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Three Years Later, Future Looks Bright for Lakers

November 16th, 2016 · No Comments · Basketball, Kobe, Lakers, NBA

It was a rough three seasons for Los Angeles Lakers fans.

Not long after the conclusion of a five-titles-in-10-years run, those fans saw their team become an NBA afterthought … if not a laughingstock.

After the Lakers went 45-37 and made the playoffs, in 2012-13, the decline came hard and deep. To 27-55 in 2013-14 … to 21-61 in 2014-15 … to last season’s franchise-worst 17-65.

There were times during those three seasons, right through last season, actually, when it was hard to envision how the team could be turned around any time soon. Which somehow seemed deeply wrong, given how good the Lakers have been over the years.

This season’s Lakers, however, are off to a 7-5 start, which includes a blowout of the Golden State Warriors, 117-97, at Staples, and a 123-116 victory at Atlanta, one of the Eastern Conference’s better teams.

That 7-5 puts them on pace for 48 victories, which may be a stretch, but it gives Lakers fans hope after that had been a rare commodity in the final years of the Kobe Bryant Era.

Speaking of Kobe …

A strong case can be made that the club was in a sort of suspended animation last season, Kobe’s farewell tour, when the kids were expected to defer to the onetime superstar, who had one of the worst seasons in recent NBA history.

Bryant averaged 17 shots and 28 minutes per game, a rate of casting off extreme even by his standards. It got worse. His shooting percentage was a league-worst 35.8 percent. But he did get a lot of standing ovations.

Now, the decks are cleared.

Kobe is gone, and so is coach Byron Scott, and the Lakers suddenly are a young, on-the-rise team, led by suddenly hot coaching figure Luke Walton — who oversaw the Warriors’ 24-0 start last season while Steve Kerr was recovering from surgery.

They have three players who could be significant NBA performers. Julius Randle, the 6-9 power forward; D’Angelo Russell, the point guard; and Brandon Ingram, a 6-9 shooting forward who comes off the bench.

Those three are ages 22, 20 and 19, respectively, and it is safe to assume their best days are ahead of them.

They share one NBA characteristic: Each was a lottery pick, and getting several of those on your team is the most reliable way to rebuild your team. Ingram was the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft, Russell was No. 2 in 2015 and Randle was No. 7 in 2014.

The youth movement goes deeper than those three, however.

Jordan Clarkson, a reserve guard and the team’s No. 3 scorer, is 24. Larry Nance Jr., backup power forward, is 24, and Tarik Black, the backup center, is 25.

The roster goes 10 deep, which allows the Lakers to push the pace and score points, which Lakers fans love. The team is averaging 110 points per game, second in the league behind the Warriors and just ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

This may be a function also of Walton’s demand that they make 500 passes per game, the sort of work-it-around ball movement that finds the guy with an open shot.

The Lakers have five scorers (Russell, Clarkson, Randle, Lou Williams and Nick Young), averaging at least 13.4 points per game and have four more (center Timofey Mozgov, Ingram, Larry Nance Jr. and Luol Deng) averaging at least 6.4 ppg.

Those nine average from 28.3 minutes per game to 20.4, meaning the five on the court usually are fairly fresh.

The club has a handful of wise but not-too-old veterans, led by Williams (30), Young (31), Mozgov (30) and Deng (31).

The Lakers’ issues, so far, mostly have to do with defense. They are giving up 108.4 ppg, which leaves them 26th in a 30-team league, and their opponents are making 46.5 percent of their shots; only two teams are easier to score on.

Overall, this is a nice collection of players on a team that wants to score point and competes for a man who could be the best coach of his generation. Everyone seems to get along fairly well, and no one player demands the ball, certainly not the way Bryant did.

These Lakers might well make the playoffs, though they would not last long. A run closer to the NBA Finals could be coming in a season not too far in the future.

Meanwhile, it’s safe for Lakers fans to return to Staples Center, and maybe even to think of a 17th championship, maybe before the end of the decade.

Yeah. Heady stuff.


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