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The Lakers 2017-18 Season Exit Survey

With the 2017-18 season in the wraps, it’s time to answer a few of the season’s most burning questions.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Lakers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers’ win over the Clippers on Wednesday night officially marked the end of the 2017-18 season for the Lake Show. It was an action packed season and although it’s easy to look ahead to what’s next, we though we would take some time to reflect on what ended up being the most fun season to watch as Lakers fan in years.

And so without further ado, we present to you our 2017-18 exit survey. Enjoy.

1. Who was the most impressive player this season? Who was the biggest disappointment?

Alex Regla: The Lakers as a collective have been plenty impressive this season so it makes it difficult to pinpoint one player, but if I had to acknowledge a singular individual it has to be Julius Randle. My very first article on this site revolved around Julius’ off-season regiment, his contract situation, and the promising preseason glimpses that possibly would foreshadow a breakout season and he has seamlessly outperformed my wildest expectations.

The combination of his body transformation, the defensive intensity, his numbers (18.9 points and 9.2 rebounds as a starter) and most importantly his durability (only Laker to play in every game this season) have led to the 23 year old’s best season as a professional.

In terms of disappointment, I think I have to give my nod to Ivicia Zubac simply from a developmental sense. Zu was considered by some to be a possible major cog in the team’s young core going forward (and still can be) after a pleasant surprise of a rookie season, but even from the start of his second Summer League showcase, he has struggled to progress or even duplicate his initial NBA success.

Although improving his physical frame over the summer, Zubac has struggled to get consistent playing time with his parent team and the instances when he has been on the floor he continues to have issues on the defensive end and finishing around the rim. Good news for both he and the Lakers, he is still only 21 years old and has plenty of room to grow.

Ben Rosales: Julius Randle takes the cake for the first question, elevating his game to such a degree as to possibly change the entire calculus of the Laker front office’s free agent enterprise. As of this writing, his averages of 18.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists on a 61.1 true shooting percentage as a starter have very few equals in NBA history save for a number of historically great players and his switching defense and small-ball five utility fill one of the most important niches in the modern NBA.

To be sure, Randle still has significant warts, whether his lack of range, a continued lack of a right hand, and exercising continued focus and effort throughout games, especially on defense, but the sheer scope of his improvement cannot be denied at this juncture. And Randle is still only 23, less than a year older than current rookies Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart, so the book is certainly not closed on the type of player he can become and given that he’s raised his game every year of his career, Lakers fans should be excited for what the next chapter could bring should he be on the team next season.

As for the biggest disappointment, Ivica Zubac failed to follow up on the promise of his rookie season and turn into a dependable member of the Lakers’ rotation. It should be noted that Zubac did improve from last season, notably on defense where his slimming down improved his short range quickness and made him more useful in drop coverage against the pick-and-roll and in rim protection. The larger issue is that he didn’t develop much from a skill perspective, arguably losing much of his touch and post ability due to a loss of functional strength from his slimming down, and the burgeoning range and short roll passing he previously flashed never materialized.

There’s no reason to give up on him at the moment, as blithely discarding a 21-year-old big on a near-minimum contract is simply wasteful and development curves sometimes take odd turns with younger bigs (and to reiterate: he did get better overall), but the presence of Thomas Bryant, Randle’s flourishing as a smallball center, and the real possibility of a center pick in the first round all make Zubac’s situation quite precarious.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Cameron Neimand: With all respect to Kyle Kuzma, who had one of the all-time great rookie campaigns in Lakers history, Julius Randle was the Lakers’ most valuable player this season after completely re-defining his body and game. After surviving the trade deadline, Randle took ultimate advantage of his solidified role and caught fire. He’s averaging 18 points (career-high), 8 rebounds (.6 less than his career high), and .6 blocks per game (career-high) and probably earned himself about $7 to $8 million more a year in the contract he’ll sign this coming summer.

The play of Randle, once an afterthought in the Lakers’ gilded vision of acquiring two superstars, will force Los Angeles to think long and hard about letting the 23-year-old walk.

The biggest disappointment had to be Ivica Zubac, which hurts to say because I love him with my heart and sould. Los Angeles’ cult hero, who himself suffered through the brutal trading of his best friend (and father) Larry Nance Jr, struggled to crack the rotation in his second NBA season.

After the departure of Timofey Mozgov, fans of the Purple and Gold hoped the 2017-18 would bring assurance of Zubac’s NBA legitimacy. Yet concerns for Zubac began in Summer League, where the second-year center looked clunky and lost in the same tournament in which his excellent play put his name on the map a year prior.

Though he’s broken into the lineup more in the season’s second half and showed instances of impressive floor running and pick and roll play, Ivica Zubac will need to have a Randle-esque offseason to become a permanent piece of Los Angeles’ future.

Christian Rivas: Julius Randle should be a popular answer here, and with good reason. The strides he made this year make him a legitimate candidate for Most Improved Player and as such, he is in for a huge pay raise this summer. But the player that impressed me most this season was Josh Hart.

The Kyle Kuzma hype train was easy to jump on following his hot shooting performances in Summer League, but Hart’s less flashy game took a little while longer to catch up to fans. He works his ass off on the defensive end, particularly in the post where he was been an unexpected nightmare for opposing bigs, and on the boards, which earned him the nickname “Josh Barkley” in the locker room.

He also showed in his final few games he is capable of carrying the load on offense if needed. That’s huge considering the biggest question mark on him coming out of the draft was his ability to score at the next level. That question might still have some validity, but he’s off to a great start.

As for the most disappointing player, that dis-honorary award goes to none other than Ivica Zubac. Just a year ago today, he looked like a player with fringe starter potential on a contending team. Now, he’d be lucky to play more than 10 minutes off the bench for a non-playoff team next season.

But he’s only 21 years old and can change the grim attitude around him with an impressive Summer League outing, something he failed to do last year.

2. Who was the Lakers’ Rookie of the Year?

Alex: Fortunately for everyone involved this question is worth being asked. I think if I had to choose objectively, I would have to pick Kyle Kuzma for two reasons:

  1. Despite his own introduction to the rookie wall at a point in the season, Kuzma has proved to be a consistent three level scorer in the NBA from the get go. He has real stretch ability, a crafty knack of finishing from the short mid, and has shown glimpses of enticing creation ability.
  2. He has played in the second most games of any Laker this season and has not had the gaping peaks and valleys of his fellow rookie teammates. For the other option, Lonzo Ball has both contributed to winning basketball and for as cliche as it may be, really helped dictate this team’s style. Yet the combination of time missed and some dire stretches, tilted the scale in Kuz’s favor.

Ben: Lonzo Ball and I don’t think it’s particularly close. Yes, there’s the culture change and his placement at the heart of the Lakers’ identity in basically everything they do on the court, but he was also just a flat out better player than any of his fellow rookies this season.

Practically every defensive metric rates him as a monstrous player at that end, second among point guards and No. 37 overall in the entire league in defensive real plus-minus to name one, and this meshes with an eye test that has witnessed countless instances of Lonzo’s preternatural help instincts and amazingly quick hands snuffing out opposing possessions. And while shooting was his bete noire, he contributed in spades as a passer and a rebounder and although a negative offensive player overall, he wasn’t as much of one as you would think as a result.

Kuzma’s defense was too much of a negative to give him the nod here (and his offense devoid of anything other than scoring), Hart can’t compete with Lonzo’s all-around contributions, and Bryant’s obviously not in the running. Availability could be a knock on Lonzo, as Kuzma played significantly more games but that still doesn’t close the considerable production gap for me.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Cameron: Kyle Kuzma, both in terms of roasting and playing, was the Lakers’ most valuable rookie by far. Taken with the No. 27 pick acquired in the D’Angelo Russell trade with Brooklyn, Kuzma would’ve been the steal of the draft if it weren’t for some guy named Donovan Mitchell falling to the Nuggets (and ultimately Utah) at 13.

Along with setting the record for most three-pointers made in a season by a Lakers rookie, Kuzma earned Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors for a ridiculous October-November stretch that included the forwarded becoming the first Lakers rookie since Magic Johnson to record 30 points and 10 rebounds in a game. His rookie year per game numbers, 16.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists, would be impressive for a tenth year veteran.

Off the court, he’s shooting about 100 percent on disses aimed towards teammates like Lonzo Ball, who once put his waffle on a napkin to the side of his breakfast plate. The chemistry of the Los Angeles youth is undeniable, and paired with Ball and Brandon Ingram, Kuzma represents the future of Lakers basketball.

Christian: Any answer but future Hall of Famer Kyle Alexander Kuzma is the wrong answer and anyone that thinks otherwise can meet me in Temecula.

3. Which of the Lakers’ acquisitions would you like to see back next season?

Alex: I think the most realistic option is also my personal choice and that is Brook Lopez. Brook had a slow start to the season and in many ways failed to live up to many fan’s expectations when he was acquired last summer via trade. The offensive anchor he had been with the Nets did not exactly translate to the Lakers, yet he has played a big role in solidifying a drastically improved defense with his rim protection and has provided a much needed veteran presence to the young locker room.

Although his offensive numbers are not up to his standards (did average 18.7 points in March), his spacing ability has helped unlock some of this teammate’s individual games. Julius Randle specifically has thrived next to Lopez once being firmly inserted in the starting lineup, and seems to have found a cohesive frontcourt mate or at least the necessary archetype going forward.

Brook will most likely be a desirable name this summer but with even larger fish available and tight wallets around the league, I would not be surprised if the team’s unofficial Disney Channel spokesperson is back for another round.

Ben: Brook Lopez. Stretch fives who can defend the rim are a very valuable commodity in today’s league and Lopez does both at a sufficiently capable level that it makes it worthwhile to keep him around. His shooting opened up opportunities for Randle to wreak havoc down low, gave a shot in the arm to relatively poor pick-and-roll operators in Lonzo and Ingram who could benefit from a pick-and-pop partner, and although inconsistent as the primary option he was billed as, he did flash enough in the post and off the dribble to keep opposing defenses honest.

On defense, Lopez showed a shocking amount of competence defending in space, enabling him to survive despite the Lakers’ proclivity for switching and him otherwise being forced into drop coverage, and his rim protection erased plenty of mistakes of a young and inexperienced roster. Whatever the roster context the Lakers will enter into next season, whether a full contender with two max players, a single max player and a good chunk of last year’s core returning, or even just this current team rolling over, Lopez fits and would provide value.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is similarly splashable and his shooting exceeded expectations but it is significantly easier to find help on the wing than a stretch five rim protector and a certain Paul George has been tied to the Lakers for eternity, so one can be forgiven for prioritizing Lopez. Finally, Isaiah Thomas did fill a particular niche thanks to his ability to be a capable pick-and-roll operator, but between his hip surgery and underwhelming year, one imagines he would only return to the purple-and-gold on a cheap one-year deal anyways (which would be fine but not an outcome the Lakers should be in a hurry to actualize).

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Cameron: It’s easy to tell just from watching the games on television that Brook Lopez is beloved by just about every one of his Lakers teammates. In the coming, financially awkward offseason in which few teams have the cap to give a player like Lopez the money he would typically warrant, the Lakers and Lopez could hopefully strike a one-year deal to bring the center back for the 2018-2019 season.

Lopez’s first season in the purple and gold got off to a brutal start. Brook struggled to hit the three-point jumper that was supposed to seamlessly insert him into team’s offense. However, Lopez’s mid-season decision to venture back inside the three-point line more and punish bigs on the interior saved his season. Though down from his career averages of nearly 18 points and six rebounds a game, Lopez’ 13 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 block per game is not a statline to scoff at.

Besides, Lonzo, Ingram, Paul George, LeBron James and Brook Lopez has a nice ring to it as a starting lineup.

Christian: This isn’t a popular take in most circles, but I’d really like to see what Isaiah Thomas can do at full strength. Do I expect him to be the Isaiah of Old coming off of a hip surgery in what will be his final season as a 20-something-year-old? No, but if the market for him is as dry as it is expected to be, there’s no harm in seeing what he has left in the tank on a one-year deal.

If not, anyone that follows me on Twitter knows that I am a simple man who just wants to see Brook Lopez back in a Lakers uniform.

4. Has your opinion on Luke Walton changed from the start of the season to now?

Alex: It is easy to forget this is only Luke Walton’s second season as an NBA head coach amidst all the young players on the roster. This is not to excuse the questionable decisions he has made, specifically earlier in the season, but to simply point out he also has room to grow, and that he has since October.

Luke has dealt with a lot this season from having an almost an entirely new team from last season, a roster consisting of primarily young players including four new rookies, a mid season trade, and piles on piles of injuries. With that being said, this team has improved in nearly every statistical category, have more wins, and most importantly have seemed to buy in to Luke every step of the way. I am all in on Luke Walton and think he does not get close to the amount of praise he deserves.

Ben: Yes. Luke came into this season with an in-game tactical deficit, both from a schematic perspective and a lineup one. Always a fan of egalitarian rotations that went ten deep and separating out the starting and bench units into separate squads that ran different plays and had particular identities (an illogical approach since as we have seen, injuries caused the whole edifice here to crumble down and it prevents you from playing your best players more often), Luke slowly weaned himself off this as the season went on and showed more chops as an in-game tactician on SLOB plays and the like.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

He also kept a potentially fractious locker room, one filled with vets on one-year deals, players in contract years, and rookies eager to prove their worth, united and generally playing hard through a number of trying circumstances this season for which he deserves particular credit.

Luke still has rough edges to iron out, Randle sitting on the bench for a good chunk of the season a particular bugaboo, but his growth this season is encouraging and it befits a coach of his age who is arguably in his own right part of the Lakers’ young core as someone whose developmental curve we should observe. The complaints about the Arizona-centric nature of his staff and the general lack of strong non-Brian Shaw voices still ring true to a certain degree, so some diversity here would be nice (cough) Dave Fizdale (cough) but Luke’s done enough to be reasonably excited about where he can go next with this young core.

Cameron: Yes, yes and yes. When Luke took over the head coaching role after the firing of Byron Scott, he brought with him an understanding of the functions of the current NBA that Scott criminally lacked. The Lakers have improved upon the disastrous 2015-16 Kobe farewell tour season (with a record 17-65 record) in both years with Luke at the helm, finishing ar the No. 14 seed in the West in 2016-17 (26-56) and improving nine wins to give the Lakers’ their first 30-plus win season in five years.

So, if the Lakers were to fire Luke Walton, it would be a worse L.A. coaching decision than the hires of Byron Scott and Jeff Fisher combined.

Christian: I guess yes and no? I was all the way in at the start of the season because I was forgiving of the hiccups he had in his first year as full-time NBA coach. But as the season went on, Walton started doing questionable things like benching Julius Randle, playing Tyler Ennis, giving playing time to Andrew Bogut in favor of a few of their younger options, playing Tyler Ennis and playing Tyler Ennis.

Luckily, Walton came to his senses. Does he still play Ennis sometimes? Yes. Is the only reason Corey Brewer and Bogut aren’t playing extended minutes because they’re no longer on the team? Perhaps, but his willingness to identify the situation with Randle and salvage it before it was too late was admirable.

He still has a few kinks to work out, particularly in crunch time, but those kinks should work themselves out as the coaching staff gets a better idea of who they can turn to in late-game situations.

5. Would you consider this is a successful season?

Alex: There are many Lakers’ fans who still believe the adage that every season that does not end with a championship should be considered a failure, but I implore those individuals to reconsider and appreciate what this crop of Lakers have accomplished this season.

Winning in the NBA is not easy, I know as Lakers’ fans we have been spoiled by this but as we have seen recently with these last few years, building and creating winning habits takes time. This season feels like a genuine turning point from the rebuilding phase not simply because of the win uptick, but the team’s consistency of playing competitive basketball despite the obstacles they have faced.

Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka now have the talented group of players and cap space to pitch to possible free-agents, which may or may not work out, yet this current team and these individuals deserve to be recognized for for taking that crucial step in returning the franchise to the path of their ultimate destination.

NBA: Preseason-Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Lakers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Ben: I would. The central goal of this season was to show that the team’s overall trajectory was positive despite shipping out one of their prized young players and for the current young core to prove their worth. In this respect, the team itself was competitive almost every night notwithstanding injuries, they managed an above average defense for the majority of the season, and they did forge an identity, albeit somewhat fleeting due to the rarity of the team’s primary players all being healthy at the same time, at both ends.

The team also saw big jumps from current members of the young core in Ingram and Randle as well as featuring a hellaciously good rookie group between Lonzo, Kuzma, and Hart. More health could have possibly positioned the team better for attracting big free agents this offseason but they likely did enough to put their best foot forward. The team even eked out an additional first round pick for their troubles that their scouting staff that has killed it in that area of the draft can use to bring another contributor into the fold. However this offseason goes, the young core certainly has positive trajectory and that should continue to be the team’s bellwether moving forward

Christian: For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I am genuinely sad that the Lakers’ season has ended. This team was so much fun, despite their flaws (read: despite Tyler Ennis) and their heart restored faith to a fanbase whose attention was being lost to the fellas up in Oakland.

No one knows exactly what is going to happen in the offseason, but with an exciting core of young players, a young coach who understands the modern NBA and a whole lot of money to blow, there’s a reason to be optimistic as a Los Angeles basketball fan again. So yeah, I’d say that’s successful.

Feel free to fill out our exit survey in the comments below!

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