2014-2015 Season Grades

Well, the season’s over, so I figure it’s time to start looking forward to next year…

Who, really, am I kidding?  I’ve been thinking about almost nothing but next year since Kobe went down…and if I’m being honest, it really started when Randle broke his leg in game 1 and we realized we wouldn’t see another minute of our top-10 draft pick’s growth until fall of 2015.

So here’s a report card, with grades roughly equating to how much I would like to see them back next year.  An “A” is, obviously, “Please god lock them up for at least the next couple of years and build around them,” while a “D” or an “F” is along the lines of “Not only will I protest outside the Inglewood training facility if they bring him back, I will physically flinch if in ten years from now they even refer to this player in an article as an ‘ex-Laker’.”

Incomplete

Mamba

Starting off with Kobe, naturally, who barely played half a season before aggravating the torn rotator cuff in his shoulder that he’s been living with for years.  Early 2014-2015 Kobe wasn’t a lot of fun to watch:  pressing really hard, putting up big numbers everywhere but in the efficiency columns.  I would much prefer the Kobe from after passing MJ’s career scoring mark, much more measured and reading what the game needed, rather than trying to force his will upon it.

Two problems with the latter approach:  his body isn’t up to it anymore, not at 30+ minutes a night, 82 games a year, and his teammates weren’t equal to it this year.

As for what I hope to see next year:  more of the facilitator, and putting more and more of his focus on offloading as much of the basketball IQ in his head to his teammates (those worth the effort) as possible before he hangs up the laces for good.

(Though I do think, if next year’s team is better than expected [making the playoffs and a very dangerous out for the favorites], and is seemingly only limited by the inexperience of the players, I could see him coming back for a vet-minimum 2-year deal to help guide the kids in what it takes to move from good to great.)

Julius Randle

Then there’s our 2014 #7-overall draft pick Julius Randle, who broke his leg less than one full game into his rookie year.  I’m not horribly worried—Blake Griffin missed his entire rookie year with a more serious injury, and came back from it just fine—and the reports I’ve heard of him spending all day every day breaking down film, studying every possible opponent he might face until he knows each of their moves inside and out, says both good things about his character and about the potential upside for him next year.

No idea if that potential will ever materialize, but I have enough faith in it to want to avoid Kevin Love or LMA or any other “star” PF on the free-agent market or draft.  If the kid is going to turn into the All Star (or at least solid 3rd or 4th option on a championship caliber team) his potential hints at, he needs to start and play a starter’s amount of minutes, learning by doing (mistakes included), with a wily veteran backing him up and mentoring him.

Jabari Brown

Haven’t seen enough of Jabari Brown to know what we have with him yet.  But there have been flashes of someone we might want to keep around for a while, and the front office must think so as well, given the (likely team option) deal they gave him that runs through next year.  Offensive 1-on-1 moves that you’d expect from a 5-6 year veteran lauded for his superior fundamentals and creativity, not a rookie fresh from the D-League.  Moves that are born from an understanding and manipulation of the game (I’m thinking of the wicked stop-fake-a-step-back-spin-out-of-it-keeping-his-pivot-foot-set-and-hitting-a-wide-open-15-footer move he pulled off in the game against the 76ers on 3/22), not just a young’un’s athleticism and adrenaline.  Could be a great backup to Kobe next year, and to whatever primary scoring guard/wing we add after Kobe’s gone.  The kind of bench player who comes on towards the end of the first quarter and totally rolls the other team’s backups.

Xavier Henry

Xavier Henry has never really gotten a fair shake.  Too many injuries, too much recovery.  I think we’ve seen half a dozen games over the last three years total where he’s been at 100%.  And those glimpses have been tantalizing, but not enough to take up another year’s roster spot with him.

(Major kudos to the Lakers, btw, for letting him use their trainers and facilities to rehab his latest injury during the season, even after the team cut him…the Lakers are a class act.)

Steve Nash

I don’t regret the trade for a second.  Sometimes you have to make a deposit in the karma bank, and it was finally our turn.  If he can mentor Clarkson and Randle and our other kids, help recruit free agents…maybe, though this might be hoping for too much, a future assistant coach spot on the bench?  Still well worth bringing him in and treating him like family, whatever the on-the-court cost the last 3 years.

A

Jordan Clarkson

Clarkson must come back next year, and the year after, and be given the reins of starting PG/ball-handling-wing for the Lakers.  He is playing way older and wiser than his years—and draft position.  Comparing all rookies’ stats, he ended the year #2 in scoring per game (11.9, behind only Wiggins), #2 in scoring per 48 minutes (22.9, behind only Mirotic), #9 in shooting percentage (behind a bunch of bigger men playing in the paint), #13 in rebounds (again, behind a bunch of big men), #3 in assists per game, and #3 in assist-to-turnover ratio.  If he can continue to grow in the future as much as he has just since the All-Star break, we’re looking at one of those point guards mentioned around All-Star time in the category “Well, there’s Chris Paul and Steph Curry, and then a whole bunch of really good options.”

It could all blow up, and he ends up stalling right about where he is (which would still make him a pretty decent backup guard for most teams in the league), but we need to give him the shot, and not overspend ridiculously for Dragic or Rondo, who’d only be stealing the minutes he needs to prove what he can become.

Tarik Black/Ed Davis

These two need to be signed to long-term contracts today and be the first two big men off the bench for the Lakers for the next decade.  Neither is good enough (at least right now) to be the starting PF/C on a championship-caliber team (though either could a starting PF on a team with enough superstars at other positions…thinking Samakai Walker on the Shaq/Kobe championships here), but as reserves going up against other teams’ reserves, they could be devastating.

Black has got a better feel for rebounding, especially on the offensive end, and has more skills when it comes to creating his own shot.  Definitely a great, developing skill in finding the right angles, moving to open space, and taking advantage of what’s happening in real time on the court.  Davis is much better at rim protection and being a secondary defender, and in gobbling up garbage/loose balls and finishing off the pick and roll.  Put them together (backing up, say, Randle and Okafor/other draft pick or free agent), and there are two of ten positions filled perfectly for as long as they’re healthy enough to play.

B

Nick Young

Nick Young’s season was cut short, but I’ve seen enough between last year and this to know what we’re getting with him.  He’d  honestly be a C grade if he wasn’t already signed through the next couple of years.

Solid as a backup scoring wing, showing a willingness to give increasing effort on the defensive end, and with a Crawford/Terry/Robinson knack for catching fire against the other team’s bench and turning a deficit into a lead or a small lead into a blowout in just a couple of minutes.  And his personality is great for a locker room, as long as it’s not a primary ingredient, more a complimentary spark of joy and smiles amongst more serious players who enjoy having him for a metaphorical little brother.

I think there are plenty of better options for the back-up wing/scorer role in the league (Jabari Brown might turn into one, for example), but I’m not going to be unhappy if he’s a bench player getting 15-25 minutes a night depending on match ups and foul trouble/injuries.  But if he’s a major piece of the team’s identity, we’re in trouble.

Carlos Boozer

Holy hell, I’m having a hard time believing the grade I’m giving Boozer, but I wouldn’t be totally upset if he came back next year.  Maybe a 2-year deal for the veteran’s minimum or something.

I always used to love Boozer, as in “He’s on a team playing against the Lakers, they’re bringing in Boozer, he’s bound to mess up and choke and we’ll win this game as long as he’s on the court for the other team.”  And it looked like one of the dumbest moves ever to pick him up off waivers this year—stealing minutes from Randle, the kind of player who could help us be just competent enough to screw up our draft pick, etc.

And then Randle went down with his injury, and over the rest of the season—from starter to back-up to DNP-CD and everything in between—Boozer was just a pro.  Always worked hard, always cheered his teammates on.  We didn’t see anything in his game that wasn’t there before:  still awkward on defense, horrible at rim protection, and more than capable of a boneheaded play.  But that sweet arcing jumpshot, the 1-3 pump fakes and drives for easy layups per game…those were intact.  If we’re going to have a veteran big man to mentor our kids (Randle/Black/Davis/draft pick), we could do a lot worse.

Wesley Johnson

If I were grading him on the first half of the season, or as a cumulative whole, this would be a C or a D.  He was trying to act like he could fill Kobe’s role, and was trying to do way too much and failing at most of it.

But somewhere around the All Star break, it’s like he remembered that he was only good at a couple of things, and he should stick to them.  Decent perimeter defense, solid slashing to the rim (on or off the ball), able to pick up 5-8 rebounds a game, especially key ones where he out jumps everyone.  Lob receiver, occasional jump shot maker…he’s not the best of the 3-and-D’s out there, and I’d trade him for a Klay Thompson or Kawhi Leonard in a heartbeat.  But as a backup SF/wing, we could do a lot worse.

Interlude:  Seeing a trend here?  Aside from Clarkson (if he continues to grow) and Randle (if his promise proves on the court), the rest of the team wasn’t all that awful this year.  Just a lot of injuries, and a lot of really solid backups playing starters minutes (and against the other teams’ starters).  Of course, it’s easy to say “we just need 4-5 championship-caliber starters and we’re golden”…but really, 1-2 high-end free agents and 1-2 draft picks that pan out well (along with best-case Clarkson and Randle), and we’re right back in it.

C

Ronnie Price

Don’t really have anything too negative to say about the guy.  Showed up, worked hard.  Might be a solid veteran 5th guard.  But I see no reason to bring him back and have him take minutes from a Jabari Brown or 2015 draft pick or other young player with unfulfilled potential.  He’s like a peanut butter sandwich…nice when you’re hungry, but there’s rarely a point in time when you can’t think of a dozen better alternatives.

Robert Sacre

Wouldn’t mind him sticking around if he’s the 12th or 13th player on the roster, someone to go hard in practice, cheer from the bench, and not horribly embarrass himself or the team if there are (short-term) injuries or foul trouble, a great glue guy in the locker room.  But we’ve seen just about everything he’s got as an upside, and we shouldn’t be thinking about building a team that has room for anything but spot minutes from a guy like this.  Maybe keep him around for the off-the-court intangibles, but if he didn’t come back next year, I probably wouldn’t remember he was on the team the year before by the time we got to December.

Wayne Ellington

Just about ditto what I wrote about the other two C grades above.  Nothing horribly wrong with the guy, but he shouldn’t be taking up minutes or salary in any meaningful way.  2-year deal (2nd year is team option) for 2-ish million a year?  Playing in blowouts, or foul trouble for the guys ahead of him, or just to mix things for a few minutes?  Sure.  Anything more than that is a mistake.

D

Jeremy Lin

I really wanted him to work out.  I did.  But he’s a worst-case scenario:  zero self-confidence is his default state.  If the first few minutes he’s in the game go well, and he hits a few shots, a few nice passes, drives for a layup or two, then he’ll play pretty well (meaning decent NBA starter, sub-All Star level) for the rest of the game.  Miss a couple shots, turn it over or get smothered in the lane?  May as well have him hit the showers before halftime and see him for breakfast the next day.

But he has the ball in his hands the majority of the time (way too often, in most cases…no idea who still thinks “dribble for 20 seconds then scramble for an off-balance 20-footer” is a successful offensive approach, but Lin is clearly interested in his ideas and would like to subscribe to his newsletter), and demands for the offense (by playing style, not personality) to be shaped around him.

You cannot put your team’s direction and fate in the hands of someone who clearly has a crisis of self-confidence more than half the time.

I wish him well, I do, and maybe he’ll figure out the internal stuff and grow into the player his skillset suggests he could be.  But I don’t want him doing it on our dime.

Jordan Hill

Hill is the perfect example of numbers not telling the full story.  Yes, he can be a double-double machine.  Yes, he can bang hard on the boards, has a few nice post moves, and a set shot that, when on, gives defenses fits.

But every single intangible that you want in a player on a good team—basketball IQ, a sense of the flow of the game, a willingness to dig deeper when it counts most—you might as well fill in the dictionary definition of those qualities with a picture of Hill and the caption “Not this.”

He gets meaningless blocks on defense, but can’t buckle down and track his man and assignments when it counts most.

He grabs tons of rebounds in the 2nd quarter, but disappears in the 4th with the game on the line.

He’ll probably lead the league in 20-point games that were also losses at some point.

If only we could graft his skills onto someone who knew what they were doing…

First and last specific example kind of sums him up, and why I don’t want him anywhere near a Lakers uniform again:

We’re playing Milwaukee, or some other young team that presses a lot.  Clarkson has just started to make a name for himself in the last few games, so they’re trapping him hard in the backcourt after every inbounds play.  Hill makes a lazy 20-foot set shot, then gets beat bad on defense.  He inbounds the ball to Clarkson, and then jogs down the floor.  The other team has trapped Clarkson hard on the previous couple of possessions, so when Hill’s man leaves him to run towards Clarkson, there’s only one reason for it.  What is Hill (or any half-way competent big man) supposed to do in this moment?  Flash to midcourt as an outlet for the guard getting double-teamed.  What does Hill do?  Jog lazily upcourt, not even glancing over his shoulder to see where his defender went and whether or not his teammate is in trouble.  Result?  Clarkson tries to lob the ball ¾ of the court to another teammate who’s actually paying attention (Wesley Johnson, if I remember), it’s intercepted, turnover Clarkson, while Hill looks around like a stoner who can’t find his lighter, wondering why everyone’s running the other direction.

I wish him a long and profitable career putting up 20 and 10 on teams that finish 10+ games out of the 8th seed…he’s good for nothing else (and certainly not at the expense of minutes for Randle/Black/Davis/draft pick).

F

Ryan Kelly

When you’re tall, white, and un-athletic, the only way you survive in the NBA is to have an above-average basketball IQ, and a sweet outside shot.

Yes, I know he was playing out of position most of the year.  Yes, I know he’d occasionally have a lumbering drive to the basket for a dunk (probably because the other team forgot he was an actual player instead of a tall fan in courtside seats wearing an authentic replica jersey).

But I’m having a hard time remembering a single 3-pointer made when I was watching this year (and I sadly watched a lot of Lakers basketball this year).  Or a solid play on either offense or defense that took advantage of what the other team was doing.  I do remember the broadcast team at one point commenting on how he was shooting below 30% at that point in the year.  Not on 3’s:  that’s overall.  And that’s beyond horrible.   I’d almost rather play 4-on-5 than risk the chance that the ball would end up in his hands.

I remember flashes of something interesting in years past, since he was drafted.  And maybe, someday, he turns into a legitimate rotation player.

But please, god please, let him be some other team’s project.  As a stretch 4, he’s only going to be taking minutes from Randle/Black/Davis/draft pick, and that’s if the stars align and he makes the herculean jump from so-god-awful-it’s-almost-meta to barely-acceptable-if-there’s-literally-no-other-option.  And I’d wish for the Lakers to pay millions of dollars to actively make sure that doesn’t happen.

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