The Los Angeles Lakers had me worried in the early days of free agency. They missed out on the big fish, with LaMarcus Aldridge going to the Spurs, and DeAndre Jordan going to the Maverickss, though that was to be expected. From the sounds of things, their meeting with Aldridge was just short of disastrous, featuring a presentation that focused little on basketball, and left Aldridge reportedly very unimpressed.
But the disappointment didn't stop there. Realistic Lakers targets fell off the board left and right, with Robin Lopez going to the Knicks, Brandan Wright going to the Grizzlies, Kosta Koufos going to the Kings, and Tobias Harris re-signing with the Magic without signing an offer sheet with another team.
To be honest, I panicked, as many Lakers fans did. I hastily declared the Lakers had faltered disastrously in free agency, failing for the second year in a row to add anyone of impact to the roster. I couldn't see what Plan C could possibly be that would make much sense.
And then came three separate moves in rather quick succession, all of which underwhelmed me at the time, and all three of which I have grown to like, the more I think on them.
First, the Lakers got a commitment from the Indiana Pacers to receive 7'2" behemoth Roy Hibbert. I'll be honest, I hadn't watched much of the Pacers this past season -- frankly, why would I? Paul George was hurt, Lance Stephenson was gone, and they weren't that relevant. My initial reaction to the move was simply, "Meh." But then I thought on it some more. I talked to people smarter than me. I watched some film, noted some numbers, and now I am pretty excited about the pickup.
Loving the Hibbert move is simple when you look at his defensive shot chart and realize what he brings -- elite rim protection. Here's a look at his defensive shot chart, via Shot Analytics:
That big dark blue spot around the basket? That's quite good. He affects so much of a team's offense near the basket that it should tremendously help the young guys on defense, especially Julius Randle, who we've noted for quite a while now needs a rim protector alongside him. According to Nylon Calculus' rim protection analytics, Hibbert was the third-best rim protector in the NBA this past season, and he was first in 2014 by a mile.
Hibbert is currently under contract just for the '15-'16 season (for about $17 million), but if his defense doesn't fall off, and the Lakers can re-sign him next off-season, this could go down as a significant pickup. If the Lakers scooped up the rim protector this roster needs for next to nothing, this is a big win for the Lakers, as has already been argued by The Great Mambino.
But the Lakers were not done there. The Lakers then signed reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams to a 3-year, $21 million contract. This was another move I didn't get initially. Surely, I thought while looking at the roster, the last thing the Lakers need is a high-volume shooting combo guard. But, once again, the move grew on me. Lou was quite good this year for the Raptors, and he's been a pretty damn good bench scorer throughout his career. He doesn't seem likely to take a starting spot from Jordan Clarkson or D'Angelo Russell either, as he has found a niche in that sixth man role.
Williams doesn't do a lot besides scoring, but he does it pretty efficiently. Despite making just 40.4 percent of his shots this year, he managed to post a 56.4 true shooting percentage, mainly due to his ability to draw fouls (42.6 free-throw rate) and make his free throws (86.1 FT%). Additionally, Williams is fairly active defensively, and posted 1.6 steals per 36 minutes this year. Is it the best fit? Maybe not, but Lakers need good players, and Lou certainly is that. This should provide the Lakers with a solid veteran scoring threat off the bench for the next 3 years.
Last, but perhaps not finally, the Lakers got a commitment from Celtics power forward Brandon Bass, who has long been a solid rotation player. This year, Bass scored 16.2 points per 36 minutes on a 55.7 TS%. He doesn't rebound a ton for a four, but he can score, gives you some spacing from mid-range, and isn't a bad passer either.
Here's a look at his shot chart:
On mid-range shots 16 feet or longer, Hibbert shot 44.0 percent in 2014-2015. Bass shot 45.7 percent. And if the rumors of Julius Randle's "vastly improved" jumper are legitimate, let's just say the Lakers shooting long-twos shouldn't be nearly as frustrating this year.
Furthermore, the Lakers appear to be exploring moves that might include dumping the salary of Nick Young and doing a sign-and-trade of Jeremy Lin to the Dallas Mavericks. As someone who never understood why the Lakers wanted Swaggy to be under contract in L.A. for five years anyway, these are possibilities I strongly endorse. Get any asset you can out of the Lin move, and give Young away to anyone who wants him.
There's a lot to love about the Lakers' moves this off-season. After having a shortage of legitimate NBA players for last year's team, the Lakers have potentially added five pretty good ones between the draft, free agency and a returning Kobe Bryant. I'm not expecting the Lakers to make the playoffs, but at the very least, the team shouldn't be embarrassing. I'm excited to watch them play again. I might even be able to hold my own in NBA 2K with them. And really, that's more than I could have reasonably hoped for even a few months ago.
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