Going into the season, expectations were relatively low for the Los Angeles Lakers. After striking out on free agents such as Hassan Whiteside, Demar Derozan, and even Kent Bazemore, the Lakers found themselves solely relying on their young core. A young core that consists of 20 year old D’Angelo Russell, 19 year old Brandon Ingram, 22 year old Julius Randle, 24 year old Jordan Clarkson, and 19 year old Ivica Zubac.

The season started out rather well for the Lakers, surpassing almost everyone’s expectations, maybe even their own. Their record after the first 20 games was 10-10, good enough to be sitting at the 8th seed in the Western Conference. People began to get the feeling that the Lakers might actually make the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-2013 season.

That feeling quickly subsided.

After that 10-10 start, the Lakers have lost 29 of their last 38 games. Turning that very hopeful 10-10 record, into a very dreadful 19-39 record. This first half of the NBA season has brought an abundance of trouble for the Lakers, so lets try and move on and address the biggest questions everyone has going into the second half of their season.

1.Will the Lakers keep their pick?

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Kansas’ Josh Jackson (left), UCLA’s Lonzo Ball (middle), Washington’s Markelle Fultz (right)

By far the most polarizing question surrounding the Lakers right now is whether or not they’ll be bad enough to actually keep their top-3 protected pick. If the Lakers’ pick falls outside of the top 3 in this year’s lottery it is conveyed to the Philadelphia 76ers, but thats not all. Multiple 1st rounders are hanging in the balance as the Lakers must also give their 2019 first rounder to the Orlando Magic if it happens to fall outside of the top 3 this year.

Before the season began, it was just a very far-fetched dream that the Lakers would actually keep their pick, but as they continue to rack up the losses, that dream looks to be slowly evolving into a reality.

According to tankathon.com , the Lakers currently have a .328 win percentage, and have a 46.9% chance of their pick landing within the top 3. If the team was able to retain that pick, they would likely choose between 3 prospects: Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Jackson. Two of which are point guards in Fultz and Ball, while Jackson is a small forward.

The last 3 years, the Lakers have had the 7th pick, and two straight 2nd overall picks. Selecting, in this order: PF Julius Randle, PG D’Angelo Russell, and SF Brandon Ingram. The emergence of Randle and Russell is coming along slower then most Laker fans would have hoped for, but they are both still under the age of 23, giving them plenty of time to develop.

It’s not set in stone that the Luke Walton led squad will keep it’s pick, but if I had to decide right now, I would say that they do end up keeping it. Allowing them to bolster their roster with yet another top tier young player, perhaps bringing them one step closer to once again hoisting that NBA Finals trophy that has eluded them since 2010.

2.Will Luke Walton decide to change the staring lineup?

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Lakers PF Larry Nance Jr (left) and Lakers C Ivica Zubac (right)

 

It’s been speculated recently that once the all star break is over, Lakers’ coach Luke Walton may be looking to tweak the starting lineup. After their loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in late January, Luke told Lakers Nation Reporter Serena Winters:

It truly depends on what the Lakers want to do with their second half of the season, whether they want to “tank” and keep their top 3 protected pick, or try and win games and try to make a playoff push.

It’s very well known that the Lakers have one of the weakest starting lineups in the entire league, while their bench is the league’s best. The Lakers’ bench actually posts a better net rating than their starters, which is exactly where the problem lies.

The fact the bench is as good or even better than the starters raises yet another question.

Do the Los Angeles Lakers have a star on their roster?

The answer is simple, no. Well, not yet. The Lakers’ hopes lie in a group of players all under the age of 24, with their two most promising stars, D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram, being the youngest of the bunch.

So with the Lakers not having a star, what could Luke possibly do the lineup? Aside from star power, the Lakers’ starting lineup lacks energy, sometimes looking as though they just give up on defense, and severely lack hustle.

Inserting Larry Nance Jr, Ivica Zubac, and Brandon Ingram will definitely fix this problem, while also allowing their young players, specifically Russell and Ingram, more playing time together. Ingram is already on the cusp of starting for Luol Deng so Luke just has to officially make the switch.

Now of course, this would send Julius Randle and Timofey Mosgof to the bench, two players the Lakers have invested a lot into. However, Timofey hasn’t really been as productive as the Lakers would have liked and he knew he wasn’t a key part of the team’s future. Giving Ivica Zubac, a fan favorite, the green light to finally take his place as the team’s starting Center.

Then comes Julius Randle. The problem here being that he is considered the 3rd piece to the Lakers’ young core, and allows his bad play to get in his head and affect his game. So his benching would definitely take a toll on him, and the Lakers as a whole. Which is exactly why I don’t believe Walton will pull the trigger on this move. It would only stall Randle’s development and maybe even make him resent the Lakers coaching staff and front office.

The Lakers should and probably will be making a lineup change, but you can expect to see each of their already starting young players stay put.

3.Should the Lakers look to move Lou Williams at the trade deadline?

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Lakers’ guard Lou Williams. Photo Credit: lakerspulse.com

With the trade deadline approaching quickly, the Lakers must decide on whether or not they want to keep their leading scorer and 6th man of the year candidate Lou Williams.

This once again depends on what way the Lakers want this season to go for them, if they want to continue to build for the future, they should trade him.

But to where?

The most important thing Lou Will brings to a team is his ability to score. One type of team need that: Playoff teams that are missing one key piece to take them over the edge.

Two teams come to mind, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Washington Wizards.

Oklahoma City:

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Possible trade scenario for the Lakers and Thunder.

Lakers Receive: Cameron Payne, Jerami Grant

Thunder Receive: Louis Williams, 2018 Second Round Pick

According to the ESPN Trade Machine , this trade would work financially, and be in the best interest of both teams.

For the Lakers, they gain a young point guard to backup D’Angelo Russell so they could finally get rid of Marcelo Huertas. Jerami Grant would bring a defensive presence the Lakers are sorely lacking on their bench unit. With Brandon Ingram moving into the starting lineup, the bench SF minutes would be split between Grant and veteran Luol Deng. The Lakers would subsequently lose more games, giving them better odds to keep their pick and add another potential young star in this year’s draft.

For the Oklahoma City Thunder, Lou Williams would provide them with a perimeter threat they are sorely lacking. Allowing them to possibly run the late-game lineup of : Westbrook, Williams, Oladipo, Kanter, Adams. This trade would also give them a secondary scorer in Lou Williams for the times when Russell Westbrook is doubled, also taking some of the pressure off of Victor Oladipo.

Andre Roberson is on the perimeter with Oladipo right now, and his inability to shoot the ball constantly costs them points, sometimes even leading to turnovers.

Overall, this trade would benefit the Lakers’ long term success while enhancing the Thunder’s odds of going deep in the playoffs and getting that Westbrook v KD matchup we’d all love to watch.

Washington Wizards

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A possible trade scenario between the Lakers and Wizards.

Wizards receive: Louis Williams, Thomas Robinson

Lakers receive: Trey Burke, Kelly Oubre, and Wizards 2017 First Round Pick

This trade is definitely much more likely to happen, as the Wizards currently need to make a move in order to compensate for other teams in the East making moves to get better.

The Wizards are currently 3rd in the East, two games behind the Celtics for the 2nd seed and five games behind the Cavaliers for the first seed. Behind the Cavs, the race for the second seed in the Eastern Conference is tight, and with the Raptors’ recent acquisition of Serge Ibaka, the Wizards need to make a trade now. This trade gives the Wizards an  offensive firepower they’ve been severely lacking off the bench. Per hoopstats.com, The Wiz are currently last in bench points in the entire league, and rank 29th in both bench offensive and defensive efficiency. Lou Williams is the league’s best bench player and the frontrunner for 6th Man of The Year, his addition to this team would without a doubt give them the piece they’ve been missing. Either John Wall or Bradley Beal has to be on the court at all times since the Wizard’s offense becomes stagnant when they take a seat on the bench. With Lou Will, they would be able to rest up more and be fresher for the playoffs. Thomas Robinson is just filler for the trade, but the Wizards’ bench is also ranked last in RPG, so Robinson would help fix that problem.

The Lakers trade away an aging scorer in Lou Williams, and gain a young, 24 year old backup Point Guard in Trey Burke and a 20 year old Small Forward in Kelly Oubre Jr. This trade makes the Lakers significantly younger and more exciting, as well as giving them a much better chance of keeping their 2017 top-3 protected pick. This trade would force Luke Walton to play D’Angelo Russell down the stretch and quicken his development, while also giving them a liable young shooting guard in Kelly Oubre. The 2017 pick is just a bonus for the Lakers, sort of a backup plan, just in case they don’t keep their top 3 pick. If they did retain the pick, they would just gain a mid 1st round pick, and the Lakers front office has shown that they scout well based on the last 3 drafts.

At the end of the day, all of this comes down to what the Lakers want for the rest of their season. Either bolster their young core, or put it all on the line trying to prove they have truly improved this season.

4.Will D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram improve as expected?

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D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram are without a doubt the Lakers’ two most promising young pieces. Both are expected to be all-star caliber players at one point in their career. However, it’s been an extremely bumpy road for both of them so far this year.

D’Angelo Russell’s rookie campaign was marred by a snapchat scandal involving his teammate Nick Young and Young’s ex-fiance, Iggy Azalea. His goal coming into his sophomore season was to put all that behind him, mature, and focus on the game of basketball.

His 2nd year is definitely off to a much better start, averaging  14.2 PPG, 4.7 APG, and 3.8 RPG according to basketballreference.com. Those averages may seem low, but keep in mind, he’s 20 years old and has battled injuries for the majority of the season. Out of the Lakers’ 58 games this season, Russell has only played in 42.

Russell’s main problem is inconsistency, some nights he look like a future superstar and other nights it’s hard to find the reason the Lakers used that number two pick on him last year. When asked about the consistency of Russell and Ingram, coach Luke Walton told Lakers writer Mark Medina,“They’re both progressing and getting better, but the consistency isn’t there yet”.

Russell himself has admitted that he sometimes has trouble deciding when he should get his teammates involved, and when he should be aggressive. Thats a key piece in being a good Point Guard in this league. PG’s like Chris Paul and Stephen Curry do both, they don’t really have to make a decision. They get their teammates involved, but never hesitate to take over a game.

While Ingram is inconsistent as well, the pressure isn’t on him as much as Russell. However, it has been said that Ingram is having a sub-par season, averaging 8.0 PPG, 1.9 APG, and 4.1 RPG according to basketballreference.com Now usually thats not a horrible stat line, but the fact that Ingram has played far more minutes than any other rookie in the league really decreases their value.

With Ingram, time will really make him a better player, there is nothing he can really do this season. As he continues to grow into his body and become stronger, his game will get stronger as well. Ingram constantly finds himself having to pull up for contested spin jumpers or throw up extremely contested lay-ups because he doesn’t have the strength to create space.

Since being drafted, Ingram has been drawing comparisons to Kevin Durant, simply because of the similarities in their body type. However, I think Ingram can be a one of a kind talent if developed correctly. His shot needs work, but he’s shown from his college games at Duke that he is very capable of shooting. His length makes him a defensive nightmare for opposing teams, and his playmaking ability is extremely underrated as well. If he continues to positively develop and work on his game, Brandon Ingram could truly be a once in a generation talent.

 

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