Within the midst of the current torturous Lakers campaign, the team was hit with a vicious hay-maker punch to the gut as the team lost Kobe Bryant for the remainder of the season with a torn rotator cuff injury. While the season was already in flux when Bryant was still on the active roster, his injury made the team's lack of back-court depth into an even more evident issue. As things currently stand, current starter Wayne Ellington sits as the only player listed as shooting guard, with Jeremy Lin and Nick Young sharing that role within the second unit.
In a little spin-off to my "D-League Spotlight" series, I'm going to examine a handful of top D-League guard prospects that the team could potentially look into. To start things off, we're going to take a look at Bryce Cotton, who has etched his name as one of the best scorers in the entire league.
Standing at 6'1, Cotton has the immediate disadvantage of being an undersized score-first guard. While that scoring ability has allowed him to be one of the most dominant guards in both the SEC (22 PPG during his final season at Providence) and now in the NBA Development League. As of the time of this writing, Cotton currently possesses a 1.85 Ast/TO percentage, which would put him fifth on the Lakers, behind Jeremy Lin, Wesley Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Ronnie Price. Despite that, Cotton does have solid court vision, which he uses to funnel his way from the perimeter toward the paint.
As previously mentioned, Cotton's main bread-and-butter rests on his knack as a scoring threat. Within that reputation as an all-around scoring threat, Cotton's main method of attack is from the perimeter, as 36 percent of his shots come from that area of the court. On approximately six attempts per game, Cotton is shooting 42.6 percent. Although that percentage is definitely stellar, Cotton has actually continued to more efficient as he shot 48 percent during the month of January, which led to him being named Ridiculous Upside's "Top Prospect Of The Month."
Over the course of the season, Cotton has continued to use that perimeter jumper as a tool to help expand his all-around offensive game. For example, Cotton could use his swift ball-handling abilities to work around the on-ball opponent. Once he's able to even see a small inkling of an opening, Cotton benefits on that by gliding his way to the rim. Cotton is shooting 57% from inside the restricted area, serving as evidence to this.
When Cotton isn't able to fully work his way to the rim, he does have a little floater that he can use to elevate the ball over the opposition. On 25 attempts, Cotton is shooting an insane 72 percent when he tosses up that running floater.
This is the type of offensive player Cotton is, and the Lakers could benefit from looking at:
Although his lack of length could prevent him from being a stand-out defender, Cotton can masquerade that potential flaw by being an absolute ball-hawk. On a possession-by-possession basis, Cotton hounds the opposing player which prevents them from getting any sort of advantage over him. Cotton's aggressive mentality attributed to his 1.7 steals per game during January.
Another example of Cotton's defensive impact can be shown through simple on/off splits. When Cotton is on the Austin Spurs bench, the opposing team averages 115 points per 100 possessions. However, that average plummets to only 104.5 points per 100 when he's back in the game. While those numbers definitely don't tell the complete story, it does point to his defense not being an issue at the D-league level.
As far as his potential fit with the Lakers, or any other NBA team, he'd have to be in a position where he can work as the main ball-handler. Although he's been successful as a catch-and-shoot scorer, the vast majority of Cotton's offensive value comes when he's in control of the ball. He's most valuable at creating his own shot from outside, or driving to the rim. In the case for Los Angeles, Cotton would get that opportunity as there really isn't a dominant ball-handler in the team's second unit besides maybe Jeremy Lin. With that in mind, the pairing of Lin and Cotton could actually work, as the vet would be utilized as the main distributor while the young D-Leaguer could be looked at as the second unit's go-to scorer.
Although the signing of Cotton would initially be on a 10-day contract, the 22-year-old guard could definitely work himself into the future plans of the Lakers. Throughout the season, Cotton has continued to progress as an all-around offensive weapon. That progression should continue as Cotton becomes more accustomed to the pace of the NBA.