Welcome to our Lakers Season Preview Series! For the next several weeks, we’ll be writing columns every weekday, breaking down the biggest questions we have about every player the Lakers added this offseason. Today, we take a look at Wenyen Gabriel.
Wenyen Gabriel only played in 19 games last season for the Los Angeles Lakers; however, he was easily one of the most notable bright spots of a campaign that was full of dread.
Gabriel arrived at the beginning of March, joining them amid the saddest stretch of the season. He came to the team via a two-way contract, but was dressing with the Lakers regularly nearly right away due to injuries, as well as most of their players seemingly not fit to even be on an NBA roster let alone provide value (this has further been confirmed this offseason with most of last season’s team still looking for a new NBA home).
He became a regular part of the rotation in mid-March, even starting in five games by the end of the season. Gabriel, despite only being 6’9 and 205 pounds according to Basketball Reference, was able to play at the 4 and 5 for Frank Vogel while Anthony Davis continued to sit out due to injury.
Before the end of the season, the Lakers rewarded Gabriel for being a productive player with extremely high energy (something much of the roster failed to provide) by giving him a non-guaranteed contract that could keep him with the team through the 2022-23 season.
With Gabriel being one of only a few players set to return from last season, can he build on his role amongst a bunch of new faces?
What is the best case scenario for Gabriel this season?
Last season, Gabriel was able to find playing time because the Lakers’ two centers — Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan — couldn’t stay on the court without either getting too tired or the Lakers’ opponent going on a big run (or both). By the time Gabriel joined the Lakers, they’d actually just rid themselves of DeAndre Jordan, leaving Gabriel to fight for minutes with Howard and the Lakers’ most successful center during the campaign: LeBron James. Obviously, the less LeBron is banging with the NBA’s big men, the better for his overall health and therefore the Lakers’ long-term hopes of contention, which is how Gabriel helped out in Davis’ stead.
The Lakers should have much better production from the 5-spot this season after signing Thomas Bryant and Damian Jones to veteran’s minimum contracts. If those two and Anthony Davis stay healthy for most of the year, it could prevent Gabriel from getting much time as the team’s center.
The best-case scenario for Gabriel would be finding a way to competently play the 4 next to one of those three big men who will be sharing time at the five. If Gabriel can find playing time there, he will have to improve upon the 28.6% he shot from deep last season. If he does, he’ll have a chance to deploy the high energy, impressive length, and sneaky athleticism that tend to shine in his best moments with the purple and gold.
What is the worst-case outcome?
This is pretty simple. The worst-case outcome for Gabriel’s season is that he doesn’t play a second in any game. If the Lakers go into the season with a full roster, he’d almost certainly be released before his contract is fully guaranteed late in the season, allowing the Lakers to fill his roster spot with someone from the inevitable buyout market.
What do you think is the most likely role for them?
I really appreciate what Gabriel was able to do for the Lakers at the end of last season, and I think I speak for all fans of the team when I say that.
However, the odds are stacked against him getting substantial playing time as a member of this roster’s frontcourt. If Gabriel is getting minutes, that’s probably not a good thing for the Lakers as it would almost certainly mean another player more central to the team’s hopes of contention — like LeBron and AD, or even Bryant and Jones — is hurt, or in the case of the latter pair, severely underperforming.
Hopefully, Gabriel can prove me wrong and be a solid contributor for the team across a solid chunk of minutes — or at the very least, play well enough to force the Lakers to fully guarantee his contract and enter a second straight offseason with the team.