The Los Angeles Lakers have finally returned home from a tough road trip and it certainly had its ups and downs. Even though they were only able to come out with one win, the Lakers played some Eastern Conference playoff teams extremely tough, proving that this squad is a much different one from years past.
The road trip saw some new players enter into the rotation while others have seen their minutes limited or taken away altogether. We also saw players step things up and others have some serious struggles.
Nonetheless with the Lakers back home, we take a look at whose stock has risen and fallen over the last week.
Jordan Clarkson: Magic Johnson challenged Clarkson to win the Sixth Man of the Year and there is no doubt he will be in the conversation if he keeps up this level of play.
Aside from a poor showing against Milwaukee, Clarkson was the Lakers best offensive option on their four-game road trip. He has risen his scoring average up to 15.5 points per game, tops on the team, while also posting career high percentages from the field (51.2) and three-point range (40.0).
It’s no secret that the Lakers offense has been an issue this season, but Clarkson continues to be the most consistent scorer on the Lakers and prove his worth to this team.
Team Defense: The Lakers proved that their defense does indeed travel away from Staples Center as they moved up from seventh in the NBA in defensive rating, to fourth by the end of the road trip.
They held both the Bucks and Suns under 100 points, while the Celtics and Wizards only passed the century mark thanks to a couple of big quarters. In 16 total quarters on the road the Lakers allowed more than 30 points in just three of them.
Luke Walton spent the entire training camp focusing on this end of the floor and it has paid immediate dividends. You have to believe the offense will eventually be figured out, but as long as the defense holds up, the Lakers will have a chance to win most nights.
Vander Blue: Vander has been fighting for his opportunity to prove he can hang in the NBA and it finally looks like he has his chance. With Josh Hart struggling offensively, and now being sent down to the G-League, Blue has assumed his spot in the rotation and Walton has liked what he’s seen.
Walton has spoken about Blue not forcing anything in his minutes which speaks to his maturity level. With the Lakers struggling on offense and Blue being a noted scorer, it would’ve been easy for him to look to jack up shots and make an impact that way.
Instead, Blue has simply looked to make the right play when he’s on the floor and has been a part of a couple lineups that have helped the Lakers erase deficits. At some point he is sure to show off his offensive skill, but the fact that he has earned his shot is proof to the work he has put in.
Brandon Ingram: Ingram had a great start to the road trip in Boston, but things got worse for him as it went on and his scoring dropped in each contest.
He shot just 25.9 percent over the last three games and seemed to lose his aggressiveness that was becoming a staple of his game. His free throw shooting has continued to be an issue and he also failed to record a steal over those same three contests.
Ingram can very easily turn things around if he gets back to his attacking ways on offense, and he has continued to rebound the ball pretty well. But for one of the team’s leaders, and expected top scorers, more is expected of him.
Ball Security: The Lakers are currently the second-worst team when it comes to taking care of the ball, averaging 17.6 turnovers per game. On their four game road trip they averaged just under 20 a night, an unacceptable number.
Late in Monday’s win over the Suns, the Lakers finally showed some signs of cherishing the ball, turning it over just twice in the fourth quarter. The question is whether that can be sustained over full games.
Luke Walton wants his team to get out and run, but if the Lakers are going to be sloppy in transition it will have the opposite effect. It also hurts their defensive effort as it allows easy baskets to the opposition. Better ball security is the difference in the Lakers being below or above .500 at this time.
Ivica Zubac: No player has seen his stock fall more from the end of last season to this point than Zubac. A poor Summer League showing, followed by more of the same in the preseason, has led to Zubac seeing only sparse garbage time minutes in two games so far.
Julius Randle has thrived as a small-ball center, and Walton trusts Andrew Bogut and his defense and toughness more when he decides to go big off the bench leaving Zubac the odd man out. It’s a big change from when many believed he could be the team’s starting center at the end of last season.
Zubac was recently sent down to the G-League which could be exactly what he needs to regain his confidence and show the coaches what he can bring to the team. If the struggles continue however, Zubac may find himself on the way out, as his contract is non-guaranteed next year.
WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN THE DISCUSSION? CHECK OUT THE NEW LAKERSNATION FORUM CLUB