The Lakers’ season has mostly been a disaster through twelve games. Despite the terrible record (one game below last year’s pace!) and the sadness that has ensued, there have remarkably been some positives to take away from the year thus far.
Most of these positives have come in the form of a trio of young players that have the Lakers and their fans excited for a bright future. During Friday night’s loss to the Toronto Raptors, fans saw a glimpse of that future as all three of the potential future stars – Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and D’Angelo Clarkson – played a good game, arguably for the first time ever.
While the game ultimately ended in disappointment, the play of that particular group pf players could be a bright takeaway from the game. Frankly, I’m tired of speaking and writing about Byron Scott’s incompetence so throughout this article, I am looking to focus on the play of these three players and how they played during that game.
Jordan Clarkson – Clarkson has been one of the most consistent bright spots for the Lakers this season, less than a year removed from his breakthrough as a rookie sensation. So far, Clarkson has showcased a newfound three point stroke to continue his presence as a key contributor to the team on the offensive end. He has shot the ball better, overall, but with the presence of other ball handlers on the roster, Clarkson has gotten to the free throw line less often and has had fewer assists. Some of that also has to do with the system in which he now plays.
During Clarkson’s breakthrough last season, the Lakers had thrown out any system and resorted to running pick and rolls almost entirely. With Clarkson usually being the only ball handler on the floor, he had plenty of opportunity to make plays for others. This season, he has the ball in his hands less often and more so in positions to score. Nevertheless, Clarkson’s play has stayed steady and he has found ways to contribute despite the system around him.
Against the Raptors, Clarkson shot 6-13 (1-3 from three) en route to 13 points and added five rebounds and two assists, finishing with a plus-minus of +12, the second best mark for the team. As usual, Clarkson showcased his athleticism, skying for an alley-oop layup off the pass from D’Angelo Russell:
But Clarkson also showed off his newfound three-point stroke, hitting a jumper off a spot up opportunity, one of his favorite modes of scoring so far this season:
Among players who shoot at least two spot up threes per game, Clarkson ranks 19th with a 47.1% three point percentage and 24th with a 65.9 eFG%. That is a promising sign for a player who seemed to often struggle with his jump shot last season. Clarkson’s ability to hit spot up threes will be a crucial factor in how he develops as a teammate to Russell and Randle who both like to handle the ball and find open shooters.
Julius Randle – Randle started the season hot, showcasing his strength and speed to take advantage of his matchups. After a few games in which he struggled, Randle found another matchup he liked in going against Luis Scola. Randle’s killer first step was once again put to use as he finished the game putting up 18 points on an efficient 6-9 shooting (6-6 from the free throw line) as well as 12 rebounds. Randle finished the night with a plus-minus of +15, the highest mark on the team.
Here, Randle uses his strength to get space on Scola and shoots a short fadeaway jumper – a tool that we should and probably will see used more often by Randle:
On the very next possession, Randle uses his speed advantage to drive in from about 35 feet away even after Scola gave him a large cushion. Randle then uses a quick spin move to get the ball in his favored left hand before floating it up for two points. This play might not work against longer defenders, but in this matchup, it’s a gorgeous and savvy basket.
D’Angelo Russell – And of course, we have to finish with the Lakers’ second overall draft pick. The much (and wrongly!) maligned rookie had perhaps his best game as a pro against the Raptors. Russell scored 17 points on 7-16 shooting (3-7 from three) while collecting five rebounds and adding two assists. He was a +9 on the night, the third best mark for the Lakers.
While some may ask for more playmaking in the form of assists from Russell, he actually did a fairly good job of doing so, all things considered. What stands out from this performance is Russell’s aggressive play. The rookie looked for his shot often, continuing his great shooting from midrange and also adding some more drives to the basket, something I would like to see more of as he continues to develop. Additionally, he played almost 34 minutes which means he was given plenty of time to play through mistakes (i.e. a really bad cross court pass that had no chance of not being stolen) so that he could contribute in positive ways.
Here, Russell shows his off-ball offensive skill by coming off a curl to catch the pass from Kobe Bryant before swishing a shot in front of two defenders. Kobe’s skill as a passer could lead to more of these opportunities as the offense begins to go towards using him as a playmaker rather than a scoring option.
Later in the game, Russell uses a Kobe screen to get space behind the three point line and pulls up for the bucket:
After starting the season cold, Russell has climbed back up to a respectable .327 percent from behind the arc. As the season continues, that number will only climb higher and that is a great skill for a 19 year old who has only played 12 games in the NBA. Russell’s shooting ability will make the rest of the game come much easier as defenders cannot continue to go under screens on him as they did in the clip above. What also stands out in that clip is Russell setting his feet before he goes up for the shot, something he has not consistently done this season. If he continues to work on that, his shooting can only get better.
Obviously, there has not been much to like about the Lakers so far this season. The poor coaching has become the biggest storyline, followed by Kobe’s fall from grace (which has admittedly been coming for a long time). However, there is some reason to hope and that reason was put in full view in the game against the Raptors. For the first time, all three of the Lakers’ stud young players played well at the same time. The next step is to make that a consistent characteristic while also continuing to play well together rather than taking turns to dominate. Nevertheless, some great signs were shown and a bright future was put on display. Let’s hope that this will become the new constant theme and storyline of the Lakers’ season.
All Stats Courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com
Please excuse the glare in the vines. I am not great at this.