In a new short series for Lakers Outsiders, I will be reviewing all of the young players currently on the Lakers’ roster who project to be part of the team’s future going forward. I’ll be looking at their play in the 2015-16 season as well as predicting how they will fare next year with development and a new coaching staff.
Tarik Black is perhaps the most unheralded of the young players forming the Los Angeles Lakers’ young core. After going undrafted out of Kansas, Black has already vastly exceeded expectations. The Lakers were truthfully lucky to pick up the center, needing the Houston Rockets to waive the Black during the 2014-15 season in order to make space for Josh Smith. The team was smart enough to pick him up and has benefited from his addition in his one-and-a-half seasons in LA.
Black had an inconsistent season in 2015-16 that was unfortunately mostly not due to any of his own actions. Tarik was lost in a front-court rotation of Julius Randle, Larry Nance, Jr., Brandon Bass, and Roy Hibbert. As a result of the deep rotation and questionable coaching (I’m trying to be nice), the big man only saw the floor in 39 games all season, playing fewer than 13 minutes on average in those appearances.
Despite the lack of playing time, Black was always ready to perform. The big man has made a name for himself in his short playing career as an athletic and energetic center. His hard work shows off in games as he is constantly moving and fighting for rebounds. That mentality did not save him, however, from a head coach who believed the Kansas product was not playing “balls out” enough.
Nevertheless, Black’s play pointed to a far different truth. While his per game numbers (3.4 points, 4.0 rebounds) will not blow anyone away, his extrapolated statistics are quite impressive. Just compare his per 36 numbers to former Lakers fan favorite Ed Davis:
Black’s play was also evident in how the team played with him on the court. The big man was one of only two players on the Lakers’ roster who had a positive on-court net rating as LA outscored opponents by a mere 0.7 points per 100 possessions when Black played per NBA.com. When the big man sat, as was the majority of the time, the purple and gold were outscored by 12.3 points per 100 possessions. That major gap, potentially skewed by too small of a sample size, goes to show how much better the Lakers were with their third or fourth string center on the court.
That is not only evident in the statistical analysis but also by the raw eye test. Black gave the Lakers something they desperately needed: an athletic roll man. Outside of the rookie Nance, not a single player on the entire LAL roster was capable of setting solid screens and rolling hard to the rim on a consistent basis. With D’Angelo Russell primed to take over the reigns of the franchise as the lead player in an extensive restructure of the roster, a roll man becomes imminently more important.
Black has shown he is a smart player on the offensive end. The clip above exemplifies that as he reads the defense and slips the pick and roll before making contact on the screen, giving himself an easy dunk with the assist from Russell. The connection between those two players was a successful one all season, as the Lakers had an offensive rating of 102.1 points per 100 possessions with the pair on the floor, per NBAwowy. That number is not phenomenal by any means, but it is much more respectable than the team’s season long rating of 98.6.
His offensive game was not simply limited to being the roll man in these scenarios either. Despite the Lakers being the worst cutting team in the league, Black excelled in that area, often knowing the perfect time and scenario in which to make a cut to the rim. The Lakers’ passing was sub-par and he may have scored more points in that way on a better team, but LAL as a whole benefited from that expertise from Black.
This is not to say that Tarik does not have his limitations. He is not very skilled, averaging more turnovers than assists. He is too foul prone to play large minutes. Additionally, his defense, although played at full throttle and energy, leaves much to be desired.
Black has the athleticism to contest everything at the rim and often showcases his blocking ability, but he has not yet mastered the defensive knowledge needed to be a consistently good player on that end, often getting lost or reacting too slowly. Coaching, certainly, did not help the young player learn in order to improve on that end and with a better lead man at the helm, Black should be able to use his length and athleticism to become an impactful player on that end of the floor.
Already 24 years old, one must wonder how much more room Black has to develop. He may not fundamentally improve much from his current standing. However, playing with an improved roster and coaching situation should help him produce at a much higher level. He will be placed in pick and rolls more often and the off-ball motion that Luke Walton will inevitably adopt from the Warriors and attempt to implement in Los Angeles will be primed to use Black’s cutting ability as a real weapon.
The Lakers do not need Black to become a superstar and he never will be one. But they can use the skills that Tarik already has, fine tune them, and showcase them in their half court and transition offense. Black will not only improve the on-court product, but his play has the means to help the other young players in Los Angeles develop into better all-around players.
Russell and Clarkson will benefit, as they already have, from Black’s ability as a pick and roll partner. The space he creates as a screener and roller will not only give better opportunities to the ball handler, but also shooters situated around the perimeter. Additionally, his off-ball cutting ability will partner well with Nance and Randle as it provides them high-low passing opportunities in the mold of Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut in Golden State or Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan with the Clippers.
Black is not regarded as a major key (word to DJ Khaled) of the Lakers’ rebuild and future. That makes sense as he is overshadowed by the quartet of Russell, Randle, Clarkson, and Nance. But the aggregate of the things Tarik provides on the court, as well as his acknowledged reputation as a smart and well-liked teammate, will be a necessity moving forward as the Lakers hope to take a leap forward in their rebuild.
The Lakers can and likely will extend a qualifying offer to make Black a restricted free agent this summer. As they look at the roster composition and the system that Walton will implement with his new team, they would be wise to go into the next season Back in Black.