#2. Luol Deng
Average Rank: 1.9
Trailing only D’Angelo Russell in this year’s rankings, new addition Luol Deng has to hope his immediate impact will be as big as his massive new contract. At 31, Deng is no spring chicken, especially with a few years of Tom Thibodeau wear and tear on his body, but he brings a set of sorely needed perimeter skills to the team and fills a massive gap. Throw in the fact that he’s one of the best locker room guys in the business and you can see why the purple and gold added him into the mix for the next few season.
Heading into this summer, the Lakers had another strong draft – bringing in two more potential rotation players into their growing young core. While it’s great to accumulate young talent and give them plenty of runway to grow, it’s also true that you need to bring in the right kind of veteran leadership to teach the right habits, build the culture, and start winning games. It would be harder to find a better leadership fit than Luol Deng.
First, the elephant in the room. Four years and $72M is probably an overpay – I mean that is Evan Turner money right there! Sarcasm aside, Deng has played a lot of minutes and is probably starting the slow decline at the tail end of his prime. He won’t be the best player on a Lakers championship team. Fans would rather have signed a 26-year-old max player in his prime.
All of those statements are true, but Kevin Durant was never coming through that door this summer and the Lakers have maintained a pristine cap sheet outside of Deng and Mozgov. This allowed them to splurge a bit on those two veterans and still maintain the flexibility necessary to sign a max player next summer.
While Deng’s contract may not age well and three years may ultimately have been the better play, he will absolutely bring a lot to the court next season and be among the most valuable rotation players. Deng immediately becomes the best perimeter defender the Lakers have, with the size and length to bother opposing small forwards or play a small-ball four. Deng rarely makes mental mistakes and has been good for a steal per game throughout his career. At 6’9" and 220 pounds, he can weather some of the tougher, more physical match-ups that would have otherwise gone to Ingram, allowing the rookie to grow into his role.
On offense, Deng’s versatility is a real asset to the Laker team. In 2015-16, the Lakers inability to hit from outside resulted in opposing teams packing in the paint and disrupting the offense. Although not lights out, Deng is a credible three point shooter (33% for his career) and will help the Lakers space the floor moving forward. He poses a match-up problem for defenses with his ability to post smaller players and take larger ones outside. Deng is never going to lead the league in scoring, but he can help manufacture points when the offense stalls. He has averaged nearly 16 points per game over his career and had a respectable 55% true shooting percentage last season.
As the Lakers look to run a real NBA offense this season and upgrade their defense, Deng will help them on both ends of the court. He's not one of those guys who’s truly elite at one skill, but Deng became a two-time All-Star because of his ability to do everything well.
There’s a compelling argument that Deng was just what the Lakers needed this summer. In 2016-17, Deng will be a major driver of an upgraded win total over last year’s lost season. He’s capable of being the team’s best defender and one of their top scorers. Looking ahead, as his age begins to show and the young players begin to earn more minutes, he is not one of those veterans that will start bristling at his role. Deng’s chameleon-like abilities and personality make him a welcome fit on any NBA roster, and the second-best player on the Lakers.