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 Taurean Prince.
For the first time in a long time, the Lakers have options on the wing. After years of trial and error — and some questionable roster-building approaches — the team finally enters a season with a cupboard full of players between 6’5 and 6’9 at their disposal.
While it’s been proven that depth at the small forward position in the modern NBA is a luxury, head coach Darvin Ham will have to be strategic and mindful with his lineup crafting in order to appease both individual and team interests. And with the sudden glut at the three, there will naturally be internal competition amongst the Lakers’ perimeter players.
One of those wings who will be vying for minutes and a big role is Taurean Prince. And given that he was the team’s first signing of the offseason, it’s clear the organization feels he’s more than up for the challenge.
After spending the previous two seasons in Minnesota, the 29-year-old arrives in Los Angeles with the expectation of playing a key part on a team with clear championship aspirations.
From a peripheral lens, Prince is the exact mold of player the Lakers have coveted in recent years. Yet with several others on the roster also out to prove they deserve to be the first wing on the depth chart, Prince will have to find a way to stand out from his teammates if he hopes to have his best year to date.
What is his best-case scenario?
Fortunately for Prince, his pathway to success this season doesn't rely on him straying far from what’s worked in the past. The prototypical 3-and-D wing, Prince has made a career filling in the gaps on each of the teams he’s played for.
On offense, the Lakers would be thrilled if Prince could simply continue shooting the basketball like he has, especially in recent seasons. A career 37.2% shooter from behind the arc, Prince has made enough incremental strides of late to establish himself as a threat from deep.
When removing garbage time and heaves, Prince has made 38.9% of his 3-point attempts in the last three seasons combined, according to Cleaning the Glass. Beyond the numbers, the veteran also clearly has confidence in his ability to space the floor as he vowed that there’s a “100%” chance he will shoot 40% from three this upcoming year.
Taurean Prince last season had the 8th best 3PT% on off-ball screen 3s of the 65 players with 50+ off-screen scoring possessions.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) September 21, 2023
Malik Beasley ranked 22nd.
Prince has consistently been at or around 40% on off-screen 3s.
He’ll be the best off-screen 3PT option for LA since??
It would also behoove Prince’s chances of cementing his spot in the rotation if he could complement his shooting with a collection of auxiliary skills. Whether it’s attacking a closeout and getting to the rim or simply making the extra pass, any additional contributions could go a long way in making him a more viable cog next to the likes of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Outside of his offense, how Prince fares defensively could be the biggest factor in determining how large of a role he can carve out with the Lakers.
With good size at 6’8 and a 6’11 wingspan, he immediately should help shore up some of the size issues that ailed the Lakers last season. Regardless of whether he starts or not, it’s also likely Prince will deployed on opposing wings, and sometimes even be tasked with guarding both up and down if the Lakers plan to switch more.
After primarily playing a drop-heavy scheme last year, it will be up to perimeter players like Prince to be able to stick off-ball and in isolation if the team decides to diversify their coverages.
But although joining a new team and having to learn a whole new set of terminology and habits will be a challenge, Prince could have a head start given his previous ties with those in the locker room. Not only does he have on-court experience with players like D’Angelo Russell and Jarred Vanderbilt thanks to their time together in Minnesota, Prince also should have some baked-in cohesion with his head coach as well. The wing recently credited Ham for helping further his development when the two were in Atlanta.
Between his requisite skills and previous connections with those on the team, Prince should have an edge over the team’s other wings who will be fighting for minutes. If everything falls into place, cracking the starting rotation certainly would be his best outcome. But even if he doesn’t, simply emerging as one of the Lakers’ most reliable players would be a big win-win for both sides.
What is his worst-case scenario?
Despite having several things in his favor, Prince will have some aforementioned competition this year when it comes to his slotting in the depth chart.
Beyond Rui Hachimura and Jarred Vanderbilt — two players that, along with Prince, are reportedly in the running for the last starting spot — the Lakers also fleshed out the backend of their bench with several hungry wings.
After his strong summer league showing and pending free agency, it is extremely likely that second-year player Max Christie is in heavy consideration for a regular rotation spot. Externally, the Lakers also signed Cam Reddish this summer in hopes he could finally live up to his potential in a new setting. If both players make strides, Prince will need to prove to the coaching staff that he deserves playing time over his younger counterparts.
Things like his experience and two-way ability should help Prince in this regard, however, if his teammates pass him by on the court, it is not entirely out of the question his ultimate value on the team comes as a trade piece.
With an extremely movable $4.5 million dollar expiring deal, Prince could be packaged alongside another player to help facilitate a move at the deadline. It may not even be due to Prince playing poorly, but more so a result of the Lakers already investing in both Hachimura and Vanderbilt this offseason and likely doing the same for one of Christie or Reddish.
Obviously playing strongly enough would make it more likely Prince would make it to the end of the season. But any sign of slippage will only shine a brighter light on the plethora of candidates who will be ready to take his spot.
What is his most likely role on the team?
If the status quo remains the same, Prince’s most likely role on the Lakers is essentially being a better version of Troy Brown Jr.
Despite having limitations, Brown emerged as a critical regular season contributor last season as he quickly earned the trust of Ham and his staff by being a true master of none. Whether it was making an open three, finding a teammate on the move or accepting any challenge on defense, Brown’s multifacetedness led to him playing the most games of any Laker last year.
On paper, Prince should be more than able to fill Brown’s shoes thanks to his skillset and past experience. It remains to be seen if he plays 76 games like Brown did, but there should be confidence he can at least replicate the attributes that led to Brown’s success.
In the likelihood of him ultimately settling into a bench role, Prince will be tasked with being a low-usage, high-impact player whenever his number is called.
Easier said than done, but the path to achieving this starts with displaying a level of compatibility next to the team’s stars. Hitting his open looks will go a long way, but so will doing the dirty work and helping take pressure off James and Davis on the defensive end.
There is nothing necessarily different Prince needs to do in his game in order to find his footing in Los Angeles. The Lakers signed him for a reason. However, if he wants to shine under the bright lights and solidify his role, he can’t rest on his laurels.
During the season there will certainly be internal and external forces that will threaten Prince’s minutes. And while a degree of his fate may ultimately be out of his hands, the best repellent to those encroaching his spot will simply be producing.
You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.