At this point of the 2015-16 NBA season, all fans of the Los Angeles Lakers have to look forward to is the possibility of a vintage Kobe Bryant performance, and the development of the team’s young core.
Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and Larry Nance Jr. represent the future of the Lakers and all four players have had moments where they look like big-time players. Of course, since they are all in their first or second seasons, there have also been plenty of head scratching moments as well.
Wins have been hard to come by this year, but the rough times are easier to deal with if these young guys are showing improvement. Their development will also play a role in free agency where the Lakers are expected to be extremely aggressive. These young players showing they can be potential superstars could be the difference in landing an impact player.
No one knows exactly what each of these players will ultimately turn out to be in this league, but we can judge who has shown the most so far. So, we asked our panel of experts which young player they believe is having the best season so far. This is what they had to say:
Corey Hansford (@TheeCoreyH): Not only has Jordan Clarkson had the best season of any of the young core, but it can be argued that he has been the most consistent Laker period this season.
There were plenty of questions coming into the season about whether Clarkson could continue to produce when he wasn’t the lone offensive option and he has put those to rest. He has improved as an outside shooter and his speed and athleticism allow him to attack the paint where he is able to finish with a variety of layups, dunks, and floaters.
Clarkson is third on the team in scoring, and the only rotation players shooting better than Clarkson’s 44 percent from the field are low usage players Larry Nance Jr. and Brandon Bass. Clarkson also takes on the task of guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter player most nights and though he still needs work on that end, he competes hard and is always willing to take on the challenge.
You could say that Russell and Randle still have a higher ceiling than Clarkson, and you’d probably be right, but there is something to be said for a player like Clarkson to jump from unknown second-rounder to the most consistent player night after night.
Alan Huerta (@Alan_Huerta24): Heading into this season, the top priority (in my opinion) was always player development over the team’s overall record. With that said, although Jordan Clarkson has by far been the most consistent player of the young core, to me, Larry Nance, Jr. has had the best season just from an expectations standpoint.
When the team drafted him, let’s be honest, no one really expected him to do much in his first season, except maybe see an occasional acrobatic dunk in garbage time. Yet, not only has he became a fan favorite due to his high-flying ability, but he’s won himself over with head coach Byron Scott due to his endless energy that’s earned him the starting gig over Julius Randle.
Randle’s been a double-double machine and may be the better overall player, but Nance’s maturity, likely due to being a four-year college player, and capability to impact the game without the ball has been one of the more exciting things to watch as the Lakers continue to search for answers in their current rebuilding process.
Although he’s only averaging 5.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, Nance’s dynamic brings a lot to the floor that isn’t necessarily seen on the stat sheet. From hustle plays, altering shots on the defensive end, and of course, the vicious dunks thanks to his athleticism, Scott knows what to expect from the Wyoming product on a nightly basis.
It may still be early in his career, but Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak might have found one of the biggest “steals” of the 2015 draft class in the 23-year-old forward out of Akron, Ohio.
Nathaniel Lastrapes (@NathanielP2): Jordan Clarkson has been the most consistent player for the Lakers and, by those standards, is having the best season so far.
One thing in Clarkson’s favor is that his role and minutes have not fluctuated much compared to the other three players. I love Clarkson’s hustle and scoring ability, but I am not yet sold that he has what it takes to be a perennial All-Star someday. There are plenty of aspects of his game that need to improve and I worry that he will reach his ceiling faster than the rest of the young core.
Julius Randle has been the most productive player when he gets the opportunity to get on the floor. He is nearly averaging a double-double this season, but he still did not earn the nod to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star Weekend. Randle has been a beast in the paint all year, but he is struggling to find different ways to score and he does not score efficiently in the paint.
Larry Nance Jr. has been a surprisingly solid role player this season who shows promise to be a rotation player for the future, but he is not having a better season than any of the young core. D’Angelo Russell continues to show promise for being the future leader of the team, but his inconsistent play and constant disagreements with Byron Scott have limited his production this season.
All of the players in the young core have made Lakers fans optimistic for the future, but Jordan Clarkson’s consistent play in just his sophomore season gives him the nod for the best young player on the team so far this season.
Jabari Davis (@JabariDavisNBA): Contrary to how it may appear to those from the outside, the young players have each ranged from exciting to promising at some point throughout the season.
D’Angelo Russell probably came in with the most hype due to his draft position and some of the pre-season hype, but appears to have managed to endure the bulk of what is inevitable scrutiny and criticism at this point. While just seventh in MPG (27.0) amongst his rookie class, Russell is fourth in scoring (12.1 PPG), third in assists (3.3), and third in steals (1.12) at this stage.
Julius Randle may have spent a considerable amount of time coming off the bench, but he’s essentially giving you a nightly double-double (11.0 PPG, 9.7 RPG) and leading the team on the backboards in 27.1 minutes per contest. He’s tied with Golden State’s Draymond Green for 19th in the league with a team-high 19 double-doubles, and would actually rank second amongst first-year players (Karl- Anthony Towns has 27, to date) if he were able to qualify as a rookie.
Jordan Clarkson has been the most consistent of the group, but that makes sense when you consider he has the benefit of working on his second year of actual playing time. He’s already shown an ability to make plays and create off the dribble and has clearly improved as a shooter from deep and the mid-range. The next challenge for Clarkson will be in finding more of a balance to his game as a scorer AND playmaker, and becoming a more consistent and persistent defender on the other end. Essentially, the same battle many young scorers face: find the same pride in shutting your man down as you do in scoring on him.
Larry Nance Jr. was initially seen as someone with a good motor that could potentially work himself into a rotation piece, but actually managed to work himself into the starting lineup prior to his recent knee issues. Anthony Brown has even shown signs of being capable of filling a “3-and-D” role at some point.
All-in-all, while the record may be abysmal and it’s never fun to set the franchise’s record for futility in three consecutive seasons -as it certainly appears this squad is on the verge of doing- it is apparent the front office has at least done a good job of evaluating and drafting talent over the past few years.
Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane): It’s surprising how difficult this question is given the fact the D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle were both lottery picks while Nance and Clarkson were snagged much later in the draft. That’s not a knock on Russell or Randle though; rather it’s an indicator of how successful the Lakers have been at identifying and acquiring talent with late picks.
A solid argument can be made for any of the four, but I’m going to cast my vote for Julius Randle. He hasn’t been as consistent as Clarkson or Nance, nor has his game grown as much as Russell’s has. However, Randle has something that the other three don’t: elite-level physical gifts.
Don’t get me wrong, Nance has springs in his legs and Clarkson is lightning-quick, but Randle’s combination of size, strength, and speed is rarely seen in the NBA. He has plenty of weaknesses to work on (a jump shot and finishing with his right hand stand out), but when he is playing with confidence and attacking Randle can make jaws drop.
He is already a fantastic rebounder, but it’s the flashes of a ferocious face up game and intuitive passing that truly excite. Randle has had an up and down season, and his confidence took a hit when Coach Byron Scott relegated him to the bench, but the tools that he possesses are so unique that it’s difficult to not be excited about his future in purple and gold.
Maximo Gonzales (@MaximoBGonzales): Despite the rough season up to this point, Lakers fans are optimistic about their promising young mix of talent. Although each player has certainly seen their ups and downs throughout the season, they certainly proved that they all bring something special to the table.
When picking to see which has had the best season so far, the first name that came to my mind was Jordan Clarkson because of his consistency. But I find myself more intrigued by the season Julius Randle has had thus far.
After being benched by Byron Scott and going through a rough dry spell on offense earlier this year, he’s still managed to put up solid numbers which I think is a testament to his maturity as a young player.
Randle doesn’t usually get as many chances at the basket on offense as the guards Clarkson and Russell do. But he’s been able to make the most out of his touches, averaging nearly a double-double per game with 11 points and nine rebounds. Speaking of double-doubles, he is currently top-20 in the league in that category with 19. The only other first or second-year player on that list is Karl-Anthony Towns.
I don’t mean to undermine the importance of having quality guards, but it seems that championship teams only go so far as a quality big man takes them. Randle has certainly shown that he has what it takes to become just that.