After the second week of the NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers are still sputtering, with their lone win coming against the hapless Brooklyn Nets. The dawn of the season was supposed to be kind to Los Angeles, with no matchups against teams that are projected to be playoff squads, but here we are. Still, the Lakers have a nearly completely remade roster that features a number of young players, so growing pains are to be expected and two of the five losses have been close ones that they likely close out once the new Lakers get their feet under them.
Let’s take a look at who is trending up and down with the record sitting at 1-5.
D’Angelo Russell: No, Russell may not have made the kind of impact that some of his rookie contemporaries have, but over the past few games, we have seen signs of life. He has been more aggressive shooting the mid-range jumper coming off the pick and roll (which appears to be his best shot), and is looking more comfortable with the pace of the game. We saw a bit of fire from D’Angelo during his matchup with Emmanuel Mudiay, and the Lakers are starting to figure out how to best utilize his skills. Russell had a career-high six assists against Denver, and then followed up that performance by putting up 16 points against the Nets.
While rookies like Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, Mudiay, and Jahlil Okafor have performed well, check out their usage percentage compared to Russell:
Of course the argument can (and should) be made that Russell needs to be more aggressive, but the fact remains that up to this point the Lakers haven’t leaned on him the way most of the other tops picks have been. There is still plenty of room to grow, and I think we will see a nice jump from D’Angelo Russell around the All-Star break. Baby steps folks, baby steps.
Jordan Clarkson: Heading into the season, there were question marks surrounding Jordan Clarkson and whether he was simply putting up stats on a bad team or if he is the real deal. While six games isn’t a great sample size, it would appear that the latter is correct, as Clarkson is leading the Lakers in points with 16.5 per game while shooting a sizzling 45.5 percent from downtown. While it’s unlikely that Clarkson shoots this well from deep all season, his ability to slither into the lane and finish at the rim has been a tremendous asset for the Lakers and is absolutely sustainable.
Clarkson went off for 30 points against Denver and has looked comfortable both on and off the ball, and to his credit Coach Byron Scott is starting to put him in more pick and roll actions. It appears that the Lakers found themselves a heck of a player with the 46th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Metta World Peace: World Peace has only played in two games this season, but since being inserted into the rotation, he has provided an infectious defensive energy that seems to improve the play of the entire team. At 35, Metta can’t be expected to play major minutes, but so far he has still found ways to make an impact. We have seen several instances of Metta tutoring the young players in between plays, which is exactly what earned him a spot on LA’s rebuilding roster. So far, so good for the return of World Peace.
Larry Nance Jr: Like World Peace, Nance was only called into action two games ago, but he has already made a solid impact. His numbers won’t pop out at you (4.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in 16.5 minutes), but his ability to move his feet defensively combined with his athleticism has helped to shore up the defense of the Lakers second unit. Nance Jr. has also apparently been learning the finer points of sideline celebrations from Robert Sacre:
Kobe Bryant: Kobe ends up on the Trending Down list for the second week in a row, and it’s becoming apparent that even his reduced minutes of 29 per game may be too much. He still has flashes of brilliance and can hit the fade-away jumper from time to time, but he has only shot over 40 percent from the field once thus far, and is currently averaging a painful 31.5 percent. Kobe’s inefficient shooting screams that his usage rate of 28.2 is way too high if the Lakers want to win games. Meanwhile, he is struggling to stick with his man defensively, and the team is giving up points in bunches. It was fun watching Kobe get the star treatment at Madison Square Garden, but it’s not longer appropriate to expect him to shoot the team to wins. With his recent hints of retirement, it would appear that we may very well be watching the Kobe Bryant’s farewell season. Let’s hope he can get his shooting on track soon.
Brandon Bass/Ryan Kelly/Marcelo Huertas: The Bass/Kelly frontcourt lasted just four games before being replaced by Tarik Black and Larry Nance, and Marcelo Huertas was phased out of the lineup in order to make way for Metta World Peace. Given the bench squad’s inability to get stops these moves aren’t surprising, but Huertas was a bit of a disappointment since he was so impressive during preseason. It may be some time before we see these three take the floor again.
Julius Randle: This may not be a fair placement, as Randle has well-exceeded all expectations thus far, but we are starting to see the holes in his game. Randle’s jumper is still a work in progress, and while he lit up Dirk Nowitzki, Kenneth Faried, and Thad Young he also struggled to deal with longer defenders like Willie Cauley-Stein and Kristaps Porzingis, shooting just 25 percent against them. It’s not all bad though, as these weaknesses simply mean that Randle has the chance to be a truly special player once he gets his jumper down and learns to finish over length. The sky’s the limit, but it’s going to take time to get there.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]