Kobe Bryant said it just the other night in a horrid loss to the Sacramento Kings -- "Got to let them develop." Even one of the most ball-dominant players of all-time said it: This Los Angeles Lakers season is all about the young'uns.
That being said, with so much of this year's onus on the prospects, what type of roles--offense and defense--do you forsee for the following young Lakers cornerstones? What statistical line do you see them ending the year with?
Our staff gathered around for a roundtable on our expectations about the Lakers' young core.
Chinmay Vaidya: I see Clarkson as a secondary scoring option or the lead option on the second unit. Since Russell's ability to get the hoop consistently is not known yet, Clarkson will have the opportunity to be aggressive early and often. On defense, Clarkson is better than advertised and should see minutes because of his skills on that end. 14 PPG, 3.5 APG, 4 RPG is not unreasonable for him.
Drew Garrison: On offense Jordan Clarkson can be a few things. A player who pushes the pace in transition, an aggressive ball-handler who drives into the paint and a spot-up shooter. Those are three areas he will excel in if things play out ideally.
Defensively he has to take charge of being a disruptive defender on the perimeter. Getting in passing lanes, closing out hard, bodying guys up. Someone in that starting lineup needs to create noise, and Jordan has the physical tools to be that guy for the Lakers.
12.5 PPG, 2.3 APG, 2 RPG
Jameson Miller: Clarkson is facing something of an adjustment period here. For much of his second half breakout last year, he was far and away the best player the Lakers had on the court, with a green light to be as aggressive as he wanted to be and play through mistakes. Now, with Russell, Randle, Kobe, Lou, Nick, et al. all needing touches, we'll see if Jordan can maintain his fearlessness over the course of the season. That being said, I think his opening night stat line could be fairly indicative of what his production will be going forward. 1
4/4/3 sounds about right. He definitely has tools defensively, but is still just such a youngblood it's going to be a work in progress for a minute.
The Great Mambino: Clarkson really has the best of all worlds this season. The media focus isn't going to be on him in regards to development -- that onus is going to be on Russell and Randle, the team's last two lottery picks. Offensively, he's not going to be asked to be as much of a finisher, especially surrounded with guys like Lou Williams, Nick Young and Kobe Bryant. Defensively, Clarkson should be asked to be a disruptor in the lane and to get to the free throw line. Again, the team has a bevy of three-point shooters now and though Clarkson's stroke is decent, it's really not what his role should be just yet. Defensively, it's a different story. He's got to be asked to be the wing stopper, especially with an inexperienced Russell, a vet like Kobe and Swaggy's ... irregular effort.
Statistically, 15/3/4 would be absolutely fantastic.
The CDP: At the end of last season, Clarkson was getting a ton of burn and serving as the primary ball-handler. He benefited from a team gutted by injuries, including Kobe's, as he exploded into All-Rookie first team form. This year, Clarkson will play more SG than PG, but there's plenty of room for him to improve on last year's line to a more efficient 15/4/3 and 36-37 percent from deep. He'll serve as a secondary ball-handler and will be asked to create his own shot as a relief valve when the offense stalls. On defense, he's going to have to guard the best perimeter player most nights, as neither Kobe or Russell are up to the task. Clarkson will have some tough games on D, but I expect him take another step forward this season.
Harrison Faigen: I think Clarkson could average around 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. That sounds like a lot for a second-year second-round pick playing off-guard, but I believe that as the year goes on the distinction between whether Russell or Clarkson is the "point guard" will be less meaningful, as the hope is that the two will begin to learn to seamlessly switch roles based on who has the favorable matchup.
Chinmay Vaidya: Randle is a monster in the post and can even run the break to get scoring opportunities in transition. He fits with Roy Hibbert in the frontcourt and should also get good looks on pick-and-rolls with Russell. Randle has defensive upside as a weakside rim protector, but his man skills are still a question mark. I expect Randle to be a double-double machine this season. 16.5 PPG, 2 APG and 9 RPG is not a stretch for the second-year power forward.
Drew Garrison: Julius Randle might be the most ready of the trio. He should absolutely continue handling the ball when he grabs a defensive board. He's great at getting to the rim, which is his most obvious strength, but he's still developing as a finisher. Finding ways to give him space to work with -- whether that's fastbreaks, pick-and-pops or other means -- is the best way to use him on offense for now. From there he can get to the paint or create for others.
On defense he needs to bring that same physicality. That means switching when needing to and using his strength and speed to disrupt, fighting around the paint for rebounds and bodying up driving players. We know way more about what he can accomplish on offense than defense, so it's an interesting facet of his game to watch. It's still so hard to say with any certainty.
14.5 PPG, 2.3 APG, 6.8 RPG
Jameson Miller: If the fates would have it that Julius had to break his leg last year, I wish it would have been in the last preseason game -- had those 14 minutes in the opener not disqualified him, he'd seemingly be a lock as a top-3 Rookie of the Year candidate this season. He looks ready to be a really good NBA player right freaking now, with real, tangible star potential. I'd be thrilled if his stat line from opening night held up all season, but I'd be happy with 14.5 PPG / 8.5 RPG / 3.8 APG or something thereabouts. The hand-wringing about his defense coming out of college seems downright cuckoo at this point, physically speaking. His quick feet, longer-than-advertised arms and aggressiveness on that end should make him an invaluably versatile asset in corralling opponent pick-and-rolls and allow him to wreak havoc in the open court off of forced turnovers.
The Great Mambino: Let's just get this out of the way: defensively, Randle just has to not embarrass himself. He doesn't have the longest arms and he's not the most fleet of foot, but he simply has to just not look terrible. Roy Hibbert is going to clean up a lot of his mistakes, so defensively, the Lakers just have to hope he can stay with his man and not lose too many forwards and pick-and-rolls. Offensively, he's already proven to be a versatile weapon. With his ball handling skills, shooting ability and willingness to get to the rack, Randle should be the team's No. 1 weapon in the front court. This essentially being his rookie season, I expect his line will be around 13 PPG / 7 RPG /2 APG.
The CDP: While Randle was cruelly robbed of his rookie year due to injury, he has already shown flashes of the player the Lakers were hoping to get with the 7th pick. On offense, he's going to have to attack his man using his quick first step until he can establish a jump shot, but he should get plenty of opportunities with the starting unit. I expect he'll use his explosiveness to get shots in the paint, but will be an erratic finisher. On defense, Julius will rarely get overpowered, but he will spend plenty of nights on the bench in foul trouble after getting caught on pump fakes.
He will be hit or miss as a 1-on-1 defender while using his off-the-chart athleticism to provide weak side help. Overall, his most important role on both sides of the ball is to clean the glass and help with the battle of the boards. This season I expect him to average 12 PPG / 8 RPG / 2 APG and provide a lot of excitement for the '16-17 season.
Harrison Faigen: I am writing this right after Julius just tore up the Mavericks, so these predictions could potentially be a bit overzealous. That qualifier noted, I think Randle ends the year averaging about 15 points and 8 rebounds. As of right now, Randle looks like he should be the team's offensive cornerstone and first option among the starters.
Chinmay Vaidya: Russell is going to be a distributor and should create great shot opportunities for Bryant and the other LA shooters. Russell himself has a smooth shot and should be the lead point guard and pick-and-roll initiator in no time. Russell's defensive impact is unknown, but his length will definitely help clog passing lanes. I think a 12 PPG, 7.5 APG, 4 RPG season would be a productive one for the prized rookie.
Drew Garrison: Hopefully Russell is allowed to create a bit more than we've seen thus far. Getting him some simple pick-and-roll looks to work with would be a good start once he takes more control of the offense. Much like with Randle, getting him the ball to push the pace in transition is something the Lakers should look to do often. It's going to be a year of growing pains for the Lakers as they try to figure out how to add a new franchise point guard into their DNA.
Defensively Russell needs to use his length to help make up for his projected lack of foot speed. The Lakers might want to try and protect D'Angelo early on by leaning on Clarkson to handle tougher individual assignments.
7.8 PPG, 4.7 APG, 1.9 RPG
Jameson Miller: I'm extremely high on Russell has a long term prospect and talent., but I do hope people can remain patient and maintain some perspective when it comes to his rookie campaign. I'm in no way comparing the two, but if you look at a guy like John Stockton, he was straight up "meh" for like three seasons before he kicked into HOF mode. I think there's going to be a potentially steep adjustment period for D'Angelo as he adjusts to the strength, speed and length he's seeing at this level. His vision and passing ability are NBA-ready (catch the damn ball Laker big men!
The Great Mambino: As I detailed in an article last week, I wouldn't be surprised if this season looked, at least on the surface, like somewhat of a disaster for D'Angelo. He's still 19 and is asked to organize an offense for a team full of young players and new roster additions that quite frankly doesn't at all have a handle on what they want to do scoring-wise. Russell has looked confounded with the speed of the NBA on both ends of the floor, often chasing after defensive assignments and looking tentative with the ball in his hands. I see him ending the year with a line similar to 8 PPG / 3 APG / 3 RPG, with turnovers probably on par with his assist numbers.
The CDP: I'm just going to put this out there: Russell is not ready to help the Lakers win this year. He's going to look lost on both sides of the ball. Although he will be the starting point guard, he will be plenty frustrating to Laker fans most nights. While he'll eventually get there, Russell is still developing as a shooter and will clank on plenty of open three-point attempts. He's already a fantastic passer, but I expect equal flashes of potential and awful turnovers until the game slows down for him. On defense, he's going to fail to contain opposing point guards and will be a general liability as he learns the NBA game. This season, I predict Russell will average 10 PPG / 3 APG / 2 RPG while struggling from the field.
Harrison Faigen: 10 points, 5 assists, and 3 rebounds. If his play so far is to be any indicator Russell is going to struggle to be efficient this year, as most 19-year old point guards thrust into the role of starting point guard on an NBA team would. The hope is that he gets a few boards and gets to use those as run-out opportunities to make easier plays, and that Byron Scott begins to give him a steady diet of pick and roll opportunities in order to play to his strengths. A strong second half of the season would be nice, à la Clarkson last year, but this season is really just about Russell taking his lumps so that he has a baseline to build upon next season.
Defensively, I don't expect a ton from any of these guys. It would be nice if Randle could continue to flash good lateral movement and quick hands while attacking guards off of the pick and roll, and for Clarkson and Russell to continue to show occasional positive stretches, but for now I think day-by-day improvement should really be the only set goal on both ends.