The Lakers have not had a player not named Kobe Bryant average 18 points a game or more in four years. That happens to coincide with the worst stretch in Lakers history during which the team has won few games.
Whether or not that streak ends this season remains to be seen. The emphasis this summer has been on improved defense, and rightly so as the team’s woes in that department are well documented.
However, the goal is still to outscore your opponent, and whether the team wins 128-126 or 85-83, it counts as a victory either way. Even with improved defense the Lakers are likely not going to hold too many teams to under 100 points, so they had better be able to score.
The three best outside shooters on the team last year were guards Lou Williams, Nick Young, and D’Angelo Russell, all of whom are gone now. To whom will the team turn for outside shooting and scoring this year? Here are the possibilities.
1. Jordan Clarkson
With the team’s plan to sign two max free agents next summer, this could very well be Clarkson’s last year with the purple and gold and it will be a miracle if he survives the trade deadline, or so it has been said over and over.
Yet, ironically, at least for now, the Lakers have never needed Clarkson more. How he plays when the season starts will have a major impact on the team’s fortunes.
Clarkson is one of the few players on the team who is a true scorer. Last season, playing fewer than 30 minutes a night, he averaged 14.7 points per game on a solid 44.5 percent from the field. Much of the season was spent coming off the bench with fellow high volume shooter Lou Williams. After Williams was traded mid-season, Clarkson upped his average 17.2 points per contest.
Clarkson made over 50 percent of his two point shots last year and is particularly effective getting into the paint and scoring with either hand, but his three-point game must improve from the career low 32.9% he shot last year.
In a backcourt that otherwise features no big scorers in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lonzo Ball, Tyler Ennis, and Josh Hart, it is imperative that Clarkson averages 17-18 points per game this next season.
2. Brook Lopez
In nine NBA seasons, Lopez has scored between 20 points per game four times and has averaged better than 17 points per game every year except when he was a rookie. Lopez is a major candidate to be the best scorer on this year’s team. He is an excellent post player and last season added the three-point shot to his arsenal, connecting on a solid 35% from deep.
Lopez, who is expected to be a one-year rental, gives the Lakers their first player with potential to average 20 points a night since Kobe Bryant retired. On a team that, at least on paper, features few outside shooters, Lopez could be very important this season if he is able to stretch the floor regularly.
But there is a question whether Lopez will get enough minutes with this Lakers team to average 20 points per game. He has been averaging around 30 minutes per game over the last three seasons but Luke Walton will want to play small and fast as well this season.
That could mean getting some combination of Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr. and Kyle Kuzma in the front court at the same time. As a result, Lopez may not play the 30 minutes a night he is used to thus his numbers could dip slightly.
3. Brandon Ingram
Brandon Ingram did not shoot well last season, making only 40.2% overall from the field and 29.4% from three-point range. He only made 62.1% of his free throws, which is a bad indicator for his future shooting success.
If the Lakers are to improve their record this season, however, Ingram must increase these statistics dramatically. The pressure is on him as both Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have put high expectations on him this season, in addition to his own expectations of himself.
As everyone knows, Ingram is a hard worker, driven to succeed, and much more mature than he was entering the league last year. His numbers improved significantly after the All-Star break last season and the Lakers need to see him make that same kind of leap when this year starts.
Perhaps most important, on a team with little reliable outside shooting, Ingram simply has to be one of those players who can make those shots this season or it could be a long year for the Lakers.
4. Kyle Kuzma
That Kuzma even makes this list as a rookie is an indicator that the Lakers’ outside shooting is a question mark. He will compete with young veterans Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. for minutes at power forward. Randle and Nance have the clear edge, but unless the team finds a spot for Kuzma, where are they going to get enough proficient outside shooting?
Randle and Nance have reportedly worked hard on their three-point shot this summer, and both will get a chance to showcase that improvement in the preseason. But neither player came into the league with any outside game, and while both have improved a bit and will continue to get better, it is unrealistic to that expect either will suddenly become a true stretch four.
Kuzma stormed into the league this summer with a display of confidence and outside shooting that no one on the Lakers has shown in many years. Yes, it was only Summer League, but he averaged 21.9 points per game on 51.4% shooting and 48% from three-point range; not to mention that in the biggest game of all, with Lonzo Ball injured, Kuzma led his team to victory and was named MVP of the championship game.
No one expects Kuzma to post anything close to these numbers during his rookie season, but if in the preseason he comes close to resembling the player who was so outstanding in Summer League, the Lakers will be forced to find regular minutes for him. They will need his outside shooting.
5. The Rest
Where else might the Lakers find consistent outside shooting this next season?
In the backcourt, Ball and fellow rookie Josh Hart had success from long distance in college and there is always a chance that it will carry over into the NBA. At the moment that is uncertain especially since Ball struggled from three-point range in Summer League and Hart was injured.
In a short stint with the Lakers at the end of last year, Tyler Ennis shot the ball well. In 17.8 minutes average over the last 22 games, he scored 7.7 points on 45.1% shooting from the field and 38.9% from behind the arc. The Lakers were Ennis’ fifth team in three professional seasons, so it is difficult to place too much reliance on him, yet it would be great if he could prove that the end of last year was no fluke.
Not much is expected scoring wise, and especially by way of outside shooting, from the other members of the projected roster including small forwards Corey Brewer and Luol Deng and centers Ivica Zubac and Thomas Bryant. The 15th member of the roster is yet to be determined, but of the current contenders, Vander Blue would be the one most likely to contribute in the scoring department.
Brewer’s points come mostly at the rim. Bryant showed a nice touch from outside in Summer League but is expected to spend a good part of the season in the G League.
There were times last year that Zubac appeared to have a promising mid-range game but it did not materialize on a consistent basis and he might find minutes hard to come by with Lopez on the team and with the coaching staff wanting to play faster with a small ball lineup when Lopez is out.
As for Deng, it is hard to figure out where he fits into the rotation at all at this point.
In the end, at least on paper, it is unclear where the Lakers will get sufficient scoring and outside shooting this year. They will need players to step up, those who are new to the league and those who have not shown reliable scoring/shooting in the past.
The great thing about basketball is that there are always surprises and room for optimism especially at this time of the year when anything is possible.