The Los Angeles Lakers’ preseason is over, and the regular season is (finally!) upon us. We have real, actual, meaningful basketball to watch, debate, analyze, and enjoy.
The Lakers did play eight preseason games though, so we thought it would be fun to have our staff re-rank the team following those exhibition contests. Who doesn’t love preseason overreactions?
Nick “Preseason Swag God” Young made the biggest change, jumping a whopping EIGHT spots from his dead last ranking over the summer. D’Angelo Russell was still number one, and it looks like Luol Deng’s inability to get out on the court was held against him for a three-spot drop.
Everyone re-ranked the team, and the results are below, with each player’s average rank in parentheses with an explanation from a member of our crew.
1. Russell (1, Same.) Tom Fehr — Unsurprisingly, D'Angelo Russell did nothing during the preseason to dampen expectations for him or to dethrone him from our the top rankings. He's looked fantastic early on in Luke Walton's system, and Walton in turn has already shown some great glimpses of clever play calling ability to get Russell open looks. There's a pretty good chance that Russell has a huge breakout year with his rookie season behind him and now a coach that actually has both the desire and ability to help him succeed.
2. Clarkson (3, Jumped one spot.) The CDP — Although many are banking on the second-year bounce for D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson steps into an equally critical Kobe-sized hole at the two guard and will be a harbinger of the team's success this season. A No. 2 ranking means hope that there is truth behind the smoke and mirrors of Instagram workout videos (hashtag dedication y'all), drained unguarded three-pointers, and a commitment to becoming a better defender.
After a sophomore year that was merely on par with his surprise rookie season and a new contract in place, Clarkson has the opportunity to cement his role as a long-term fixture of the Lakers and Robin to Russell's Batman. In order to live up to his ranking, he will need to progress as a shooter, decision-maker, and distributor, particularly if he is asked to lead the second unit. We here at SS&R are betting that he will.
3. Mozgov (4.16, Jumped two spots.) Chinmay Vaidya — Mozgov was able to provide reliable rim protection and rebounding during most of the preseason. His highlights against the Golden State Warriors showed his potential as roll man for D’Angelo Russell and a defensive stopper. Our very own Drew Garrison outlined how Mozgov is making an impact defensively for the Lakers and barring injury, the big man will help improve a unit that ranked 29th in opponent field goal percentage and 27th in opponent points per game.
He’s not going to tear up the league in the post and he’s not going to be a star, but Mozgov might be a reliable two-way center for the Lakers, and that is something the Lakers haven’t had in a long time.
4. Randle (4.33, Same.) Drew Garrison — Julius Randle is the player who has the deepest crater to climb out of left from last season. His offensive skills look on par with what we've seen from him already and didn't show much signs of progression through preseason. There were a few notable finishes with his right hand, though, which he wasn't shy about pointing out:
All-in-all we saw plenty of the good and bad with Julius. His passing in transition can be a huge asset for how the Lakers want to push the pace with shooters on the flanks, but he still gets trapped in bad isolation sequences. As the team irons out the offense, he'll hopefully settle in and feel out his role, which can stop some of the screeching halt action we get from him.
5. Deng (4.83, Dropped three spots.) Drew — Luol Deng's preseason run with the Lakers was arguably the most disappointing of the group. He missed half of the games, giving the team only a small window to see how he fits as an individual and within lineups. It also created an opportunity for Uncle P to shine, and extra minutes for Brandon Ingram to soak, so there's a silver lining there.
Most memorable about his preseason time were individual defensive sequences, where he showed value as a player who can challenge the other team's wing scorers man-to-man:
Where he fits into the rotation as a small forward or power forward will be interesting, especially with Young playing incredibly well. That we’re already talking about his health isn’t a great start to things, but let’s see how things change with the regular season actually making games count.
6. Young (6.66, Jumped eight spots. Anything is possible.) Drew — The Lakers are all about fresh starts and no player has seized that opportunity more than Nick Young. Young was easily a top-five performer for the Lakers through preseason, shooting a totally-sustainable 48.8 percent from beyond the arc. Couple that with his defensive effort, and Young has found himself back into the place he was years ago when he was playing under Mike D’Antoni. He once again looks like a viable swingman who can be the Lakers' three-point specialist, and this team needs a player who can space floor as outlets in sets and transition. He’s been that guy for them.
Forget the last few seasons, keep an open mind, and look at the shot chart:
Let's see if this preseason Uncle P vibe lasts.
7. Ingram (7, Same.) Chinmay — Brandon showed Lakers fans flashes of his superstar potential during the preseason, but also experienced difficulties most rookies face early in their careers.
Ingram is still going to have early struggles, especially in the rebounding department. He struggled against bigger wings and power forwards and averaged 2.5 rebounds per game in the preseason. On the defensive end, Ingram was able to hold his own against wing players. He did however have some issues in the post against bigger players.
As he bulks up and adjusts to the NBA game, Ingram will become a better player. Right now he’s not the best player on the Lakers, but he might be the most important in terms of the franchise’s future.
8. Nance Jr. (7, Fell two spots.) The CDP — Larry Nance Jr. was one of the hardest players to rank on the Lakers — it would not be surprising to see him rank higher or much lower on the list. If his defense and outside shot continue to develop, he could easily become a key rotation player in the frontcourt as a stretch four and small ball five. If things break wrong for him, it's also possible that he disappears on the depth chart of a crowded PF rotation. Ultimately, it comes down to his development, injuries, and a bit of luck.
9. Williams (8.16, Fell one spot.) Drew — Lou Williams looks exactly like Lou Williams, with the added wrinkle of initiating the offense while D’Angelo Russell goes through off-ball motions. It didn’t seem like he attempted very many of his floating mid-range jumpers, but he still strolled to the free-throw line 4.1 times per game, leading the team in free-throw attempts. The Lakers struggled from the not-so-charitable stripe, shooting 65 percent as a team.
Lou leading in attempts and shooting 82 percent from the line is one of the few things the team has going for it in that department.
10. Black (9.66, Same.) Daman Rangoola — With Yi Jianlian's departure, Tarik solidifies himself in the rotation as the backup center and might even see some time in the starting lineup should Timofey Mozgov miss a few games. Tarik will play a vital role on the second unit, setting screens to get the Lakers into their offense, crashing the offensive glass and generally creating second and third opportunities for the team.
His energy and consistent intensity will be a welcome change of pace on nights where the Lakers may be stagnating, but his impact will remain limited to that unless he can develop a more refined offensive game. Him being ranked 10th feels appropriate.
11. Calderon (10.33, Fell two spots.) Daman — The "coach on the floor" designation feels both patronizing and appropriate for Calderon. Between him and Marcelo Huertas, I imagine the backup point guard spot will go to whoever is the "hot hand" and will fluctuate all season. Calderon's impact will be felt more as a mentor as an extremely well-respected long time pro to give guidance to the young guards on the team as they grow.
12. Huertas (12.5, Same.) Drew — Don't mind Marcelo Huertas, he's just here to soak backup point guard minutes. Jose Calderon can clearly contribute more than Huertas, but the two veteran players need each other more than anything. Calderon is able to nurse a calf injury because Huertas is there, and ultimately they're both in place to take the wheel when the kids need a breather.
Between the both of them, the Lakers should always have a rotational point guard to get them through injuries and rest. Marcelo is Marcelo, a player who has many faults but dangit he's fun to watch because you never know what he might do.
13. Zubac (13, Fell two spots.) Daman — Summer League Kareem Abdul-Jabbar enthralled Lakers fans and prompted outside observers and analysts to point out that the Lakers got first-round talent in the second round. Zubac's defensive persistence and raw offensive skills have fans (and I'm sure coaching staff) eager to watch him develop, but it's simply too early.
The pace of the game is something that will take Zubac at least this whole year to get acclimated to, he will spend valuable time in the D-League, but he simply won't see the floor very much this year, and that's okay. He's only 19! For those reasons, I think even ranking him 13th is a little high, but given he's number one in our hearts I think it's a fair position.
14. Robinson (13.33, Was not on the list.) Tom — It's great to see that Thomas Robinson was able to make the Lakers' roster — he has some talent but hasn't stuck with a team yet, and with guys like that there's always the chance that they can provide value on your bench. Obviously T-Rob likely won't play very much unless there's an injury to one of the other Lakers forwards ahead of him.
Robinson for his career has averaged 12.7 points and 12.7 rebounds per 36 minutes, but has struggled to score efficiently (47.6 TS%). Expect a player that will give you athletic dunks, rebounds and energy, but probably not a whole lot else.
15. Metta (15, Was not on the list.) The CDP — Despite the acclaim he has received for his effort and reporting to camp in great shape, Metta World Peace's position on the roster has nothing to do with on-court contributions, which is why he is ranked 15th.
He is here as a player-coach, veteran leader, and locker room presence that is being groomed for an assistant position in the future. Although some out there are probably shocked that Metta has ended up here, MWP has always been a charismatic, high IQ player that has been able to consistently build trust and loyalty with his teammates. Here's hoping we get to see Metta frantically sketching out of bounds plays on a whiteboard near you in the not-so-distant future.
Do you agree with the rankings? Disagree? Let us know what you think in the comments below!