The 2016-17 NBA season has ended for the Los Angeles Lakers, as the team did not make the playoffs and thus, has started their long offseason in mid-April. With the lottery, the draft, free agency, possible trades, and summer league play, there will be plenty of news for die-hard Lakers fans to look forward to in the coming months.
Before moving ahead, it is worth taking one last look in the rear-view mirror and recognizing the Laker players who were the best on this year’s team in the most important categories.
Ironman Award: Jordan Clarkson
In an era where players are routinely rested or sit out with minor ailments, there is something to be said for anyone who fights through the fatigue and the injuries to play in all 82 games, which is what Clarkson did this year (after playing, and starting, in 79 games last year).
Clarkson has shown remarkable durability in his three-year career, and you can always count on him to play with maximum effort and energy whenever he is on the floor.
Best Shooter: Nick Young
Although his season was cut short when the team decided to focus on the younger players down the stretch, Young shot 40.3 % from three-point range, tops on the team by far. He also led the squad by shooting 85.6 percent from the free throw line. The Lakers were not a great outside shooting team, but once Lou Williams was traded mid-year, Young was the natural choice to win this award.
Best Defender: Larry Nance, Jr.
Nance is a solid defender whether he is guarding an opponent one-on-one or switching to help his teammates, and when forced to play center, he generally held his own against much bigger opponents.
If the team needed a key steal or blocked shot, it was more likely to come from Nance than anyone else on the roster. On a team that ranked at or near the bottom of most statistical categories for their defense, Nance and David Nwaba, who joined the team late in the season, were the only two bright spots.
Best Rebounder: Julius Randle
Randle averaged 8.6 rebounds this season, down from 10.2 rebounds the year before which is a fairly significant drop. Still, he had some monster rebounding games the past few months including two 20 rebound games. Larry Nance, Jr. came on strong in the rebounding department post All-Star break but for the year, Randle was still tops on the Lakers.
Best Single Game Performance: D’Angelo Russell
Russell had his ups and downs this year, but in a big game on March 19, 2017 against the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers, he excelled with a career high 40 points to go along with six assists. He was 14-22 from the field and made seven three pointers. Russell became the youngest play in Lakers’ history to score 40 points in a game.
Most Improved Player: Tarik Black
Brandon Ingram showed the most improvement from the beginning of the season to the end, but if the comparison is from one season to the next, the award should go to Black. He was in Byron Scott’s doghouse and essentially did not play last year, but Luke Walton showed confidence in him and Black responded with a solid all-around season.
He is a leader who is articulate and a good teammate, and he plays with energy when given the chance. Whether that will be enough for him to make the team in the fall is unclear, but for this past season Black deserves recognition.
Player Who Exhibited the Most Star Quality: Brandon Ingram
He may not have met the normal expectations for a number two selection in the draft, but the rail thin Ingram played in 79 games this season, second highest on the team, and showed great potential in all facets of the game.
He passes, defends, rebounds, and scores. While his shooting touch was off most of the season, he looked like a different player after the All-Star break. Combining physical talent with a high Basketball IQ, if the Lakers have a future star on their roster, it is most likely going to be Ingram.
Player Most Deserving of More Playing Time: Thomas Robinson
Robinson went from not playing at all, to playing on a consistent basis, to not playing at all, and back again to playing a lot. He may lack skill and finesse, but he makes up for it with energy, toughness and hustle which were qualities in short supply for the Lakers this season.
Whenever he played, he was consistently productive and the team seemed to take on a new and more aggressive persona when he was on the floor.
Biggest Surprise of the Season: Ivica Zubac
When he was drafted no one had ever heard of him. He looked good in Summer League and caught everyone’s attention, but Mitch Kupchak took the wind out of his sails by proclaiming that he didn’t expect Zubac to play this season.
When the team went south, however, he got a chance to continue what he started over the summer and now is viewed as a valuable member of the young core. He needs to improve on defense, but when he does, he may emerge as the Lakers center for many years to come.
Most Valuable Player: Jordan Clarkson
He may not be the best player on the team, but for the third year in a row he was the most valuable player. Russell and Nance suited up for only 63 games apiece and Randle played in 74, but while Clarkson was banged up, too, he kept playing.
He was the one constant, always attacking opponents with energy and effort. For the season, he played more minutes, scored more points (by far), and had more steals than any of his teammates. There is never any drama around Clarkson – after he lost his position with the first unit he did not sulk, he just kept doing whatever was asked of him.
For the past three years, the Lakers have been terrible on the court and in the front office, and through it all, Clarkson has been the most consistent bright light for the organization.