D’Angelo Russell & Julius Randle have recently been criticized for their inconsistent effort level. Is this a long term concern, or just immaturity that they’ll likely grow out of?
Pete Zayas (@LakerFilmRoom): I’m more concerned about Randle than I am about Russell. With Randle, he has a very distinct on/off switch that is heavily tied to whether or not he has the ball, or defending it. Once he moves into an off ball scenario on either end, he tends to disconnect from the action, and I think that’s difficult to correct. In Russell’s case, he certainly has nights where he’s in an overall malaise, but his level of engagement tends to be either good across the board or bad across the board. That said, the frequency with which both of them decide to not show is alarming, but they’re not old enough for them to be fatal flaws in either case. If you listen to fans around the league, this is a fairly common criticism of young players.
Tom Zayas (@LFRTommy): I’d prefer to describe it as a lack of consistent engagement on the court, as Randle and Russell are both guilty of sleepwalking at times. Russell has a bad habit of keeping his arms by his sides on defense, un-crouched and out of position. Randle’s bad habit is to wait for the penetrating ball handler to come at him in the paint, when by that point he’s already lost the defensive chess game. I have some long term concerns, but I think it’s too early to say whether or not this will be a problem 3 years down the line.
Michael Taylor (@LFRMBT): I’m not one to question a player’s effort usually, but I do have concerns, although I think they’ll eventually grow out of it. Currently, I think the two have hit a wall, like young players tend to do. For Randle, it’s just about building consistency. With Russell, I worry that his overall effort level is related to how much fun he’s having. I’m worried that he tries too much to keep his teammates happy at his own expense, instead of just playing the game. Hopefully, he’ll figure out the right combination of the two.
VP Sinha (@shaqpropagation): They might grow out of it, but I’m concerned with both. With Randle, I suspect it comes down to conditioning and mentality: there’s only so much energy to expend, and right now that’s usually only when he’s on ball. So reasonably you hope as he gets in better shape and realizes the off ball impact he can have, he’ll stop taking plays off ball, but that’s obviously no guarantee. As for Russell, I think offensively he’ll be alright down the line, but he doesn’t seem to get offended if someone scores on him. The lack of fire there concerns me on his long term defensive potential.
Chuck Lee (@FiendishOC): It’s basically youth more than anything. There’s some angst coming from the fanbase and media after this current losing stretch, but if you read between the lines at what Luke is actually saying about them, it’s just basic coaching stuff trying to get young players to form good habits.
Between the two, I do have a bit more concern about Randle having that on/off switch in terms of engagement on the defensive end because that’s more mental than physical – but even that I believe may be due to lack of emphasis in this area from previous coaches.
If you could change one thing about the Front Office’s approach, what would it be?
CL: Remember when the Lakers were getting flack for not sending anyone to the MIT conference and being late on SportVU? Consider that they made their first SportVU hire in 2013 when the Raptors already had a system that could interpret data, log defensive breakdowns and make informed suggestion on optimal defensive positioning (they had been working with SportVU since at least 2011).
The entire league is shifting over to Second Spectrum soon, which is basically SportVU on steroids with the amount of detail and context their system can pull from the on-court action through machine learning techniques. A few teams have been on board with that since 2013, including the Clippers. The past two NBA champions, the Cavs and Warriors, are also early adopters. Similarly to what happened with SportVU, 15 teams have since gotten the jump on the rest of the league in this service / technology. Teams like the Spurs and 76ers are hiring specialists in working with spatial data. There have been a few in-depth articles on the Lakers’ newfound commitment to analytics over the past few seasons. We can’t know for sure, but none of those pieces gave me any confidence that the Lakers have been one of those first few teams or are making strides in anything innovative.
The Lakers used to be on the cutting edge of the strategy side of basketball (Bill Bertka was basically the first video coordinator and advance scout). It would be nice if they could get back out in front again.
TZ: Once the summer rolls around, the Lakers’ Front Office is like a 17 year-old with disposable income (looking at you LFRMBT) — you know they aren’t spending that money well. While I appreciate they’re trying to improve each summer through free agency, I wish they had realized how to spend that money in a way that wasn’t so shortsighted. They’ll throw some more money around this summer, but if a big fish doesn’t bite, they shouldn’t settle for long contracts with aging role players (i.e. last summer’s deals).
MT: Overall, I think that the FO has done a reasonable job given the circumstances (+ on drafting, – on FA). I do, however, believe that the FO needs to be 150% all in on developing the young core. L.A. is not going to poach a superstar – thank you, new CBA. The Lakers should devote all the resources at their expense to develop Russell, Randle, and Ingram. L.A. has the power to get a HOF like Magic or Nash to help give Russell invaluable insight, or bringing in Worthy to help Randle. If none of the kids hit, the FO & Company could sleep at night knowing they did everything within their power to develop the young talent on the roster.
PZ: I’d like them to flex their financial muscle in ways that aren’t governed by the salary cap. They’re extremely profitable, and as such they should be throwing big money at the best assistant coaches, the best player development coaches, the best scouts, the best video coordinators, the best halftime entertainment, the best hot dog vendors, etc. These are all reinvestments into the team that help them grow as an organization, and I don’t think they’ve leveraged this as much as they should.
VS: I was a vocal proponent of making cheap deals like Lou Williams before the cap spike, and they should keep trying to make those kinds of deals. And not tying up money on bloated contracts in a summer where everyone has cap space and free agents have all the leverage. It’s a little late for that. Looking at the new CBA, we need to continue drafting well first and foremost. Beyond that, they should do a better job of trying to find undervalued, fairly young players like Isaiah Thomas, Hassan Whiteside, or Kyle Lowry… rather than wasting roster slots on guys like Huertas and MWP.
Now that we’ve gotten a good look at this roster, who should the Lakers realistically look to pursue this offseason?
TZ: I wouldn’t mind seeing how much it takes to pry Ian Clark away from the Warriors (assuming Swaggy doesn’t pick up his option). He’s a good shooter with a nice first step, and he’s drastically reduced his turnovers this year. It’s not exactly an elite FA class, and I doubt the Lakers have a chance at any of the top tier FA’s, which is fine because I don’t think any of them would fit perfectly within the young core. The Lakers’ MO this summer should be to look for young players like Clark that can grow into their prime as the young guys are still developing.
MT: I’d move on from Lou Will, and let Nick Young walk. Barring L.A. finds lottery luck once more, they will need a back-up point guard, and Patty Mills leads the list for me. He’s an underrated defender and a 40% three-point shooter who could share the floor with DAR. If Mills is off the market, Shaun Livingston is someone to look at, in my opinion. Another veteran PG that would be familiar to Luke’s system, able to facilitate and give 20 solid minutes off the bench.
PZ: The Lakers are deficient in two critical areas: passing & defense. I like Jrue Holiday quite a bit, but he’s likely a moot point of the Lakers keep their pick, and has a worrisome injury history. Serge Ibaka would project as a fantastic fit next to Julius Randle, with his rim protection and outside shooting, but also strikes me as someone we’d regret signing by Year 3, at the latest.
To be honest, I don’t like this year’s Free Agent class at all, even amongst the bargains. If the Lakers strike out on the bigger free agents, as they likely will, I could be talking into throwing high-priced, 1-year deals at both Andre Igoudala & Shaun Livingston to help facilitate the style of play that we would like to see from the young players going forward. Although I suspect that there will be a market for Livingston beyond one year. I also wouldn’t mind throwing a similar 1-year deal at Nick Young, as the Lakers already lack outside shooting, even as he’s having a career year from distance.
CL: Seeing as how they’ll still be a season or two away from the top tier of free agents looking their way. I hope that they can pick up an athletic defensive wing at a reasonable price (and age). A guy who can ramp up the intensity level and be disruptive on defense without making mistakes could plug a lot of holes in the team defense. The Lakers are also in the bottom half of the league in transition scoring efficiency, with a lot of their young core putting up bad numbers in this area, so someone who can also get out and finish could help fill this gap.
VS: The new CBA means starts are likely to stay where they are and get paid a lot more. With that in mind, keeping salary flexibility for Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins in 2018 doesn’t make that much sense. Obviously, Hayward would be perfect, but that’s a pipe dream. It depends a lot on our draft situation: if we get Fultz or Ball, no thanks to George Hill. I’d have to look for specific suggestions, though.