With only 17 games left in what has been one of the most disappointing and joyless Lakers seasons in recent memory, fans of the team have suddenly been presented with a dilemma of a question — what is there left to watch for?
Yes, there technically still is a chance of a postseason berth that could lure potential viewing interest. But, when realistically considering the amount of ground the team must make up (not to mention the Lakers’ growing list of injuries) combined with the remaining strength of schedules among budding bubble teams, it is no shock the Lakers have only a less than a one percent chance to make the playoffs, according to five-thirty-eight’s latest projection.
In not so many words, it isn’t going to happen. And for genuine consideration of fans’ health and sanity, a chance at the postseason should not be the expectation anymore when tuning in. Yet even with that said, there still are seedlings of optimism left to find a niche level of enjoyment with this team during the final stretch of games. Even if you have to squint to do so.
Here are a few that could help soothe what is expected to be a bleak late-season viewing experience.
Any Semblance of Brandon Ingram’s 3-Point Shot
Despite often hidden within the teams’ barrage of losses, Brandon Ingram’s recent Johnny Storm-level of offense has easily been the most entertaining aspect of Lakers’ basketball within this past month.
In his last 10 games, Ingram is averaging 25.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists with a blistering 64.5 true-shooting percentage. That’s an insane stat-line for a player who is 1) 21-years-old, 2) has had to adjust to being LeBron James’ teammate on and off the court and 3) arguably has been misused on offense since entering the league.
While the numbers themselves have been impressive on face value, arguably more encouraging within this hot stretch has been the slight uptick in volume and confidence in Ingram’s 3-point shooting.
On the season, Ingram is attempting only a minuscule 1.8 threes per contest (33 percent accuracy) which accounts for only 11 percent of his overall shot profile.
When comparing his meek 3-point frequency to other NBA wings this season, Ingram ranks in merely the 1st percentile of the league, according to Cleaning the Glass. In other words: 99 percent of wings this year are relying more on threes to generate their offense than Ingram is. A problematic occurrence within an already congested Lakers’ offense.
During his latest scoring surge though, Ingram has encouragingly not only begun to take slightly more threes, but is canning them. In his last ten contests, Ingram has attempted 2.3 threes a game, and has made 1.1 per contest (50 percent).
On a macro level, that’s still an extremely low rate, but ultimately an important and necessary step in the right direction for Ingram’s development curve. This is definitely something to keep an eye on once/if Ingram returns to the lineup in the few games left remaining.
The ‘Other’ Young Guys
The Lakers’ young “core four” consisting of Lonzo Ball, Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart have all had their share of ups and downs this season. But even in their roughest of moments, they have in most cases, been consistently the most engaged players on the roster.
On a team who brought in several veterans to add “toughness,” the young core’s rarely slowing effort level speaks to how blatantly the energy and focus levels have waxed and waned this season, an underlying and consistent lynchpin of the team’s losses.
Against Denver on Wednesday, the Lakers once again fell victim to this, getting undermanned and outworked while they quickly fell behind double-digits on the scoreboard.
With few players offering much of a fight and dwindling options left on the bench, Luke Walton had no choice but to turn to the team’s’ G-League affiliated players: Alex Caruso, Moe Wagner (has split time with the main roster and South Bay) and Jonathan Williams to hopefully provide a spark.
Behind immense hustle, fundamentals (boxouts, screens, fighting for 50/50 balls) and simple will, the trio helped spark a resilient comeback against one of the best teams in the league, and nearly helped the Lakers pull out what would have been an unfathomable victory.
While the group will likely not be able to duplicate that level of productivity for the entirety of the rest of the season, they surely should be rewarded with playing time down the stretch. Although they might not be long for this team in terms of future roles, there is no mistaking the value that comes with playing hard.
On a night that James passed Michael Jordan on the league’s All-Time-Scoring list, it was the ragtag group of G-Leaguers that showed the main roster how it was done. Hopefully that’s a valuable lesson learned, and is practiced down the stretch.
Making Up For Missed Time
With only a small portion of the season left on the docket, the Lakers should pounce on the chance to finish strong. Not to make a run for the playoffs, as that aforementioned ship has all but sailed. And no, this does not even mean having to miss out on the chance to improve the organization’s draft chances.
Finishing strong doesn’t need to be directly correlated in wins, but rather it is more tied to the amount of effort level and overall quality of basketball produced, things that will do wonders in salvaging just a little of what has been an underwhelming, year and give the fans their last chance to cheer.
While it is still unclear if the basketball world will ever get to see what this squad truly could look like when fully healthy, the possibility of getting just a few more games of James and the young core still exists. And with yet another wild offseason on the horizon, this very well may be the last version of this Lakers era, as drastic changes loom.
So if it’s simply to get that last glimpse of a favorite player before they are traded, or to root on fan favorites who might never get another chance to crack an NBA rotation, there are still plenty of things to watch and learn from for the rest of the season.