los angeles lakers magic johnson
But while the team has been moving toward basic competence, there’s some worry that “average” may be this group’s ceiling. And that may explain the move to bring in Johnson. These are the Lakers after all, and the Lakers run on stars.
L.A. is stocked with young prospects, but haven’t yet unearthed a drop-dead star. Former No. 2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell is a hugely fun player, but he hasn’t progressed as quickly as many hoped he would after a tumultuous rookie season. Brandon Ingram, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft, has been even worse. Ingram is averaging 8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 27.7 minutes per game on 36.3 percent from the floor, 30.4 percent from three and 65.5 percent from the line. (That’s a 45.1 true shooting percentage, if you were wondering.) Ingram is still valued by the franchise enough that L.A. reportedly would not consider trading him for DeMarcus Cousins, but his play so far this season has been a very bad sign. For instance, an updated CARMELO projection using his stats from this season now predicts he will produce about $34 million over the next five seasons. Coming into the season, those same five years were expected to be equivalent to about $121.3 million in value.
Of L.A.’s young prospects, Julius Randle, the third-year power forward taken seventh overall in 2014, has fared the best. Randle’s per-game numbers haven’t budged too much, but Walton has run the offense through Randle for long stretches. Walton was a known Draymond-whisperer during his time as an assistant in Golden State, and it’s not hard to see Green’s imprint when Randle is running the break, hitting runners for easy baskets. Randle’s percent of possessions that end with an assist has nearly doubled, going from 11 last season to 20.2 this season, and the added touches have made him more patient with his own offense as well — his true shooting has crept up to a respectable 53.8, after posting a dismal 48.2 in his first full season. That’s good progress, but likely not at the level Johnson is thinking when he says his goal is to “return our Los Angeles Lakers to NBA champions.”
In a lot of ways, the Los Angeles Lakers’ prolonged absence from the national spotlight has been a positive indicator. Troubled franchises tend to make headlines only when something is going cosmically wrong, like the Sacramento Kings trading their best player for a crate of oranges, or the President of the New York Knicks engaging in a Twitter war with a star player who won’t allow himself to be traded. The Lakers’ return to the circus comes at a time when tactical decisions for the franchise’s immediate future are looming, but the basic culture and basketball sensibilities being built around the team are just as important.