Another day, another entry in my breakdown of under-the-radar free agents for the Los Angeles Lakers to pursue. Today we take a look at wing players, and the criteria is a bit different than yesterday’s examination of the available backup guards.
With Kobe Bryant lost to retirement, the Lakers are in need of a starting-caliber small forward. However, they also possess the second overall pick, which is likely to be Brandon Ingram, who projects to be a quality wing in the NBA.
That means that we are looking for a player that is versatile enough to play a few different positions and roles. The ideal candidate needs to be able to perform well as a starter or off the bench behind a rookie, which means that malcontents need not apply.
Additionally, the Lakers don’t like having their cap space tied up, so restricted free agents are persona non grata (sorry, Harrison Barnes).
Let’s sort through the bargain bin a bit more, and see what we can do to find the Lakers a serviceable wing that won’t break the bank. Here are the top five, in no particular order:
The Lakers already have one Ohio State guard who was taken second overall in the NBA Draft, so why not add another? Turner is similar to DeRozan in that so many people focus on what he can’t do (shoot threes) instead of what he can (pretty much everything else).
Turner has been seen as something of a bust in basketball circles, but his per-36 minute averages of 13.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.7 assists say otherwise. He can’t stretch the defense from beyond the arc, where he shoots just 24 percent, but his 82 percent shooting free throw shooting and solid mid-range game help to make up for it.
In coach Luke Walton’s offense, Turner’s ability to draw defenders and make the right pass would be a nice fit, and his size (6’7”, 220 pounds) would allow him to make switches defensively. Of course, stealing a player away from Boston Celtics is also a nice feeling.
Sticking with the trend of underwhelming second overall picks, Derrick Williams was considered to be the embodiment of the new-age wing player coming out of college, able to play both in the post and on the perimeter. As it turned out, his game didn’t translate the way most thought it would, and he fell into the dreaded “tweener” category.
On the positive side, Williams is just 25 years old and showed some signs of life playing for the New York Knicks last season. He does possess a $4.6 million player option for next season, but it’s reasonable to believe that he will opt-out if he feels he can find a long-term deal this summer.
Williams is a solid athlete who can finish with authority on the break, and while he isn’t a good shooter from behind the arc, he did hit a respectable average of 40 percent from the corners. At 6’8” and 240 pounds, Williams is capable of playing either forward spot (though he’s probably best at the four), making him an intriguing option for the Lakers if the price is right.
Hey, look at that, another second overall pick that didn’t quite live up to expectations. Maybe Hannah Kulik is on to something with this jinx business…let’s hope not, for the Lakers’ sake.
Marvin Williams was considered to be a bust early in his career, but as the NBA has evolved his style of play has become more and more valuable. He’s 6’9” with a 7’3” wingspan (just like Ingram) and shot 40 percent from three last year. He can transition easily between small and power forward, but like Derrick Williams, he’s probably best as a four in today’s game. Still, his shooting would allow coach Luke Walton to have the flexibility to employ a number of different lineups.
With 11 years in the league, Williams has a wealth of experience to call upon. He was expected to be a star coming out of North Carolina, then dealt with disappointment only to eventually carve out a role as a quality supporting player. While he isn’t a significant deterrent at the rim, his 1.2 blocks per 36 minutes are enough to contribute in that area, which is a major need for Los Angeles.
The Lakers have a very young team, and as tempting as it is to add more upside players, sometimes veteran voices are needed to bring everything together and show the kids how to be pros. All things considered, Williams appears to be an excellent fit if the Lakers can convince him to leave Charlotte, which won’t be easy for the former North Carolina star.
Dudley has developed a reputation as a versatile, dependable wing over the course of a nine-year NBA career. He won’t wow you in any particular facet of his game, but can contribute in a variety of areas. Dudley spent last season with the Washington Wizards as a small-ball power forward, where he put up per-36 minute averages of 10.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.9 assists while shooting a fantastic 42 percent from behind the arc.
Dudley lacks athleticism, but his veteran savvy helps to make up for it. He also gives Walton the option of putting a small-ball lineup on the court with his ability to play the four, which will likely be a must-have.
Finally, should the Lakers draft either Ingram or Ben Simmons, there aren’t many veterans better suited to show them the ropes than Dudley. Having spent time in a number of different roles and cities, Dudley is an excellent example of how hard work can be the difference maker in the career of a professional basketball player.
In 2014, the Lakers made a fairly unremarkable trade that sent veteran guard Steve Blake to the playoff-bound Golden State Warriors in exchange for young wings MarShon Brooks and Kent Bazemore. They were essentially doing Blake a favor while getting to audition a pair of young players who could be future pieces.
Brooks never really got going, but Bazemore averaged 16.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1.7 steals per 36 minutes. Both were free agents that summer, and while Brooks leaving was a no-brainer, the Lakers also allowed Bazemore to slip through their fingers and sign with the Atlanta Hawks for just two years and $4 million. Los Angeles had been busy chasing bigger fish like Carmelo Anthony and, in doing so, lost a solid young prospect.
Now, they may be able to right that wrong, albeit at a steep price. Bazemore is still putting up solid per-36 averages of 15.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.7 steals with Atlanta. He worked to get his free throw percentage above 80 for the first time in his career, and he’s about to turn just 27, which puts him right in his athletic prime. Bazemore is 6’5” but has an incredible 6’11” wingspan, which gives him the ability to switch defensively onto bigger players.
He won’t come cheap, but Bazemore would be an excellent fit on the current Lakers squad, and would allow the team to fix a past mistake.
Tomorrow, we will finish things off with a look at the top-five under-the-radar bigs for the Lakers to pursue. There may be a surprise or two.