Lakers Trending Up And Down: 2015-16 NBA Preseason Edition

The preseason has been a bit of a roller coaster thus far for the Los Angeles Lakers, with a couple of excellent team performances sandwiched between mediocre-to-poor showings. Still, Lakers fans have a lot to be excited about for the coming season with the youth movement in full swing. With six preseason games in the books, let’s take a look at which players are trending up and which are unfortunately trending down.

Julius Randle: We can’t say enough good things about the way Julius Randle has played during preseason. He was a little shaky in the first game against the Jazz, but since he found his rhythm, he has been incredible averaging 14.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.0 assists in just 22.6 minutes per game. One of the knocks on Randle heading into the 2014 NBA Draft was that he isn’t a rim protector, but his versatility and athleticism (his first-step is amazing) is more than making up for it. He is creating for teammates, pushing the ball in transition, scoring in the post, and playing solid defense.  He can even wreak havoc when he switches onto perimeter players, where he uses his length and quickness to force turnovers. Clearly the time he spent during the summer working with Metta World Peace is paying off.

Ryan Kelly: Last season was not kind to Ryan Kelly, and his status with the Lakers appeared to be shaky at best over the summer. With the Lakers bringing in similarly-skilled Jonathan Holmes and Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak hinting that players with guaranteed deals could still be waived, Kelly’s back was against the wall. If he didn’t turn in a better performance, he could find himself out of a job.

From what we have seen in preseason thus far,, Kelly has responded, playing with an intensity and aggressiveness that we hadn’t seen before. The surprising shot blocking from his rookie year is back (0.8 per game), and his three point shot is as deadly as ever (50 percent currently). However, what has been truly impressive is the way he is attacking the basket. He has developed a nifty pump-fake and drive move, knifing through the lane when defenders close out to take away the three point shot. Kelly isn’t going to be an All-Star, but to his credit, he has done enough to prove that he can be a valuable role player and deserves to keep his spot on the team.

Kobe Bryant: There are plenty of question marks surrounding Kobe Bryant’s 20th NBA season, including whether or not he can continue to play at a high level at 37 years old and if he can adjust to youthful teammates like Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell running the offense. So far, he has hit the mark on both counts.

Playing off the ball has allowed Bryant to find easier shots and as a result his field goal percentage has gone up to 44.7 percent, a massive increase from the cringe-worthy 37 percent he shot last season. He has also been a willing passer, dropping a number of highlight-level dimes and setting his teammates up for easy looks. Of course, his calf contusion was a disappointment, but thankfully it’s a minor injury that wouldn’t have sidelined him had the games counted for anything. He isn’t the Kobe of old, but what we have seen so far has to be considered a win.

Larry Nance Jr: He hasn’t gotten many minutes, but anytime you kill a man with a dunk you have to be trending up:

Marcelo Huertas: The 32-year-old rookie has been sidelined with a hamstring injury for much of the preseason, but has made the most of his limited minutes on the floor. He was extremely impressive against the Golden State Warriors, hitting teammates with slick passes (six assists in one quarter!) and connecting on a few Steve Nash-esque runners. While Huertas isn’t going to be a lock-down defender, he does appear to be perfectly suited to run a second unit featuring shooters like Nick Young, Lou Williams, and Ryan Kelly, and the way he passes the ball makes him a perfect mentor for D’Angelo Russell. If he continues to play like this, he is going to make the Lakers front office look very, very smart for bringing him on board.

Jabari Brown: Heading into training camp, it looked as though Jabari Brown would have a solid shot at making the team. As a teammate of Jordan Clarkson’s at Missouri, Brown spent most of last season lighting up the D-League, and then continued to get buckets when the Lakers injury woes allowed him to come up to the pro level. Unfortunately, with Lou Williams and Nick Young on the roster, the Lakers are stocked with wing scorers, which makes it hard to envision a role for Jabari. Making matters worse, he hasn’t had a strong preseason, shooting just 29 percent from the field. He has also has a tendency to get tunnel vision, blindly driving to the hoop and missing open teammates who have a better shot. That’s not to say that Brown can’t be a valuable player, but he has definitely struggled thus far and his spot on the team is tenuous at best.

Robert Sacre: From all reports, Robert Sacre is a good guy. He’s a massive human being, measuring seven-feet tall and weighing 270 pounds, which just so happens to help in the sport of basketball. He’s also a celebratory savant, and his sideline antics not only fire up the crowd but motivate his teammates as well. That said, the knock on Sacre is that he hasn’t improved much from his rookie season and as we head into his fourth year, that still appears to be the case. In Sacre’s defense, he has only played a total of 32 minutes thus far in the preseason, but it’s not clear whether he has done enough to warrant keeping him over the raw potential of Robert Upshaw.

D’Angelo Russell: Before someone throws something at me, let me preface this by saying that I think Russell is going to be a very good player. However, thus far, his play has been spotty at best. He is shooting a horrid 33.3 percent from the field and continues to look out of sync on offense. Russell is trying to squeeze highlight-worthy passes through areas that he probably shouldn’t, although his turnovers have dropped considerably since Summer League. It still feels as though he is constantly looking for the magical assist, hoping to live up to his hype as a distribution wizard rather than letting the game come to him. That said, he is a 19-year-old rookie and growing pains are to be expected. When the level of competition was lowered slightly against Maccabi Haifa, we saw Russell become magnificent, and it’s only a matter of time before his game grows enough to allow him to do the same at the pro level as well. For now though, let’s pump the brakes before anointing the next king of Los Angeles.

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