The Lakers have been a big surprise so far this NBA season. They have an overall feeling of trending up because they have been able to improve in nearly all categories. The Los Angeles Lakers are currently ranked sixth in the league in points per game, a category they were ranked last in a year ago. They have improved defensively too, ranking 21st in the league currently, an improvement from 27th last year.
The Lakers have wins over expected playoff teams such as the Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors. They won their sixth game on November 12th this season as opposed to December 30th, 2015 to get their sixth win last season.
The Lakers have been able to be in every game including games where they lost by over 20 points to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder. Although these losses are a tough pill to swallow putting together a 20 point victory against the Golden State Warriors makes it an easier pill to take.
The Lakers have had a lot of players play better than we thought they would, but still, there has been some disappointment this year. Let’s take a look at who has been a part of the Lakers taking a big step forward this year and who has been disappointing so far this year.
Nick Young: This has to be the most obvious person on trending up list. Young went from a guy expected to be traded or even flat out released, to having his name announced with the Lakers starters. Young has gotten back to old ways of making threes and being a enjoyable, happy person in the locker room. Still, the most surprising thing about Young this year has been his defense. Luke Walton has depended on him to “shut down” opposing teams best player. Let’s hope that continues.
Julius Randle: Randle is a player who has sometimes been forgotten as many have focused on the ceilings of D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram. Coming into this season, some wondered if the Lakers would be better off starting Larry Nance Jr. Randle has shown major improvements on defense this season.
At times Randle is still caught flat footed, but most of the time Randle has been effective on that end of the floor by coming up with defensive rebounds, blocks, and containing guards on a pick and roll. Randle has also been more in control on offense, making the right passes while still maintaining the speed and strength that make him difficult to stop one-on-one. Randle still needs his jumper to be more consistent, but until then playing to his strengths is working out just fine.
Luke Walton: The Lakers’ new coach seems to be pushing all the right buttons. Luke Walton has been able to make his players believe in this team and and his system. Walton has constructed an offense that has allowed players to play to their strengths. He installed a defensive scheme that creates turnovers that lead easy offense and has shown fans that the young core has a chance to live up to their potential.
Walton has an ability to relate to all of his players and that allowed him to make decisions such as moving Jordan Clarkson to a sixth-man role or sit starters like Timofey Mozgov for most of the fourth quarters this year. Walton might have led the Warriors to 24 straight wins to open up last season, but what he has done to this Lakers team might be even more extraordinary than that.
Luol Deng: Deng was brought here to be a veteran influence and defensive stopper while providing a consistent offense. So far this season he has been able to do neither. Deng is averaging only 6.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists during his 24.3 minutes per game while shooting an abysmal 31.2 percent from the field.
Deng was kept out of a few preseason games earlier this year because of knee problems, so maybe he is still rounding into shape while getting comfortable with his new teammates. I hope this is true, but it might just be that the Laker gave $72 million to a player that is past his prime and can’t contribute the way he used to.
Russell has had his ups and downs this year. He has had great games like in Atlanta against the Hawks, putting up 23 points, eight assists and four rebounds, but also have games like his one in Utah where he shot 21.4% from the field, 40% from the free throw line, and turned the ball over four times.
Russell has shown his ability to play very well and within the offense, but his problem is consistency. He has a lot on his plate as is still trying to balance scoring with getting his teammates involved, but he must get his turnovers down and figure out a way to contribute consistently on offense be it through his passing or scoring.
Backup Point Guards:
Jose Calderon and Marcelo Huertas were expected to battle it out for the backup point guard position this year, but neither is in the normal rotation. Both have been what was expected, with Calderon providing shooting and a calming presence, while Huertas brings up the energy with his passing ability and neither makes much of an impact defensively.
The Lakers are just too deep at guard for them to crack the rotation. Lou Williams is technically the backup point guard, but Brandon Ingram and Jordan Clarkson have also taken on much of the ball-handling and playmaking duties. Like Deng, both are valued for their veteran presence despite their lack of on-court contributions so far.