After quietly waiting in the weeds and hoping to pounce on an A-list name in free agency only to come away empty, the Los Angeles Lakers are finally making moves to fill out the rest of their roster. Saturday the front office sent a second round pick to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for an elite rim protector in Roy Hibbert, and followed that up by coming to terms with their first free agent of the summer, signing Toronto Raptors guard and 2015 NBA Sixth Man of the Year award winner Lou Williams.
On it's face, it would appear this is a signing geared more toward the future, but that will also have benefits during the current season. In D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson, the Lakers have two big, 6'5 guards who can play at either the one or two position. Williams is listed at a slight 6'2 and 175 pounds, with the game of a shooting guard trapped in a point guard's body. It makes finding an ideal backcourt partner to play next to him difficult, but the Lakers have two, meaning they could stagger Clarkson and Russell's minutes more easily so one of them could always be on the floor even if they start alongside each other.
When playing with Clarkson or Russell, Williams gives the Lakers two ball handlers on the floor who can push pace and get the team's young horses out in transition to create havoc. He also would take some pressure off of the Lakers' young floor generals to have to bring the ball down the court every single time, while also offering utility as a spot-up shooter to space the floor around their drives to the rim, or post-ups for Bryant, Randle, or even Hibbert. While Williams shooting percentages from the top of the arc leave a lot be desired, many of those were desperation threes he was required to take as a bailout scorer for the Raptors' bench unit, and he is raining fireballs from the corners, via Shot Analytics:
Williams is a good free throw shooter who also gets to the foul-line frequently, which is evidenced by his free throw rate (42.6 percent) and weird shooting splits of just 40.4 percent from the field with a true shooting percentage of 56.4 percent in Toronto last year. Williams also takes relatively good care of the ball, only turning the ball over on 8.4 percent of possessions last year while posting a sky-high usage rate of 27 percent.
While Williams isn't lockdown defender, the Lakers are not going to make their bones on that end of the floor anyway this season. One would assume that if Russell and Clarkson continue to develop and learn to leverage their size on that end, and head coach Byron Scott implements a disciplined defensive scheme focusing on funneling ball handlers toward Hibbert or maybe even Upshaw, Williams will not make the Lakers much worse than they would have been with a replacement level talent. If the Lakers have any hope at competitiveness in '15-16 though, it will be as an efficient scoring unit, and Williams has a propensity to do that in bunches. The Lakers locked Williams in for the next three years, meaning they probably envision a three guard rotation of Williams, Russell, and Clarkson fitting quite well together for years to come, and it's easy see why.
However, Williams does leave the Lakers with a glut of guards for the coming season, and will probably shift Kobe Bryant to small forward full time, a position where he may be better able to defend a slightly slower bigger player. That adjustment would quite possibly play more to his strengths nowadays anyway. Some have suggested that this signing means Nick Young is on the outs, possibly as an inclusion in the still murkily reported trade for Hibbert, but that may not necessarily the case. While Byron Scott will have a hard time managing minutes for all of his guards early in the year, Young may become necessary insurance in the very-likely-at-this-point event of a Bryant injury. All Lakers fans hope that the 36-year old future hall of famer can make it through his 20th season without having his career ended by a serious injury, but even if that is the case, he will likely miss a few games here and there with minor injuries and for rest. This gives Young some additional utility. Williams also gives the Lakers some insurance at the guard spot in the event of Clarkson departing as a free agent next offseason.
Overall, with a rising cap and his pretty good fit alongside the Lakers' young backcourt duo, it is hard to see Williams' signing as anything but a good thing for the Lakers. He and Hibbert may not be LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan, but the front office seems to have recovered nicely after initially whiffing early in free agency.