Here's the next installment of our team-by-team season preview series on the Los Angeles Lakers.
2014-15 Record: 21-61
Notable Acquisitions: D’Angelo Russell (Trade), Lou Williams (FA), Larry Nance Jr. (Draft), Roy Hibbert (Trade), Brandon Bass (FA), Marcelo Huertas (FA),
Notable Departures: Jeremy Lin, Ed Davis
Coming off one of the worst seasons in the history of the franchise, a proud Los Angeles franchise is looking to bounce back quickly. Without losing anyone of significance, the Lakers reloaded with a few dependable vets to go along with lottery pick D’Angelo Russell. Add that to the return from injury of Kobe Bryant and last year’s lottery pick, Julius Randle, and there’s reasons for hope with the Lakers.
Inside the Playbook:
With so many big man in their rotation not capable of stretching the defense to the 3-point line, the Lakers will have to be very clever in their halfcourt offense. Misdirection sets with ways of hiding two non-shooting bigs will have to be the norm, not the exception.
So far, it looks like head coach Byron Scott has at least one nifty play in his repertoire entering this season.
It’s set includes classic ‘screen-the-screener’ action -- where Huertas, in this case, sets a cross screen for one big man (Brandon Bass) before shooting up the middle of the floor off a down screen from the team’s second big (Tarik Black). After catching at the top, Huertas simply reads an over help by Mason Plumlee and fires a pass to Black for the layup.
That screening action really isn’t even the initial look of the play. The set can actually be designed for just a simple post up -- getting Bass a catch on the block off the Huertas screen -- but has options for more. One of those reads is coming back into pick-and-roll off the down screen for the guard (Huertas, again, in this case).
These type of plays, where that will get the Lakers bigs involved by posting, screening or flashing to the elbow are exactly what Scott will need to rely on to get the most out of his personnel this season.
Lineup to Watch:
The Roy Hibbert-Julius Randle Frontcourt
From the looks of it, this will be the Lakers' top frontcourt pairing entering the season. On the surface, this duo could be somewhat similar to the Hibbert-David West pairing Indiana rode to great success over the past few seasons.
But in terms of the modern NBA look, both these types of players are sort being phased out. Whereas Hibbert was perhaps one of the most undervalued bigs in the game just a few years ago, his defense only schtick versus smaller, more mobile teams has become harder to mask.
Randle will deal with some of the same issues that Houston Rockets power forward Terrence Jones has faced. Like Jones, Randle, who is an absolute beast from a physical standpoint, has an almost unnatural ability to handle and penetrate for someone his size. Yet if the early signs of a shaky outside jumper and limited playmaking ability haven’t improved with his time off from the injury, Randle may still be a relatively inefficient offensive player.
Combine him with Hibbert then for long stretches and it will be interesting to see how productive this pairing can be. And if Scott plays them for heavy minutes despite middling production, it could be lead to a very disappointing Lakers season.
For those of you who haven’t heard of Huertas before this season, you are in for a treat. He’s spent the past few seasons with powerhouse FC Barcelona in the Spanish while anchoring the Brazilian national team for nearly a decade. Long one of the best talents not playing in the NBA, Huertas, now 32 years old, has finally come to ply his trade at the best level of the game.
If his early play in the preseason -- 14 assists in 31 minutes -- is an indicator of his potential impact, Huertas is will be the same playmaking force in the NBA that he was in Europe. For this Lakers team in particular, that could be a huge boost.
While Russell had some highlight reel passes at Ohio State, both he and Jordan Clarkson are more naturally inclined to score rather than pass. The same goes for veteran Lou Williams. In other words, L.A. is in dire need of a playmaker in their backcourt. So if Huertas can fill that role, even just for shorter stretches, it could elevate the Lakers ceiling as a team.
What will be the focus behind Byron Scott’s rotation management?
It’s hard to tell which direction this Lakers' franchise is actually going. With most franchises, a collection of talent prospects like Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr, Russell and Randle (and even Black) would signal the start of a (slow developing) youth movement. But by bringing in players like Bass, Williams and Hibbert -- not to mentioning the returning Bryant -- also means there will be a push to be competitive now.
That means there is essentially two competing agendas in L.A. On one hand, Scott can choose to squeak out as many wins as possible by relying on veterans with little upside -- playing Bass, Williams and even Huertas big minutes because they are more reliable right now. Bass in particular could steal valuable developmental minutes from players like Nance and Black.
The long term play would be to simply pile up the minutes for all the young guys, letting them learn on the fly, potentially costing wins in the process. This latter scenario is certainly something that would not sit well with Bryant, the franchise icon with little time left in the game, but there’s no doubt that it would be best for the future of team. Because of this dilemma, the onus will be on Scott to manage egos and agendas carefully, hopefully finding a middle ground between the two as the season unfolds.
Best Case Scenario:
Scott can find a productive frontcourt pairing to lean on for heavy minutes. Clarkson and/or Russell develop into more than just volume scorers. Huertas provides the team with a real playmaking point guard who moves the ball….and Scott actually plays him.
Worst Case Scenario:
Bryant comes back and chases his own offense instead of ceding the spotlight to younger, more efficient players (or team play). Hibbert proves to be a net negative whose defensive value can longer carry his offensive limitations. The team fails to find a reliable facilitator in the backcourt.