The 2017-18 NBA season is just weeks away, with all 30 teams entering training camp with different goals. This season, the Los Angeles Lakers will look to improve on last season’s 26 win total. On Tuesday, training camp officially began, with fans finally able to set their eyes upon this year’s group all together in one gym. Luke Walton’s team had very few positives to take away from last season, but those few are valuable. One key takeaway was the strong performance put in by the Lakers bench. This year’s group has a few new faces, young and old. So, can this Lakers bench replicate last season’s form?
Can the Los Angeles Lakers Bench Replicate Last Season’s Form?
When you think of great benches, you think of the San Antonio Spurs, Cleveland Cavaliers or the Houston Rockets. All three were playoff teams, unlike the Lakers. The Lakers bench was great all season long. In fact, some games the bench unit outplayed the starters. That can be seen as a positive and a negative, but we’ll stick to the positive. The Lakers bench led the league in points (47.1) and steals (4.3), as well as being ranked second in rebounds (19). Guard Lou Williams was the team’s leading performer, averaging 18.6 points per game. Williams was traded before the deadline and has since landed back in Los Angeles playing for the Clippers.
One weakness of this bench was taking care of the ball. Coughing the ball up 6.3 times a game, their youth cost them. Losing Williams was a big loss, but a necessary one. During the off-season, this bench lost some talent. David Nwaba, Thomas Robinson and Tarik Black were all released this summer. All talented young players, the Lakers freed up cap space by moving on from all three. Heading into the new season, the team will be relying on a mix of young and old to replace the likes of Williams and others.
This Season’s Key Player’s
Replacing talent in the NBA is never easy, especially for a rebuilding team. However, the Lakers found a way to add to their bench in both free agency and via the draft. Signing veteran center Andrew Bogut came as a surprise to many, with the former Warrior coming off a season-ending injury. Bogut will be a key bench asset, along with second-year big man Ivica Zubac. The seven-one Croatian had a strong rookie campaign, despite starting the season in the D-League. Zubac and Bogut are both rim protectors, capable of contributing off the bench.
This year’s draft saw the team select four player’s. The group is headlined by Lonzo Ball, but the bulk of the draft will contribute off the bench. Summer League star Kyle Kuzma is a solid shooter, who looks set to become a key player in the Lakers rotation. Guard Josh Hart is a great addition to the team, mainly for one reason. At Villanova, Hart was an acclaimed defender with this group needing all the defense it can get. Expect Hart to be the Lakers best perimeter defender off the bench.
Finally, we come to some of the more seasoned player’s. Larry Nance Jr. will once again provide great hustle, but his offensive game is in need of development. Veterans Luol Deng and Corey Brewer are expected to fight for the role of backup small forward in camp. Both are solid and should contribute well when required.
This is a talented group, but as last season proved, every bench needs a leader.
Last season, Williams was a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year under Walton. This season, the Lakers bench will be led by Jordan Clarkson. Now in his fourth year in the league, Clarkson is expected to step up. In an interview earlier this week, Magic Johnson had this to say on Clarkson:
“I told him that he should be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.”
Johnson went on to add that Clarkson is a “key player” coming off the bench.
Averaging 14.7 points per game, Clarkson is an athletic two-way guard who thrives in iso situations. If he is to fill the void left by Williams, he needs to develop an all-around game. Creating for the player’s around him is key to Clarkson becoming a legitimate Sixth Man. By passing more and shooting less, he should be more effective offensively. Often in the past, Clarkson has been prone to forcing things on offense, this is a habit that has to change.
This team is young, very young. Clarkson and others will be the difference between Walton’s 26 win team becoming a 30 plus win team.
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