Tarik Black provided the Los Angeles Lakers roster with some youthful hope last season. Amidst a dreary season the Jayhawks product proved to be a high-energy rookie prospect with a potentially bright future in purple and gold. However, there remains a question as to whether Black can maintain his spot on a more competitive Lakers roster during this upcoming season. The return of Julius Randle and the acquisitions of Roy Hibbert and Brandon Bass surely mean the removal of Tarik Black from the starting lineup, a spot he held in the Lakers' last regular season game lest you forget.
Should the franchise invest in developing Tarik? Black received an inordinate amount of playing time and it is worth considering what kind of role, if any, he should assume within this iteration of the Lakers roster.
Tarik Black's innate gifts are his incredible athleticism and high motor. Black plays with an intense fervor that delivers high impact blocks at the rim and explosive dunks. Despite being a slightly undersized power forward, his physical profile gives him the capacity to be a very imposing player. His ability to finish around the rim is a key asset of his game.
Black is an excellent offensive threat in the paint, shooting .607 in that sector while strongly outpacing Roy Hibbert's lackluster .499 rate. In fact, Black's .578 true shooting percentage is markedly better than Hibbert's .501 percentage from last season.
Here's a look at his shot chart, via Shot Analytics:
The second-year big man is also a far more adept rebounder than the Lakers' new starting center. Hibbert grabbed an approximate 15.5 percent of available rebounds per 100 possessions last year with Indiana. However, Black gobbled up 17 percent of available rebounds per 100 possessions during his dual stints with the Lakers and Rockets last season. That's very impressive for an undrafted rookie.
If the Lakers hope to play at a faster pace this season while keeping up defensively with a league trending small, they will need Black's mobility and defensive prowess. He is quick enough to guard small ball 5s and 4s away from the rim while also keeping them at bay in the paint with his strength.
Black recently spoke with Joey Ramirez of Lakers.com and stressed his efforts to develop "versatility" within his offensive arsenal while committing to becoming a "lockdown defender." In a league gone small, Black is correct that "versatility" will be a key point of emphasis for the second year big man. Black's offensive game excels in the paint, but flags otherwise. He made a mere four shots on twenty attempts from outside the paint last season. He also shot a very poor .551 from the free-throw line.
Black's inability to space the floor at any distance and his poor free-throw shooting limits an offense's options significantly. He not only can't produce at an optimal level for himself, but also clogs the paint for the Lakers' slashing guards and forwards.
Black is also prone to a high foul rate extending back to college. He is often found out of position on defense and reaching to make up for his late rotation. Last season, his per 36 minute adjusted foul rate clocked in at 4.8. He will find it difficult to stay on the floor given this if he does start to warrant additional playing time.
Parts of the reason for his high foul rate are defensive lapses and mental errors peppered throughout Black's game. Summer League showcased a few space cadet moments where he was either slow on rotations or turned the ball over unnecessarily. He can disappear at times or dip his focus, leaving him exposed on the defensive end. Black will need to grow mentally and find the ability to focus on rotations and possession preservation.
Black's primary competition within the roster comes from Robert Sacre, the still unsigned Robert Upshaw, and Ryan Kelly. If we take Upshaw out of the mix, the free agent acquisitions and draft picks made over the summer most likely mean the end for Sacre and Kelly.
Specifically, if Jonathan Holmes makes the roster, which appears more likely than not due to fit, Robert Sacre and Ryan Kelly are the most likely candidates to be cut.
Black is the far more capable backup center option for Hibbert as well. Sacre contributes an anemic 10.93 PER and has no real place in the game unless it's junk time. Furthermore, Holmes should make Kelly's slot in the roster dubious due to his more imposing defensive profile and ability to space the floor effectively.
Black is the obvious choice at center behind Hibbert. His mobility on defense and ability to play in a high pace lineup make him a worthy member of the roster.
Black excels at scoring close to the rim, but he needs to focus on adding range to his offensive game. His inability to space the floor at all allows opposing centers to occupy the lane and cut down on easy drives to the basket. Tarik also needs to find a way to reduce his high foul rate while staying focused on the defensive end. If he can cut down on mental errors on both ends, it will allow his innate athleticism and energy to shine.
While I wouldn't necessarily consider Black to be part of the Lakers' developing "core," his potential as a high impact backup five is clear. He is a tenacious rebounder and the more nimble of the Lakers' secondary options at center. While the high-energy sophomore's abilities don't warrant a starting line up position, betting on his continued growth is a worthy investment for the Lakers' front office.