The Los Angeles Lakers playoff chances took a huge hit with a disastrous December.
The Lakers entered the month of December with a 10-10 record and situated in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. They are now just 16-31 after posting a league-worst 2-14 record in the last month of the 2016 calendar year. The Lakers are 13th in the Western Conference, only three games out of the final playoff spot, though they are also 1.5 games away from being in the cellar of the Western Conference.
The month of December did not only bring losses, it also magnified the Lakers’ several weaknesses. Among their most glaring weaknesses are on the defensive end where they rank in the bottom third of the league in scoring defense, defensive rating, defensive rebound percentage, opponent shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage.
A big reason for the Lakers’ defensive struggles is their lack of a dominant post presence as they are last with just 3.5 block shots a game, 22nd in opponent offensive rebound percentage, 25th in opponent second chance points and 29th in opponents’ points in the paint. Furthermore, teams are shooting a league-best 65.8 percent at the rim against the Lakers.
Sacramento Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis, Atlanta Hawks’ Paul Millsap, Brooklyn Nets’ Brook Lopez, Denver Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried, Phoenix Suns’ Tyson Chandler, Milwaukee Bucks Greg Monroe, Philadelphia 76ers Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor; Oklahoma City Enes Kanter, Orlando Magics’ Serge Ibaka and Washington Wizards’ Marcin Gortat all been rumored to be available for trades this season. All the aforementioned players would be an upgrade over current starter Timofey Mozgov.
Mozgov has struggled mightily this season. And while the 7-foot-1 center shouldn’t ever have gotten a four-year deal, $64 million deal from the team, they had to expect better production. Mozgov is playing just over 21 minutes a game, averaging 8.0 points along with 4.8 rebounds while shooting 51.4 percent from the field. He has the second worst plus-minus rating on the club (-4.6) and a defensive rating of 111.4, which is the worst of his career.
Which begs a question should the Lakers trade Julius Randle and/or D’Angelo Russell for any of the above-mentioned players? It would likely take both players to land Cousins and Davis as well as perhaps Lopez. And likely either Russell or Randle along with a draft pick and perhaps and expiring contract for most the others with the exceptions of Faried, Chandler and Monroe.
While Ibaka, Cousins, Davis, Lopez, Millsap and Noel would look good in purple and gold, getting any of them is not worth the price of Russell and/or Randle right now. That could change in the offseason depending on how they continue to grow.
Randle has developed into a fantastic all-around player in just his second real season. The 22-year-old power forward has been the Lakers’ best player this season though he still has a lot of growth potential, particularly in consistency and on the defensive end.
Randle is averaging 13.7 points to go along with a team-best 8.7 rebounds while shooting over 49 percent from the field in a team-high 29.4 minutes a game. He is also second the team with 3.8 assists and has increased his scoring and shooting efficiency as he is shooting over four free throws a game – which is one more attempt than last season. Randle has produced 10 double-doubles and two triple-doubles in 35 games.
Randle can do things that a lot of bigs can’t do such as create his own shot, pass as well as he does from the perimeter and handle the ball in transition. He has also improved on the defensive end though he still struggles against bigger and stronger post players, and is not a strong help defender.
Russell had a great summer and has shown flashes of brilliance on the offensive end this season– for example, he is averaging 20.8 points, 4.8 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 3.3 three-pointers and 1.5 steals in 32.5 minutes per game in the month of January. Still, consistency in his shot selection, defense and playmaking are issues for the 20-year-old.
Russell is at his best when attacking the rim, creating for himself as well as others. He has made 13 of 21 shots at the rim over the last five games where he has tallied 28, 22, 19, 18 and 15 points. Russell has scored in double-figures in 23 of his 27 games.
The 6-foot-5 point guard has also improved his three-point shooting this season, going from 1.6 triples a game last year to 2.3 while also increasing his three-point percentage from 35.1 percent to 36.7 percent this season. Additionally, Russell has increased his assist-to-turnover ratio from 1.33 to 1.66 this season.
Russell is second on the team with 15.6 points a game to go along with a team-high 4.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds a game. He is only shooting 39.8 percent from the floor and is turning the ball over 2.7 times a game. He has been awful on offense ranking 50th among point guards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus.
The Lakers have had trouble attracting big name free agents recently though if the team’s youngsters develop as expected that may change. But expect some offseason trades of some sort.
The best 2017 free agent centers are all going to be restricted free agents – Phoenix’s Alex Len, Boston’s Kelly Olynyk and Portland’s Mason Plumlee. The power forward class is a little better with the headliners being Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin and Ibaka.
As it stands now, the Lakers will have three open roster spots next season as Thomas Robinson, Metta World Peace and Jose Calderon’s contracts expire. Marcelo Huertas (1.567 million) and Tarik Black ($6.655) have non-guaranteed pacts while Nick Young ($5.668 million) has an early termination option. Los Angeles may be forced to convey its first-round draft pick this year to the Philadelphia 76ers in an earlier trade unless the pick falls in the top-3.