After shootaround Wednesday afternoon, a quote from LeBron James caused quite the stir, as it referred to the younger players on the Los Angeles Lakers and how relying on them so heavily has been tough.
Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times sent the tweet that garnered endless quote-tweets as Twitter became a real-time Rorschach test, with many perceiving James’ statement as some kind of slight when the young core has been more productive than their veteran counterparts.
Asked LeBron what exactly he means when he says inexperience has been a problem for the Lakers. Found this telling: "You have 4 guys in our top 8 rotation that you have to really rely on and it’s unfair to them to ask for so much when they’re in their second or third year."— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) March 6, 2019
Had this been the only part of the quote to go off of, we’d have had yet another week’s worth of content about whether LeBron actually likes this team. Fortunately, we got video:
LeBron has been saying for a while that the Lakers have struggled with inexperience. Here he suggests that none of the top 16 teams in the league have to rely as much on young players as the Lakers do. pic.twitter.com/DJcgiGgctw— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) March 6, 2019
Here’s exactly what James had to say about the Lakers’ reliance on guys like Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram (and Ivica Zubac before he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers):
“We have a lot of guys that haven’t experienced much. I think the best teacher in life is experience. You can only learn as you go about things and, you know, how you tackle that, how you engage in that...
“For me, I didn’t make the playoffs my first two years playing. I was still trying to figure out how to play championship or sense-of-urgency basketball every single night. And that’s something I was figuring out on my own as well. I wasn’t fortunate enough to have a lot of vets to have that experience, so I kind of learned on my own.
“We have four guys in our top-eight rotation that we have to really rely on, and it’s unfair to them to ask for so much when they’re in the second or third year. We have Zo, Josh, Kuz and B.I., and we had Zu at the time. That’s like five of our top nine guys that we relied on and they’re in their first and second year. You can’t find one other team in our league right now that has to rely on that much every single night from their young guys in their first and second year. And it’s unfair to those guys.
“We want them to learn... You know, I want them to learn, but also I have to understand that they’re young and they’re going to make mistakes. You just have to limit those mistakes as much as possible.
“But, you look at the 16 teams right now or the best teams in our league right now, just look at the guys that they rely on every single night, and if they have a young guy, it’s probably one or two of them. So it’s been tough on us, it’s been tough.”
(Quick note: Ingram and Zubac are both in their third years in the NBA.)
Again, at first listen or glance, this might come across as LeBron thinking the kids weren’t up to the task, and I would imagine there’s something to that, but that’s a bit too shallow a read of the situation. It’s not so much that he thinks the kids are what let the team down, but that the Lakers had to rely on them so heavily is a disservice to the kids. That the veterans around them performing the way they did actually let the kids down.
Look at the type of veterans the Lakers brought in: One year guys whose skillsets overlap with at least one younger player.
Rajon Rondo is a point guard who at one point was a good defender and impacts the game offensively by creating for his teammates. Lonzo is a really good defender who impacts the game mostly on that side of the ball, but uses instincts to create opportunities for whoever he shares the court with.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is an able defender who needs opportunities created for him offensively. Hart isn’t as good a perimeter defender but his opportunities on offense look a whole lot like KCP’s.
Kuzma is a longer wing who uses a versatile repertoire on offense to score at multiple levels, but struggles to find consistency on defense. Doesn’t that sound like some combination of Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley?
Hell, part of the reason Ingram and James struggled to find a rhythm offensively to start the season was because they both require the ball in their hands to either create for themselves or for others.
James mentioned Zubac, whose offense tends to come in pick-and-roll situations with the help of an able ball-handler and uses his size and length to affect the game defensively. Those are all aspects of both Tyson Chandler and JaVale McGee’s games.
The reason I point all that out is that because of the way the roster was put together, the young guys (who are all mostly better players than the veterans on the roster) had to produce with very little complimentary production from any veterans they shared the court with.
As the veterans were just as inconsistent (if not more so), the Lakers found themselves relying heavily on youth. James had to have noticed this, and was pointing this out at shootaround Wednesday.
Yes, James probably prefers to be surrounded by veterans he trusts on a nightly basis. If he had his choice, I would imagine he might’ve preferred that the veterans on the roster step up as production from those who have been in the league a while is a lot more predictable than that from a younger player, or so the narrative goes.
But the veterans didn’t produce consistently. McGee moped. Chandler’s age showed. Rondo was never a great fit alongside James. It’s hard to tell whether KCP has cared about this season at all at times.
So the young guys had to step up, and for the most part, they held their own — until injuries derailed Ball’s season and James’ own injury threw a wrench into this entire plan.
The outcome to this season will leave egg on all kinds of people associated with the Lakers’ faces. At first glance, it might seen as if James purchased a dozen eggs to fire in the young core’s general direction, but I really don’t think that’s what this was. This season is mostly over, but here’s hoping the Lakers learned their lesson on choosing the veterans to help its young core. Otherwise, it’s on those young guys to take the experience of this season and apply what they learned in seasons to come.
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