Luke Walton, Next Man Up

New Faces: Brandon Ingram (R), Ivica Zubic (R), Yi Jianlian, Timofey Mozgov, Luol Deng, Jose Calderon

2015-16 Regular Season Record: 17-65

2015-16 Regular Season Achievements: 6th: Free Throws Made. 8th: Free Throw Attempts.

Leading Scorer: Kobe Bryant, 17.6

Leading Rebounder: Julius Randle, 10.2

The first year following a two decade Kobe Bryant dominance is naturally going to have a lot of hits and misses with young players and a first time head coach with the interim label removed. What makes this Lakers team a feast or famine group is that they have the very young thrown into the mix with the NBA old.

There is D’Angelo Russell and Jose Calderon. Brandon Ingram and Loul Deng. Larry Nance Jr. and Timofey Mozgov.

The youngest of the Lakers- Ingram, Russell, Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle- have to go through the ups and downs of learning how to play in the league as an unselfish group with a new offense. There will be flashes of extraordinary moments and exciting plays, and there will be learning moments on the big stage.

But how will Luke Walton integrate the veterans who are used to being on playoff teams? Walton says everyone has to earn their minutes, that it is an open competition. But how frustrated will he get when his young stars make mistakes? Does he leave them in or bring in the more experienced subs? It’s a question about patience. Walton has never been in this position before, a team with inexperienced talent but also a team with age and pieces that do and do not fit.

D’Angelo Russell has been given the keys to the franchise and will be the starting point guard. The good news is Russell has spent all summer working on his body and game. It was clear in summer league that he has dedicated himself to rewriting his narrative. His first year ended with Russell’s character being challenged and some suggested trading him. But Russell is an A-level scoring talent. His passing acumen which was hyped pre-draft had stretches of invisibility in 2015-16 but what he can do with the ball in the post and on the perimeter is drain shots. He is a combo guard with a scorers ego. His I’m here to make you better organizational game ala Chris Paul comes and goes.

Helping Russell in the backcourt, Jordan Clarkson, who was on the All-Rookie team in 2014 and was the second leading scorer last year, is looking to increase his efficiency from three. Clarkson is quick to the rim athletic but makes key mistakes in late game situations.

Last season Lou Williams, who was reigning Sixth Man of the Year, was a perfect compliment for Russell. Williams is vocal. One of his best moments last year was telling his young teammates it was okay to grow up. Williams is a leader of the guards and someone who can fill in the gaps when Russell invariably falters but the negative part of Williams game is he is not going to pass the ball much.

The Lakers signing of Timofey Mozgov touched a nerve. Both the anti-Lakers crowd and the love-Lakers crowd asked the same thing: why?

The young Lakers with Walton are expected to engender spacing, ball movement and activity. Mozgov is old and slow, a traditional center. He’s better than Hibbert but just barely. He was demoted by the Cavs because he wasn’t effective in a quick paced passing offense.

Ivica Zubic is  a perfect reason to forget Mozgov’s existence on the team. Zubic has soft hands and can score right or left. He’s a nice rebounder but he still is  a rookie. Can he handle NBA explosiveness and skill on a nightly basis?

Lakers fans are passionate and are not afraid of calling players out on social media, on talk radio and when they see them at the gas station. They care so much. The scrutiny can be unbearable if you just want to play basketball and live a private life. It is something that Brandon Ingram will have to get used to.  Privacy and the Lakers are an oxymoron. There is no downtime, no day off, no escape.

Julius Randle had a monster year in 2015-16 rebounding the ball. A double-double career seems his for the taking. But his offense was a work in progress and what he needed to improve on was scoring by way of mid-range shots. The Lakers love Randle and repeatedly refused to part with him in order to acquire DeMarcus Cousins.

Nick Young is the odd man out on this team, an even worse fit than Mozgov. Young can no longer score, won’t defend, misses Mike D’Antoni, is moody when the losses pile up (and he doesn’t play) and he eats up the salary cap. He is untradeable so the stretch provision may be the Lakers only hope of divesting Young from the Lakers promising core.

Last year, Scott looked upon three-point offenses as a gimmick, but Luke Walton will enable perimeter shooting. Defense, though, is the elephant in the room. The Lakers were an awful defensive team last year, and their host of  young players don’t seem poised to make a breakthrough. A glimmer of hope on defense is veteran Loul Deng who is the best stop the ball defender on the Lakers. He’s a hard nosed competitor. But subbing defense for offense hurts the growth of Brandon Ingram. What is Luke Walton willing to give up?

Three members of the Lakers can give them 20 points on any given night. (D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams). Russell can dominate his position in the post. Clarkson is a high quality pull up scorer. Lou Williams is a game changer.

Easy baskets should be a staple for the Lakers in Walton’s unselfish passing offense. But, can anyone stop drivers? The Lakers lack an athletic perimeter defender though Clarkson has a lot of potential. He has length and very quick hands but he’s still in the learning stage. Last year, his defense was apathetic.

It will be an exciting year as far as the Lakers youth movement is concerned, a lot of fast breaks and dunks. The Lakers will score. Brandon Ingram will have a lot of eclectic moments and a lot of rookie moments.

The Lakers are better this season but far from a playoff team. Their talent upgrade is significant and will be greedily welcomed. Brandon Ingram may be Rookie of the Year. But defensively, the Lakers still have a long way to go.

Prediction: 31-51

photo via llananba