The 2022 NBA free agency period is officially in full force after it began at 3 p.m. PT on Thursday. Although we’ve seemingly said this for every offseason since he arrived, this seemed to be the most important one for the Los Angeles Lakers since LeBron James came into town.
For one, even though reports continue to trickle out that the team has resided to the fact that Russell Westbrook will be on their roster this season, a trade involving the hard-headed star can still be completed in this period if the Lakers are comfortable enough with what they give up and get in a deal.
But even if they do trade Westbrook, much better moves around the margins have to be made when compared to last year if any core involving LeBron and Anthony Davis has any hopes to returning to championship-level contention. They made most of those types of signings last night, so let’s go ahead grade each one before they fill out the rest of their roster with the couple of open spots remaining. To help evaluate these moves, I’ll be using B-Ball Index, a great site comprising loads and loads of NBA data and analytics all in one place.
Thomas Bryant: B+
Late on Tuesday evening, Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported that the Lakers would be signing Wizards center Thomas Bryant to a one-year, veteran minimum deal. Bryant returns to the Lakers after originally being drafted by them.
Haynes reports that he may be able to compete for the starting center role. We’ll see about that, but either way, the frontcourt formed between Bryant, Jones, and Davis predicts to be much, much better than the one the Lakers had last season.
I’m giving the Bryant signing a “B+” for its potential. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some serious drawbacks that could turn this signing into something more resembling a “C” or even “D” acquisition. That range of possibilities comes from the ACL tear he suffered in January 2021.
Bryant adds the most value with his perimeter shooting that’s above average for a center, as he made 41.8% of his 2.1 3-point attempts per game across his 2019-20 and shortened 2020-21 seasons. However, he was not able to re-gain the positive impact of that part of his game in his 27 games played this past season, with that percentage plummetting to 28.6%. That drop is the main reason the Lakers were able to acquire him with the veterans minimum.
With the value of that contract, the Lakers don’t have much of a risk in acquiring him with an extremely high upside if he is able to return to the shooting numbers he had prior to his injury. If he does, he would easily be the best stretch big the Lakers have had alongside Davis in his time with the team while Bryant also brings exception rim defense, finishing, transition play, and rebounding in what could end up being the Lakers’ best signing in a while if that upside is fully realized.
Damian Jones: B+
The Lakers started off free agency by bringing back a somewhat familiar face. I say somewhat as he really only played through one 10-day contract with the Lakers before the team decided they didn’t really want him anymore. That face is the one belonging to Damian Jones, who signs a two-year, veteran minimum deal (with a player option in the second year) after spending the last year and a half with the Sacramento Kings.
The 27-year-old has improved since he put on the purple-and-gold; however, the things he’s improved in are the same things he was doing pretty well while in L.A. He has a great motor as a roll man, something that will make him a far better fit alongside Westbrook than the likes of the slow-footed DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard even if those two share similar player profiles as Jones in terms of having a lack of 3-point shooting.
He’s a great finisher at the rim while also being a great protector there at 6’11”, allowing lineups with Davis on the bench to still have a formidable back line of the defense. When compared to the rest of the league, Jones was in the 80th percentile in terms of D-LEBRON (B-Ball Index’s all-encompassing advanced defensive metric).
I would have probably given this signing an “A”… if it wasn’t for his overall fit with the current members of the roster as well as the names below…
Lonnie Walker IV: D+
I really don’t want to be a massive hater towards a 23-year-old player who still has plenty of time to change and improve his game but… well… I guess I’m still going to do it.
To start off, my very low grade is probably more reflective of the contract given to him than what he is as a player. The Lakers reportedly extended their mid-level exception to Walker, the highest-valued salary they could have extended to any free agent out there (Walker was reportedly given a one-year deal through this exception).
The fit on this current roster is pretty horrendous when you dive into it. For one, the main role that he’s filled for the Spurs in his young career is that of a secondary ball-handler (according to B-Ball Index). Just as the Lakers did last year, that creates a logjam at the guard position when Talen Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn fulfill this same exact role behind Westbrook.
For the other reasons that I don’t like this signing, I’ll just let B-Ball Index founder Tim tell you the rest:
Lonnie Walker was one of the NBA's worst defensive SGs last season, all in a Low Activity defensive role guarding nobody.@The_BBall_Index metric grades among 1K+ minute SGs this past year:
On-Ball D: F
Ball Screen Navigation: F
Off-Ball Chaser D: C+
Help Defensive Activity: D- pic.twitter.com/DBAGwnjLTX
— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) July 1, 2022
hahahaha jfc Lakers pic.twitter.com/2mdkhmLxzn
— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) June 30, 2022
So yeah… he doesn’t fulfill either side of the classic “3-and-D” prototype of player that the Lakers need.
Now, of course, I should note some external factors out of the Lakers control that may have led to this signing. Maybe this was truly the best option left at the Lakers’ disposal. ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reported that the team did offer Malik Monk the TMLE to return to the team, with the former Kentucky Wildcat turning that down for a deal worth more with the Kings with an added bonus of playing with his former college teammate in De’Aaron Fox. Other potential candidates for the TMLE that we noted (Gary Harris and Mo Bamba amongst others) accepted much more money at different destinations.
But still, instead of signing a true project of development at the TMLE, you would have hoped the Lakers would have found either decent 3-point shooting or defense from their signing. Instead — despite the potential he has as an explosive athlete with a long wingspan — they get a guy who is pretty bad on both ends of the court.
Troy Brown Jr.: B-
Brown comes to the Lakers on a veteran minimum deal after playing the last two seasons with the Chicago Bulls. Brown played 66 games for the Bulls in the regular season, averaging 16 minutes per game. He only played during their first-round series against the Bucks when the team was down big.
I like this signing for a few reasons. For one, Brown is one of the bigger signings of this group aside from Jones at 6’6” with a 6’11” wingspan. That build allowed him to be in the upper half of the NBA in terms of D-LEBRON, with that ranking being aided by his on-ball defense that was ranked in the 82nd percentile by B-Ball Index.
In general, he’s a hard-worker, someone who’s going to crash the glass and fight for rebounds. Try and name some guys from last year’s Lakers team that do that. Yeah, there weren’t many!
Now, from an offensive side, he doesn’t bring much. Luckily, the Lakers should have enough help on that end with LeBron, Davis, Russ, THT, Nunn, and others if they stay healthy. Sadly, his 3-point shooting isn’t too noteworthy as he made 35.3% of his two attempts per game last season. However, it should be noted that this was a career-high for him across his four seasons played while B-Ball Index shows only 13% of those attempts were open. He should be able to get more open 3-point attempts alongside LeBron James.
Juan Toscano-Anderson: C-
I’m not going to ramble on too much about JTA. But I do want to issue some caution to fans excited about this veteran minimum signing just because he’s coming from the championship-winning Golden State Warriors. He only received garbage-time minutes in these most recent 2022 NBA Playoffs, and for good reason.
He’s an alright on-ball defender with “meh” off-ball defense. He’s not really bringing the rebounding effort I listed above for Brown, although he does bring a level of passing and playmaking that Brown definitely doesn’t bring.
Other than that, his offensive game is pretty bad. Don’t expect the Lakers to have stolen another Jordan Poole from the Warriors, as JTA was in the 5th percentile of finishing at the rim while in the 54th percentile of perimeter shooting. I don’t have the same caveat to extend to JTA as I did Brown, as he came into that average percentile of perimeter shooting with 72% of his 3-point attempts being open.
Luckily, JTA should be more of an end-of-the-bench role than anything.
After the four signings above, the Lakers have two open roster spots remaining to fill with veteran minimum contracts (three if you exclude the drafted Max Christie from the 15-man roster). The Lakers desperately need to address shooting with those remaining roster spots as the four above players are far from being impactful in that area. Now, it should be noted that a Russell Westbrook-Kyrie Irving trade still looms over the Lakers and Nets. That trade may involve players like Talen Horton-Tucker and Joe Harris as well, and if that happened, that makes the lack of shooting of the above players much easier to stomach. I’d probably move each players’ letter grade up a notch or two if that trade were to be completed.
But for now, these are the grades that I believe to be acceptable given the market as well as the Lakers’ needs.
We’ll continue to update this as the Lakers make more moves in the offseason.