role as a special assistant would be ideal at this point.
The cuts it down to Yi Jianlian and Thomas Robinson for the last spot, and it’s a difficult choice to make. No question, as of this writing, Robinson has been the better player. He has proven to be a force in the paint, but he also somewhat duplicates Tarik Black’s skill set as a high-energy big who gets by on hustle.
Jianlian, on the other hand, has struggled with his shot in preseason and has looked particularly slow in all aspects of the game. He struggles with lateral movement, and even his release on his shot is at a snail’s pace, which allows defenders to close out on him in pick-and-pop situations, which should be his bread and butter.
That said, Yi may improve with a bit more time to adjust to the NBA, and as a stretch five, he gives the Lakers a different option in the middle. To cap it off, his non-guaranteed contract with escalating pay based on games played could be a very attractive trade chip. Robinson probably deserves the spot based on his play, but the 15th man on the roster isn’t likely to see many minutes anyway, so I would go with the guy most likely to be a trade asset, and that’s Yi.
Eric Avakian (@AvakEric): In my eyes, the final roster spot should go to Yi Jianlian. The China native had a strong showing during the 2016 Olympics (20.4 PPGs), posting the third highest scoring average amongst basketball players. Coming off of a triumphant summer, Jianlian will provide the Lakers more success than the other two options.
Firstly, Jianlian is at a prime point in his NBA career as opposed to Metta World Peace who has 16 years of experience and has dealt with his fair share of wear and tear. World Peace isn’t as agile as he once was and could present problems on the offensive end of the floor with his inconsistent shooting.
Thomas Robinson is a 2012 draft pick who has yet to get any footing in the NBA. This marks his sixth team in five NBA seasons, as the journeyman’s inexperience means a larger learning curve to adjust to Walton’s system. Jianlian has plenty of NBA experience on top of his recent involvement dominating the Chinese Basketball Association.
The key point for Jianlian earning a roster spot is his ability to do something no other Lakers player can. Jianlian fits the description of a “stretch-4” in the evolving game of the NBA. His ability to pick-and-pop, stretch the floor and knock down threes can’t be done by any other Lakers big man. I view Jianlian as a low-risk, high reward type of player, who has a greater ceiling than World Peace and Robinson at this point.
Corey Hansford (@TheeCoreyH): Based on what I’ve seen from him this preseason, Thomas Robinson has absolutely earned that final roster spot for the Lakers.
Even though he played better than expected last season, Metta World Peace’s biggest contributions still came off the floor as a mentor to the younger players. This season however, the wing spot is solidified with Brandon Ingram, Luol Deng, and the resurgent Nick Young, and the Lakers have other veterans in Deng, Timofey Mozgov, and Jose Calderon rendering World Peace unnecessary in my opinion.
Yi Jianlian has struggled mightily in the preseason so far, shooting only 30.8 percent from the field in his four appearances and just appearing a step slow overall. He is the one person who brings something no one else does as the big man who can stretch the floor, but he hasn’t stretched it and I worry about him being able to do anything else if his jumper isn’t falling.
Robinson on the other hand has the intangibles you just can’t teach. He is all energy, all the time and understands his role very well. He doesn’t play outside of his strengths on offense, as evidenced by his 71.4 percent field goal percentage, and his attitude and relentlessness on defense make him effective on that end as well.
I understand the worries with Robinson, namely that he is very similar to Tarik Black. I just feel like you can’t have too many players like Robinson on your roster. Someone like Robinson can make an impact on any game regardless of the style or how things are going and that is immeasurable.
Daniel Starkand (@DStarkand): I don’t think the Lakers can go wrong with who they give the final roster spot to, whether it’s Yi Jianlian, Metta World Peace or Thomas Robinson but I personally would go with Yi.
Yi has not gotten too many opportunities this preseason but he has the ability to do what no other Lakers big man can do and that’s space the floor and knock down outside shots. Robinson’s game resembles Tarik Black’s too much for him to make the team in my opinion, and if World Peace makes the team it’s for his veteran leadership, not his play on the court.
I think the Lakers should give Yi the roster spot, and if he does not perform then they have an excellent trade piece as his partially guaranteed contract is very movable.