Even the most optimistic of fans likely would not have expected Wenyen Gabriel to have as big of a role as he did in the final weeks of the regular season. After struggling to get on the court in his first games in Los Angeles, Gabriel eventually cracked the rotation — and even the starting lineup — amidst mounting injuries to play a big role to close the season.
His play was so impressive that it earned him a contract from the Lakers, a two-year deal with a player option for the 2022-23 season. With his future potentially set for next season, Gabriel is heading into this offseason with a few focused goals for improvement following his exit meeting with general manager Rob Pelinka and senior basketball advisor Kurt Rambis last week.
“It was real positive, my meeting with Rob and Kurt,” Gabriel said. “And they’re excited to have me here this summer so I can put in some work, and they said a lot of good things about me and complimented my game, the different things that I bring to the court. (They just told me) to improve on different things, put on some more weight, spend some time in the weight room and continue to improve my shot.
“But there weren’t too many different things that they wanted to see. Just putting in the time — we have a long offseason — and committing myself to the work is going to lead to good results, so we’re really excited.”
Bulking up and improving his shot are two very clear areas for Gabriel to put in work this summer. Given his unique skillset and body, Gabriel could benefit from adding muscle and being able to reliably stretch the floor.
Ten years ago, Gabriel would have been considered a tweener by NBA teams and would have struggled to find any sort of role in the league. Now, though, he has been a beneficiary of modern basketball and was able to carve out a role this season. If he can add muscle to his frame, he could potentially be featured in lineups as a legitimate center, opening up even more playing time to him as well.
Even without the muscle, his versatility is one of his calling cards, and why he’s able to get into multiple lineups.
“I can play a lot of positions, whether it’s the 4, 3, 5,” Gabriel said. “And then defensively I’m real versatile, so playing with players like LeBron and AD, I don’t have too much of a load offensively. I mean I finish the easy buckets, use my length against smaller defenders and most importantly knock down that corner jump shot.
“I’m not happy with the way I shot this last month, but I know I’m very capable and had a lot of time to put in the work on that,” Gabriel continued. “Everything that I need is in front of me, it’s just a matter of time and the work that I put in.”
Interesting, Gabriel and Anthony Davis did not share the floor this season, though the latter was barely healthy to play in games with Gabriel down the stretch. But part of what would help Gabriel get on the court with AD and LeBron James — aside from better roster construction — is an improved jumper.
At times, Gabriel flashed an ability to score from the perimeter that has made him a tantalizing prospect. In the team’s win in Toronto, Gabriel shot 3-for-3 from the 3-point line in a red-hot first quarter from him. But he also made just three of his 20 other attempts on the season, and struggled as a whole from the perimeter.
Being able to space the floor reliably would boost his value to any team, Lakers included, and in any lineup, alongside LeBron and AD included. He is a career 33.8% 3-point shooter and has shown more than enough potential to believe it could be a big part of his game.
What’s encouraging, though, is that the Lakers have a young player with the pieces and potential to become a contributing role player on a competitive team. Despite playing three seasons in the NBA, Gabriel is still just barely 24 years old. If the Gabriel and the Lakers can harness all that potential, it could lead to a bright future for both parties moving forward.