The 2015-2016 season was certainly a difficult one for the Los Angeles Lakers. Tasked with simultaneously developing the next generation and still giving Kobe Bryant the proper send-off, the team ended up winning a franchise-worst 17 games.
Now, they wait until May 17th, when the basketball gods will decide whether or not they will hang on to their top-three protected draft pick. In the meantime, the club has plenty of work to do. General manager Mitch Kupchak and the front office staff must put together a game plan for the offseason, which necessitates an evaluation of what went right (a little) and what went wrong (a lot).
Accordingly, we will take an in-depth look at each player on the Lakers’ roster this season and assign them a letter grade. School is out for summer, and report cards are coming home. Let’s see which players have to beat their parents to the mailbox.
*Note- Grades are based on what realistic expectations were for the player at the start of the season.
Contract Status: Player Option for $3 million next season
Last summer the Lakers missed out on the marquee big men when LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, Greg Monroe, and Robin Lopez opted to play elsewhere. Undaunted, the club swung a deal for Roy Hibbert, and then signed Brandon Bass as a free agent to shore up the front line.
To bring Bass to the beach, Kupchak used a strategy that had worked during the past two summers: offer a 2-year deal at below market value, but give the player an option in the second year. We saw Nick Young accept such a deal in 2013 and Ed Davis in 2014. After a big season both opted out and cashed in for a serious pay raise, and Bass saw an opportunity to do the same.
Knowing what was at stake, Bass turned in an impressive 2015-2016 season, including a career-high PER of 17.38. He showed he has the versatility to play either power forward or center, giving the Lakers an athletic presence down low and his bouncy, hard-nosed style would fit in seamlessly on just about any team in the league. At 30 (soon to be 31) years old he was able to play a mentor role to some of the young Lakers off the court while still producing at a high level on it.
Bass’ bouncy, hard-nosed style and ability to adapt will allow him to fit in seamlessly with just about any team in the league. He is also a solid presence in the locker room, and at 30 (soon to be 31) years old he was able to play a mentor role to some of the young Lakers off the court while still producing at a high level on it.
Unfortunately, Bass has already decided to opt out of his deal with the Lakers. Given his age, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him leave Los Angeles after just one season and latch on with a contender. While his stay may be short, Bass lived up to everything the Lakers hoped he would be and then some.
Contract Status: Restricted Free Agent if Lakers tender a qualifying offer.
The Lakers were able to swipe Tarik Black off of waivers in the middle of the 2014-2015 season after the Houston Rockets waived him in order to make room for Josh Smith. Black, an undrafted rookie out of Kansas, received a solid amount of playing time for the struggling Lakers and looked to have the inside track to become the team’s backup big man of the future.
Much to the dismay of Lakers fans, Black fell out of the rotation this year and wound up spending much of the season either glued to the bench or in the D-League. It certainly wasn’t the encore performance that many were hoping for from the intriguing big man.
Black’s per-minute scoring numbers did slip a bit this season, but his rebound, steals, and blocks were up, indicating that he listened to coach Byron Scott’s demand for him to focus on the defensive end of the court.
When Black did see the floor his potential future with the team is clear: he sets solid screens, rolls hard to the basket, and is athletic enough to finish with authority at the rim. On a squad that features pick-and-roll guards like D’Angelo Russell, Marcelo Huertas, and Jordan Clarkson bigs with Black’s skill set aren’t a luxury, they are a necessity.
Unfortunately, Black is generously listed at 6’9”, making him a tad undersized as a center. He doesn’t possess the outside shooting necessary to player power forward, which means that (for now) he’s going to have to find a way to overcome his height issues.
Still, he has hopefully proven enough for the front office to bring him back next season, though his status as a restricted free agent (assuming the team tenders him a qualifying offer) could make things dicey if he receives a substantial offer elsewhere.
Contract Status: Free Agent
Lakers fans celebrated when GM Mitch Kupchak landed Roy Hibbert last summer in a trade with the Indiana Pacers. The prevailing belief was that the club had finally secured the rim protector that they sorely needed. Today, that enthusiasm has waned considerably.
Today, after a full season of watching Hibbert’s work, that enthusiasm has waned considerably.
Though he was, by all accounts, a solid presence in the locker room, Hibbert’s performance on the court left much to be desired. The two-time All-Star played the lowest average number of minutes (23.2) since his rookie year, and his rebounds and points dropped to just 4.9 and 5.9 per game, respectively.
At 7’2″ most would expect Roy to be a monster on the boards, but it just doesn’t seem to be his nature. Furthermore, opposing teams torched Hibbert whenever they went small, as his plodding ways made it impossible for him to challenge shooters on the outside.
Apparently, none of the well-chronicled shortcomings that lead to his ouster in Pawnee were solved by the change of scenery. Even worse, Hibbert’s rim protection also regressed, which was the one elite-level skill that he still possessed.
The Lakers couldn’t find a taker for his nearly $16 million expiring contract at the trade deadline, and it seems likely that this will be his lone season in Los Angeles. Hibbert will get picked up somewhere next year as a backup, but his days as a starting center appear to be over.
Contract Status: Free Agent
The Lakers drafted Ryan Kelly in the second round of the 2013 NBA Draft out of Duke, planning on making him the quintessential stretch four in then-Coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense. After a promising rookie year the Lakers locked up Kelly on a two-year deal, but unfortunately, he became a square peg in a round hole when D’Antoni was replaced with the old-school Byron Scott.
That’s not to say that Kelly isn’t talented because he certainly is. He tears up the D-League whenever he is sent down, but his lack of athleticism hurts him when he’s faced with NBA-caliber opponents. While his playing time was inconsistent, Kelly also didn’t do himself any favors by shooting an unfathomable 14 percent from three for the season.
A stretch four who can’t hit the outside shot won’t have many suitors in the league, but Kelly does have the talent to forge a solid career overseas if no one stateside takes a chance on him next season.
Larry Nance Jr.
Contract Status: Rookie salary scale, three years left under contract, team option in year two and three. Restricted free agent in 2019 if the Lakers tender a qualifying offer.
When the Lakers were on the clock for the 27th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft and names like R.J. Hunter, Kevon Looney, and Montrezl Harrell were still on the board fans were elated. That elation dissipated quickly when it was announced that the Lakers had chosen Larry Nance Jr., a player who many draft experts had projected to land near the end of the second round or fall out of the draft completely.
Rumors quickly surfaced that Nance had wowed teams in workouts, and once fans got a glimpse of his dunking ability they were on board. Kupchak had found another gem, and this one can jump.
For the season, Nance was something of an anti-Julius Randle: he possesses a jumper but is passive to a fault and struggles to rebound the ball. In spite of these deficiencies, Nance spent part of the season as a starter thanks to his quick feet and tenacity, which allows him to switch onto perimeter players and clog passing lanes. Coach Scott was so intrigued by Nance’s agility that he even gave him some minutes as a small forward, although clearly his future in the league is at the four.
While he still has a lot to work on, it appears as though the Lakers may very well have found their backup power forward for the foreseeable future in Larry Nance Jr.
Contract Status: Rookie salary schedule, two years left under contract, team option in year two. Will be a restricted free agent in 2018 if the Lakers tender a qualifying offer.
Julius Randle’s de facto rookie season was an impressive one. He finished 10th in the league in rebounding (10.2 per game) and picked up double-doubles with relative ease. Randle also showed solid ball handling skills for a player his size, and his speed in the open court is something to behold.
Despite all of his physical gifts, Randle does have a few things holding him back from becoming a true breakout star. First and foremost, his jump shot is nearly nonexistent. Teams play so far off of him from outside of 15 feet that it’s almost comical. In the modern NBA, power forwards have to be able to stretch the floor, ideally out to the three-point line. It’s going to take a lot of work for Randle to get to that level.
He also isn’t much of a rim protector and rarely blocks shots, which he needs to make up for by becoming a better position defender. He has the quickness to switch onto perimeter players occasionally, but can get lost defensively and wind up surrendering open shots.
Of course, he has plenty of time to work on these things. Randle won’t be 22 until next season, and if he can improve his jumper to the point where he is at least respectable that will open up a whole new world for him.
All in all, it’s tough to be disappointed with a 21-year-old who averaged a double-double in what was essentially his rookie season.
Contract Status: Free Agent
Robert Sacre was first drafted by the Lakers with the last pick of the 2012 NBA Draft. At, 7’0″ tall and 270 pounds he appeared to be a decent player to take a flyer on.
Unfortunately, the Robert Sacre that the Lakers drafted way back in 2012 is essentially the same guy that is on the team today. He has a decent jumper for a big man, but doesn’t have the foot speed to snuff out pick and rolls defensively and isn’t the monster on the boards that the Lakers were hoping he might be.
Sacre is a likable guy, and his antics on the sideline are entertaining, but he will be 27 in June and wasn’t a lock to make the squad last season even with a guaranteed contract. Without much upside to speak of Sacre’s roster spot will likely go to a younger player next year as the Lakers hope to build their future.