Lakers newsletter: How the team’s youth movement is taking shape

Lakers newsletter: How the team's youth movement is taking shape

Hey everyone, it’s Times beat writer Dan Woike. Welcome to one of the final Lakers’ newsletters of the summer, with players and coaches wrapping up all their back-to-work shopping (don’t forget the No. 2 pencils). Next week, we’ll be on the cusp of training camp and before you know it, the Lakers will be back on the court.

Though they might not look vastly different from last year’s team as some hope, they’ll be fundamentally changed around their three veteran stars. Let’s check in on the youth pumping blood through the Lakers’ veins.

The other side of the road

The youth movement was intentional, the Lakers desperately trying to get more athletic while forced to shop on a budget thanks to possessing three maximum-contract players. Now, it’ll be about finding ways for this group to contribute — with some players having much clearer paths to the court than others.

The Lakers entered media day last season armed with a common response. They had seen the jokes about the team’s age and they were going to make everyone eat those words.

And unsurprisingly, all things considered, they had scheduled that meal pretty early.

But the Lakers’ well-aged roster never was able to prove the jokesters wrong, the team putting together such a bad season that a championship coach got fired with the team taking a drastic U-turn in its approach to building the roster.

This season, the team will enter camp with eight players (including two two-way players) who are less than 26 years old. Last year, the Lakers had only four.

APART OF THE PLAN

Lonnie Walker IV

Born: 12/14/98

In conversations with rival scouts and general managers this week, Walker was consistently regarded as the most talented of the Lakers’ young players. That label, of course, can be a curse because it implies that the talent has been mined into making Walker the best player of the Lakers’ young player.

Though he’s much more natural as a shooting guard, his athleticism gives him a chance to perhaps play some small forward in lineups for the Lakers, creating a pretty large pathway for him to make an impact.

One rival executive viewed Walker’s deal with the Lakers — one year as the mini mid-level exception — as an opportunity to cure one of his biggest flaws, shot selection. Playing with dynamic players like LeBron James and Anthony Davis and maybe a resurgent Russell Westbrook, will tighten the window for shot selection.

There are some challenges on the defensive side of the ball, but almost everyone agrees that the tools are there. Now it’s on the Lakers to figure that out.

Austin Reaves

5/29/98

In some ways, Reaves is competing with Walker for minutes in the Lakers’ rotation, but there’s a belief among rival talent evaluators that Reaves’ creativity and versatility set him apart from everyone else on this list.

One scout called him “the best basketball player” of the group. He’s a better athlete than you might think with enough tenacity to defend NBA guards. He’ll need to shoot better than he did the second half of last season and he’ll have to improve his strength and stamina, which could be related to the shooting dip.

There is a lot of belief in Reaves’ ability to diagnose a team and problem solve — in which he figures out what the Lakers need him to do to be on the court and he does it. It could mean handling the ball, it could mean defending, it could be spot-up shooting.

THE PATH IS MORE CROWDED

Thomas Bryant

7/3/97

The Lakers were definitely not the only team interested in Bryant, who has shown that he can be a multi-level scoring center in the NBA. His potential as a floor-spacing big would open things for the Lakers, helping ease some of the concerns people have about their perimeter shooting.

The two biggest issues are (1) Bryant’s return from ACL surgery, and (2) the crowded Lakers’ frontcourt. The hope is that Bryant should be all the way back now that he’s had basically two years since he suffered the injury. The second issue is probably what has him headlining this tier.

The Lakers also signed Damian Jones, and while he doesn’t stretch the floor on offense, he probably patrols the paint better as a defender. There’s also the fact that neither Jones nor Bryant are actually in the top two when it comes to Lakers’ centers.

The best option is still Anthony Davis. And last season James showed that he can be a bear to guard when playing the spot in small-ball lineups. That could leave limited opportunities for Bryant, who will need to shoot it well to be a big part of the plans.

Troy Brown Jr.

7/28/99

In a lot of ways Brown is viewed as sort of the opposite of Walker, a player who possesses a lot of the intangibles that NBA talent evaluators really like but maybe isn’t as gifted athletically.

Scouts praised his ability to handle the ball and do the little things to affect winning, but now in his fifth year in the NBA, Brown has never been able to carve out a major role for himself.

At 6-foot-6, he has small forward size, which should be good enough to at least get him a look as a primary wing defender. But his shooting has to move north of the league average if the Lakers can credibly view him as a “3-and-D” player.

Like all of the players on this list, scouts are high on his character, but there are questions about his ability to affect high-level winning in a large role. If the Lakers end up playing small — and they could do it quite a bit — he could get squeezed out in favor of three-guard lineups.

THE LONG SHOTS

Wenyen Gabriel

3/26/97

Calling him “just an energy guy” sort of sells short a great spirit for the game. Last year, Gabriel earned some spot starts and showed a willingness to rebound. With a nonguaranteed deal for the upcoming season, he’s a candidate for being released if the Lakers need to create an extra roster spot.

Max Christie

2/10/2003

Scouts view the Lakers’ rookie as being a good distance from contributing in the NBA — no surprise to the Lakers who drafted Christie after one year in college with an eye toward development. He impressed people with his defensive tenacity in summer league, but he needs to get stronger and become a much more consistent shooter.

Cole Swider (two-way contract)

8/5/99

Of everyone on this list, Swider might have the best shot of mattering this season because he’s an elite shooter and the Lakers don’t really have any on their roster. He’s got significant work to do as a defender. There are questions about whether he’s a three or a four, but there’s no debate about his ability to shoot.

Scotty Pippen Jr. (two-way contract)

10/11/00

Pippen also played well in the summer when he showed progress as a point guard creating for others. One rival executive said he views Pippen as a “G League player” but added that he might be foolish to doubt him after he’s proved he can compete in the SEC and in Las Vegas over the summer. Still, with the logjam in the backcourt, it’ll be hard for him to find minutes.

Enjoying this newsletter? Consider subscribing to the Los Angeles Times

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Become a subscriber.

Rounding the corner and heading for home

The offseason’s final week arrives Monday, which means a round of preview coverage and, ultimately, media day leading into the first practices of the season.

Feel free to reply to this email with any training camp questions as we get ready for the season to start.

song of the week

Pixies “Wave of Mutilation”

No reason—it just rocks. Great sunny day, windows down music.

In case you missed it

Commentary: Donald Sterling saga helps show how to remove Suns owner Robert Sarver

The pros and cons of trading Russell Westbrook to the Pacers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.