Tarik Black hasn't played a lot for the Los Angeles Lakers this season, but the man known affectionately as "Boom Boom" exploded onto the scene for the team in their 119-115 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night. The Lakers have generally functioned better during Black's limited minutes this season, which is why he boasts the team's best offensive rating (the Lakers have scored 101.5 points per 100 possessions while Black is on the floor), second best defensive rating (98.7) and best net rating (2.2).
Those numbers are skewed somewhat by all of the bench lineups Black has played against during garbage time, but the trend continued on Tuesday night against Minnesota, with Black posting the second best net rating on the team for the night (8.4) behind Julius Randle. Black was flying all over the floor in the first half, with the Lakers outscoring the Timberwolves by 16 points during his 13 minutes of burn.
Kobe Bryant, who received most of the accolades on the night for scoring 38 points against Minnesota, took notice of the second-year undrafted free agent's effect on the game. Afterwards, he made sure the media knew about the Black's positive impact:
Kobe, unprompted, said he thought Tarik Black "played extremely well for us, played w/ a lot of energy & changed the complexity of the game"— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) February 3, 2016
Kobe isn't wrong. As has been trumpeted all season, the Lakers sorely need a big man with the types of skills Black provides, and it is baffling that it is the 50th game of the season and the team has yet to deploy him with any consistency.
With the threat of Black as either a lob target or offensive rebounder, which forces opposing bigs to account for him in ways they simply don't for the other big men on the Lakers roster, D'Angelo Russell has more space with which to work with:
Because it is Black executing this dribble hand-off with Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns is forced to keep a body on him rather than jump out at D'Angelo, which (combined with Ricky Rubio's late recovery) gave him all the time he needed to knock down this three-pointer.
Black's aid in this area is reflected in Russell's shooting splits as well. In a limited sample size, Russell shoots better across the board while sharing the floor with Black, making more shots in the restricted area (80% vs 59.6%), in the paint (non-restricted area, 66.7% vs. 44.7%), from mid-range (46.2% vs. 37%), and on above the break three-pointers (42.9% vs 32.9%). The small sample size means these findings should be taken with a grain of salt, but they do somewhat confirm the eye test that Russell looks better with a hard-rolling big on the floor.
How is a relatively unknown and undersized sophomore forward with limited shooting range able to so drastically affect the play of a lottery pick? Well, the simple answer is because if defenses don't properly account for Black's rolls to the rim, he does things like this:
If a big tries to cut off Russell or Jordan Clarkson, committing to them like Minnesota does here, Black can burn them with the threat of a lob dunk (like on the play above), or grab an offensive rebound (he is grabbing 10.6% of the Lakers' misses while on the floor this season, which ranks, you guessed it, first on the team).
Black additionally is able to affect shots on the other end of the floor, with opponents shooting just 51% at the rim against him, which ranks second on the Lakers behind Roy Hibbert's 49.3%. Where Black has the edge on Hibbert is mobility, as he's able to slide his feet laterally better than the plodding seven-footer. Black is also the second best defensive rebounder on the team by the numbers, grabbing 29.9% of opposing misses while on the floor, right behind Randle's 31.4%..
Unfortunately, Black tweaked his ankle and was unable to have the same effectiveness in the second half that he did in the first, but with Byron Scott alluding that he will begin to play the Lakers' younger players more after the All-Star Break, Black should unquestionably be in line for a bump up in the rotation to backup center when he heals up.
All of the internet clamor for Black to play more should not obscure the truth: he is a nice player and a hardworking guy, but he probably tops out as a fourth big man on a good team. However, the Lakers are not a good team, and Black's strengths are so symbiotic with the Lakers' young guards that the team should play him more not only to see if Black is worth keeping around this summer, but also so they can evaluate how Russell and Clarkson look playing next to the closest guy the Lakers have to their ideal type of teammate.
As Bryant said, Tarik changed the game for the Lakers on Tuesday night. He should be given more chances to do so going forward.
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.