The Lakers were supposed to be past their tanking days. The signing of Luke Walton, the drafting of Brandon Ingram, the signing of Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov and the .500 start through 20 games sure made it seem like the darkest days for the Lakers had been left in the past.
Rather cruelly, a combination of regressing to the mean while battling mass injuries have left the Lakers. The Lakers have seen D’Angelo Russell, Nick Young, Luol Deng, Julius Randle, Timofey Mozgov, Larry Nance, Tarik Black and Jose Calderon all miss time in some capacity this season.
In fact, only three players have played in every game for the Lakers this season:
Two of those players have defined roles in the Lakers future as part of a promising young core that has shown flashes throughout this season of just how special they can be.
Which brings us to Williams.
From the moment he was signed, Lou Will’s tenure in LA has been an odd one. Coming off a Sixth Man of the Year award, the Lakers, coming off a 21-win season, inked Williams to not only a multi-year deal, but a remarkably team-friendly contract.
Last season, Williams served as a lightning rod for criticism through no fault of his own, often the player former coach Byron Scott chose late in games over then-rookie Russell. The contentiousness certainly didn’t subside with a lackluster performance in the preseason.
Then, he became fire-breathing Lou Williams.
Seemingly everything clicked for Williams as he helped the Lakers off to their 10-10 start while scorching the Earth with amazing performances, including a stretch in early December when he set the mark for the most points from a bench player in a four-game period with 137.
In a microcosm of the Lakers’ season, though, that four-game stretch in which Williams averaged 34.3 points per game and scored at least 35 points three times also saw the Lakers lose in all four contests.
While Williams cooled off considerably, he still sits at second on the Lakers in Net Rating and has been one of the consistent bright spots on an inconsistent Laker team.
Dig a bit deeper and you’ll see just how effective, and efficient, he has been.
This season, Williams is averaging a career-high 18 points per game on 43.3 percent field goal shooting and 37.9 percent three-point shooting, the latter another career-high mark.
When comparing Williams’ numbers to his award-winning season, he’s averaging more points, rebounds and assists while shooting better from the field, three-point line and free throw line and doing all of that on a career-high usage rate and a career-high true shooting percentage.
Going a bit further, Williams is currently sporting a usage percentage of 30.3 percent and a true shooting percentage of 59.0 percent. Here’s a list of players who have a 59 percent true shooting percentage with at least a 30 percentage usage percentage this season:
Not only is Williams having one of the best seasons of his career, if not the best, he’s having one of the best seasons of a guard in the NBA.
Which is why the decision whether or not to trade him is as simple as can be. At 30 years old, on an incredibly friendly contract that extends through next season, Williams’ stock will never be higher than it currently is. More so, not only will he no longer be in his prime when the Lakers are competing for a title again, he likely won’t even be on the Lakers and certainly won’t be under his current cap-friendly deal.
Williams’ timeline does not match up with the current Lakers. From the moment he was signed, he looked to be someone the Lakers could turn into assets in the future at the trade deadline. Most certainly, the Lakers could not have expected this kind of production and have been incredibly lucky to have him play this well.
Now, the Lakers need to capitalize on their good fortune. With the current market seeing Kyle Korver net the Hawks a first-round pick, there’s no reason to believe Williams isn’t worth that and then some. And with the uncertainty surrounding the Lakers’ pick and whether they’ll retain it, having the ability to assure yourself a first-round pick in a loaded draft class is a rare opportunity.
If the Lakers had remained in the playoff race, then the argument to keep the team together and make a playoff run is a strong one that I likely would have sided with. However, after Sunday’s loss, LA now has the worst record in the Western Conference, are 4.5 games back of the eight seed and trending in the wrong direction.
None of this even begins to discuss playing time either with potential minutes opening up for Russell, Clarkson and possibly even Ingram on top of removing $7 million in cap space from your salary heading into the summer where the Lakers will likely pursue the likes of Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap and others.
The Lakers have a diamond in the rough with Williams on the current roster. Hopefully, they realize his value on another team is greater than his value on the current team.