There is an optimism surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers for the first time in multiple years. Even though the team remains in the midst of a rebuilding phase, there is a belief that the Lakers will be much improved from a season ago, and possibly even contend for a playoff spot.
Much of that optimism is centered on the team’s young talent. Brandon Ingram looks poised for a breakout season, Lonzo Ball is a potentially transcendent point guard, and Julius Randle has re-committed himself in the weight room this offseason.
Add in Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. continuing to grow, and the excellent addition of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and it’s easy to see why this Lakers season is so much more anticipated than the previous ones.
But there is one player who can help unlock the best out of all of the young talent, and he hasn’t been spoken about nearly enough this summer.
The trade for Brook Lopez may not be the most exciting move, but when it comes to what the Lakers do on the court, it’s the most beneficial.
First and foremost, Lopez gives the Lakers a legit top scoring option that they have sorely lacked. He is a legit 20 point per game scorer and while everyone is so focused on his ability to stretch the floor, it’s still the post where he does his best work.
There simply aren’t many centers in the league with the back-to-the-basket repertoire that Lopez possesses and having that option to throw him the ball and let him work will be key this season. Yes, people are pushing for Ingram to lead the team scoring-wise, but that’s still a question mark. Lopez is a sure thing.
Getting easy baskets is important and Lopez ranked in the top-20 in the league in points in the paint. Randle was the only Laker even close to Lopez in that regard, but his paint buckets were based far more on strength and speed than the skill Lopez possesses.
Lopez is also improving as a passer, posting career-highs in assists per game (2.3) and assist percentage (14.8). He’ll never be a passer on the level of a Marc Gasol or Nikola Jokic, but that percentage still puts him ahead of the likes of Hassan Whiteside, DeAndre Jordan, and even Karl-Anthony Towns.
The Lakers have a ton of players who can thrive as slashers off the ball such as Clarkson, Caldwell-Pope, Ingram, and Ball. Lopez gives those guys someone to play off of who can potentially draw double-teams consistently and he is capable of finding them, leading to more easy baskets.
Speaking of easy baskets, Luke Walton obviously wants his team to get out and run as much as possible, not exactly Lopez’s forte. He can, however, be very effective as the trail man on a secondary break. With everyone else pushing the ball, Lopez can spot up as the last man up the floor if the Lakers can’t get an easy bucket.
That floor spacing will be key for the Lakers offense. Randle and Nance have reportedly been working on their range this off-season, but it would be foolish to expect them to suddenly become reliable from deep. For Randle especially, sharing the floor with Lopez opens up the paint and gives him more room to operate which is dangerous for anyone trying to guard him.
It isn’t just offensively where Lopez will make a difference as Lopez is an extremely underrated defender as well.
He averages nearly two blocks a game for his career. He had a block percentage of 51.7 last season, ahead of such defensive stalwarts as Serge Ibaka, Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel, and his brother Robin. Additionally, players shot 56.5 percent at the rim on him, the same rate as DeAndre Jordan and ahead of players such as Bismack Biyombo and Karl-Anthony Towns.
The makings of a good defense starts with having someone on the perimeter who can hound ball-handlers and someone in the paint who can alter shots. Caldwell-Pope gives the Lakers the former while Lopez gives them the latter. Lopez has also been around for a long time and his communication at the backend will be a huge boost for this young team.
Maybe this season isn’t necessarily about wins on the court. The big play for the Lakers is adding two big stars in the 2018 offseason and the growth of the youth in Ingram and Ball is far more important for the franchise in the long-term.
That being said, showing that they are at least on the fringe of playoff contention is absolutely necessary if they want to lure a star or two. And when it comes to getting wins this year, Lopez is the key to opening things up for the young core, and thus the Lakers as a whole.