From 2015 to 2018, the South Bay Lakers — formerly known as the Los Angeles D-Fenders — had made the playoffs three seasons in a row, including one G League Finals appearance.
That streak ended last season, as South Bay wasn’t close to sniffing the playoffs, finishing 9th in the Western Conference with a record of 21-29. Andre Ingram, who’s about to start in his 12th season in the G League, was pretty candid at the end of last season when I asked him if that season had felt any different from others.
“Yeah, a lot different. Just team-wise, we weren’t as successful man, that’s the drag of it all. It was a tough season. Not making the playoffs, we hadn’t done that in a long time,” Ingram said. “(There were) still a couple bright spots for many of us as individuals, but collectively, just disappointing.”
By individually, Andre possibly meant how the Los Angeles Lakers called up multiple players last season, such as Alex Caruso and Johnathan Williams (two-way contracts), Scott Machado, Andre Ingram, and Jemerrio Jones. Moves like that are obviously great for the individual players, but tough for the team, who usually could use the guys that are good enough to get called up for an NBA shot.
That’s the dichotomy of the G League: Players are all trying to get to the next level individually, but have to work as a collective unit while they’re doing it.
Everyone from the players to the fans know it’s hard to say how a season might go before it starts, but this year, South Bay has a very talented roster that could see plenty of success, even if a few moves are made during the season.
However South Bay does, it won’t be without a little crossover from its parent team. There are two Lakers on two-way contracts this season (Zach Norvell Jr. and Kostas Antetokounmpo), while rookie Talen Horton-Tucker is expected to spend plenty of time developing in South Bay as well.
Both Norvell and Antetokounmpo made names for themselves in the preseason. In a game against the Warriors (whom the Lakers played four out of the six preseason games against), Kostas had a team-high five blocks. In that same game, Norvell scored 29 points and went five of ten from three. Norvell also infamously broke Jordan Poole’s ankles in two separate games.
When I asked Norvell if he’s been watching those replays at South Bay’s Media Day this week, he chuckled and admitted he’s watched the clips “here and there when it may pop up on my timeline.” He also said family members have been sending him the video, which he thinks is pretty cool.
But it’s not all young guys. Like their parent team, South Bay has veterans on its roster, such as returning players Andre Ingram, Travis Wear, Marcus Allen, and Gary Payton II (who last played for the team during the 2017-18 season). It was a recurring theme from the young guys at South Bay’s media day to mention that it’s important to learn as much as they can from the veterans.
“We got a bunch of older guys on both teams thats been around the league been around the game for a while,” Norvell said. “So i’ve been just trying to be a sponge and soak up all the knowledge they have for the game.”
Having a veteran mentor is really important for a young player early on in there career, but there’s a special case with this Lakers team filled with veterans to learn from. That’s been the case for Talen Horton-Tucker, who says plenty of players on the parent roster have been giving him advice.
“All the older guys, they try to keep me on the right path, showing me the right things to do.” Horton-Tucker said.
Such mentorship will be especially important for Horton-Tucker, who at 18 is one of the youngest players in the NBA, and is playing catch-up due to missing all of the preseason and summer league due to a stress reaction in his right foot. At Media Day, Talen shared the news that he was cleared to play.
Talen Horton-Tucker said at South Bay Lakers media day that he's been cleared to play some minutes.— Ali B (@ali_behpoornia) November 7, 2019
"It feels good to actually get out there and play again," he said.
But as much talent as South Bay has this season, there’s one potential issue that comes into focus when looking at the roster: The lack of size. South Bay’s tallest player on the roster is Antetokounmpo, at 6’10. The second tallest player is Travis Wear (6’9), followed by Devontae Cacok and Jordan Caroline (both 6’7). With a size difference like that, it will be important for South Bay to play at a high tempo and shoot a high percentage from the 3-point line. They’re going to have to make teams play to their size, because they don’t have the size to play at others. It’s unknown what South Bay’s starting lineup will be, or how the rotations will go, but it may be important to look for a big man in the future.
With the size disparity the Lakers have, they’ll have to forge good team chemistry in order to trust each other defensively, and on a recent trip to the beach, they may have started to build it when Stockton was stung by a stingray and asked teammate (and SoCal native) Wear for advice.
“I just jumped over the wave and felt like something squishy, and then immediately after it just jabbed me and I was like oh,” Stockton said. “Trav Wear told me he’s got stung by one and it’s normal, so I didn’t freak out too bad.”
To paraphrase the coach from dodgeball, if you can treat a stingray wound, you can trust each other on defense, so if that’s not the start of some promising team chemistry, I don’t know what is.
South Bay’s season opener is tonight, in which they’ll taking on the Oklahoma City Blue at 5:00 p.m. PST.