51Q: How quickly will the Lakers’ young core progress?
We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season.
D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle placed somewhere between promising and good for their ages last season.
None of that is to say plain “good.”
When Russell, Clarkson and Randle shared the court, the Lakers scored fewer points per possession than the NBA’s worst offense and allowed more points per possession than the league’s worst defense. In all, those units got outscored by a dreadful 16.0 points per 100 possessions. A teenage Brandon Ingram, the draft’s No. 2 pick, is unlikely to swing fortunes quickly.
Ingram (19), Russell (20), Randle (21) and Clarkson (24) carry significant value, but little of it is tied to their ability to produce right now. When will that change?
It’s important to acknowledge reality of the present before setting expectations for the future.
Here’s how each core piece ranked in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus last season:
- Russell: 69th among 82 point guards
- Clarkson: 119th among 175 guards
- Randle: 90th among 93 power forwards
Russell ranked in just the 36th percentile in points per possession when finishing a play as pick-and-roll ball-handler. With Russell guarding, his man shot 47%.
Clarkson’s man shot even better, 48%. Not limited to defense, Clarkson has yet to turn any skill in his all-around game into a major asset.
For all the hype about his ball-handling and passing, Randle turned the ball over more than he assisted baskets last season. He also blocked fewer shots than Jeremy Lamb, a shooting guard who played more than 1,000 fewer minutes.
Ingram is a skinny teenager. Like most rookies, he’ll face growing pains as he jumps to the NBA.
These players have a long way to go – and that’s fine. Time is on their side.
The Thunder once went 23-59 with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. LeBron James missed the playoffs his first two seasons. Even Michael Jordan spent his first three years on losing teams.
Simply, young teams rarely win in the NBA. At least a modicum of experience is crucial.
But don’t assume these young Lakers are destined for success.
At one point, Charlotte thought it had something with Emeka Okafor (No. 2 pick, Rookie of the Year in 2005), Raymond Felton (No. 5 pick, All-Rookie second team in 2006) and Adam Morrison (No. 3 pick, All-Rookie second team in 2007).
Drafting highly touted players who produce immediately doesn’t guarantee long-term success.
If the Lakers look at the bigger picture, they’ll monitor their young core’s development and proceed as they gain more information. They won’t overreact to the most likely outcome: another losing season.
It could be another year or two or even three until Russell, Clarkson, Ingram and Randle ascend into playoff contention. As long as they show progress, that’s OK. Those four should be graded on a curve for their age.
The Lakers might be in a good place if they don’t get in their own way. But with a fan base accustomed to championship contention and a front office on a self-imposed deadline to advance in the playoffs, do you trust he Lakers to remain patient?