The New Breed
Coach Byron Scott opted to essentially use the 2014-15 season as a talent search, plugging in D-League call-ups like Vander Blue and Dwight Buycks to fill in for the growing list of Lakers spending their season in a suit. He also took liberties with the rotation, frequently changing lineups and roles to see what would stick. The strategy wasn’t very kind to the team’s record, but Scott was able to identify a few potential keepers like Jabari Brown and Tarik Black, both of whom hope to be key pieces of the revamped Lakers.
Most importantly, injuries to impact players like Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Nick Young forced Scott’s hand in freeing rookie Jordan Clarkson, and the results were spectacular. Scott had limited Clarkson’s play early on in the season, allowing the 46th overall pick time to slow down and learn the NBA game. Clarkson was finally unleashed in a January tilt against his hometown San Antonio Spurs, and his meteoric rise gave Lakers fans reason to tune in to the the merciful end of an otherwise dreadful season.
This coming season, Clarkson will look to solidify himself as a force in the league. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has publicly pondered whether Clarkson was simply putting up numbers on a bad team, and all indications are that he will have every opportunity to prove Kupchak wrong. Thanks to his status as a second-round pick, Clarkson will be a restricted free agent next summer and with that being the case, he will have millions of reasons to put together a special season.
With sneaky athletcism, versatility to play either guard position, and a solid mid-range game, Clarkson appears destined to become a Monta Ellis-style scorer, and if he can hit that level then the Lakers will have found a true gem in the second round.
Of course, the Lakers youth movement doesn’t end with the slithery Clarkson. The team’s futility last season had the silver lining of netting the second overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, which the team used to select Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell. While some were shocked that the Lakers didn’t select sure-fire big man Jahlil Okafor, it’s Russell who appears to have the highest ceiling and greatest probability of becoming a superstar. With James Harden and Stephen Curry dueling over last season’s MVP award, it’s tough not to see the potential for Russell to become something of a hybrid of both.
Russell’s passes are sure to elicit oohs and ahs from the Staples Center crowd, and the hope is that his ability to get easy baskets for teammates will help draw free agents back to Tinsel Town.
While Clarkson and Russell will be driving and dishing on the perimeter, Julius Randle will make a long-awaited return from the broken leg that he suffered last season. His unique combination of size, strength, and quickness along with impressive ball handling skills makes him an ideal example of the modern “playmaking four”.
Randle spent much of the summer working out with legendary defender Metta World Peace, who has made his comeback with the team that he won a championship with in 2010. World Peace has the strength to hold his ground against Randle and can force him to add new tricks to his arsenal, which will serve to speed up his development. The physicality of their contests has become “almost comical” according to Kupchak, which is music to the ears of Lakers fans hoping that Randle can ultimately become the mixture of brute force and skill that the team has lacked for so long.
Randle was arguably the Lakers best player during the preseason, and there is a lot to like about his physical and versatile game. Kobe Bryant famously called him “Lamar Odom in Zach Randolph’s body,” and plays like this make it an apt comparison.
Ok Julius, we see you https://t.co/rFDUt9TxYp
— Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane) October 9, 2015
Clarkson, Russell, and Randle certainly hold the keys to the future, but the Lakers haven’t stopped the youth movement there. Young role players Anthony Brown and Larry Nance Jr. (who killed Festus Ezeli in preseason) have been brought on board to make sure that the team has plenty of complimentary young talent ready to grow alongside the young “big three.” When added to holdovers Tarik Black and Ryan Kelly, the Lakers have a platoon of future supporting players for Byron Scott to develop. The youth movement is definitely in full swing in Hollywood.
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