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Laker Film Room: Johnathan Williams makes a case for playing time

Can Johnathan Williams be the backup 5 that the Lakers are looking for?

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NBA: Preseason-Los Angeles Lakers at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Johnathan Williams needs minutes going forward. The Lakers have been desperately seeking someone who can play the backup center position since the beginning of training camp, and the guy that they need may have been here all along.

It’s no coincidence that Kyle Kuzma flourished at the exact time that he didn’t have to play a significant number of his minutes as a small-ball five. Ivica Zubac picked up five fouls in five minutes as LaMarcus Aldridge flummoxed him. Michael Beasley’s game still hasn’t arrived from New York.

Then Williams checked in with 3:19 left in the third quarter of the Lakers’ heartbreaking 143-142 loss against the San Antonio Spurs and staked his claim. Let’s take a closer look at the quality minutes that he gave the team in the second half.

The Lakers desperately need more “grimy” players. Dirty work, lunch pail, little things guys who make you want to recite every hard-working cliche in the sports lexicon. Williams is one of the very few guys on the team who fit that description. He sets good screens, boxes out, and has a high motor that earned the Lakers extra possessions last night.

His defense is what’s going to get him more minutes though. The Lakers are allowing 117.2 points per 100 possessions — 26th in the NBA — in large part because of their defensive void in the frontcourt. Julius Randle’s departure left a void on the roster for a coach who likes to switch, and Williams is far and away the Lakers’ best option in that respect. He’s able to provide some of that lost ability, and can show higher on his pick and roll contains in drop coverages.

Johnathan Williams isn’t merely a charming story of an undrafted guy who worked for every opportunity that he has. He can play, and his strongest attributes are in areas that the Lakers need the most.

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