The Los Angeles Lakers traded youth for championship aspirations last summer and while that has so far paid off, there’s still some concern over how the team will operate for the next few years. They are devoid of most of their picks and traded all but one of their recently drafted young players in acquiring Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans.
All this means is that the Lakers must be creative in finding internal improvements to the roster over the next few years with LeBron James and Davis taking most of the team’s cap space making it difficult to improve via free agency or trades. For now, those hopes are on Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso but three young players who have barely seen action with the squad have the Lakers dreaming big of their potential.
Second-round pick Talen Horton-Tucker as well as two-way selections Devontae Cacok and Kostas Antetokounmpo have seemingly turned a lot of heads during practice in Orlando, so far. In fact, they’ve shown so much promise that head coach Frank Vogel told the media ahead of Monday’s scrimmage that he would have no issues playing any of the three in a high pressure game if it were necessary (h/t Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen and Roll):
“The two big guys have very different skillsets, and I trust both of them. If we needed to go to them in these seeding games, or in the playoffs, they have unique skill sets that they’re exceptional at. Devontae is just a monster with his aggressiveness on the boards, his physical play, his hustle aspect to his game. He just impacts the game. And then Kostas has incredible length and has shown promise as an elite rim protector, can fit right along in the line with JaVale and Dwight and the length that we present at the basket. Both of those guys have bright futures and I would trust using them if we needed to.
“And back to Talen, Talen has really been one of the most impressive players since the restart. He just plays with a poise that’s beyond his years and he’s shot the ball well from the perimeter, he’s put it down on the floor, he’s used his defensive footspeed and toughness along with his wingspan to make an impact on that end as well. So we’re excited about all three of those young men.”
The young trio have had their opportunities to shine in three scrimmages in Orlando, so far. Horton-Tucker did most of his damage in the first game against the Mavericks with a variety of drives and finishes at the rim that showed his raw potential. Cacok and Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, showed their infectious energy in the final game against the Wizards with near double-doubles. Cacok, in particular, impressed with an 11-point, nine-rebound outing in just 14 minutes.
All three of these players are incredibly raw and not yet ready to contribute to a team with championship aspirations. No matter Vogel’s confidence in them, if they are getting consistent playing time in the postseason that means something has gone wrong for the Lakers.
Still, it’s a luxury to have some high potential players growing alongside a title-level team with hopes that they can eventually replace some of the older veterans and keep the Lakers competitive even as they find it difficult to improve the roster in traditional ways.