Hours after last week's 39-point loss at Houston, Lakers coach Luke Walton talked about the team at practice and explained exactly what it's missing. "We don't have that one alpha yet or that one All-Star type of guy to calm us down when adversity hits," he told reporters.
That was to be expected after Kobe Bryant retired. The Lakers were left with a young core, the veterans they brought in didn't yield a team leader, and now Walton, Magic Johnson and new GM Rob Pelinka must figure out if they have a star in the making on their roster — or if it's Lonzo Ball time.
Here are five possible alphas on the Lakers roster and the reasons why they'll become The Man — and the reasons why they won't.
Cons: His shooting, which was poor (41%) as a rookie, has gone down (39.9%), and in the first two games since Walton removed him from the starting lineup, he's shooting 6-for-26. Then there are the infuriating defensive lapses and plays like this. Oh, and the maturity factor: Remember that no-so-good thing he did to Young?
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Pros: The 19-year-old rookie has the size (6-9) and athleticism to make highlight-reel plays that fire up the team. In the past two months he's been able to shoot more often, and he's been much improved when taking 10 or more shots. The Lakers reportedly refused to trade him to Sacramento for DeMarcus Cousins, so that would indicate Walton really believes he can be "a great, great NBA player".
Cons: Before he becomes an alpha on the court, he has to become one at the lunch table and pack on some pounds. More muscle, too. And nobody's going to keep comparing him to Kevin Durant when he's shooting 39% from the field and 62% at the line. The fact that Ingram isn't even a candidate for Rookie of the Year with such little competition is a big disappointment.
Pros: The 24-year-old guard has proven he can come off the bench, doing so 63 times this season without his numbers suffering. He matched his career high with 30 points earlier this week, then Walton moved him into the starting lineup. Good test of confidence and attitude, and Clarkson passed it.
Cons: Clarkson needs to be more vocal, which the Lakers bosses are encouraging him to be. And he doesn't score nearly enough for a player who passes so rarely, or get to the line enough — his 2.2 attempts per game are fewer than Russell, Ingram and Julius Randle.
Pros: The 22-year-old forward has the best all-around skill set on the team, as evidenced by his three triple-doubles this season. He's got good enough post moves that you can throw it to him when you need a bucket, and a nice combination of size and ball-handling skills. The end result is the highest player efficiency ranking by a Laker in almost a decade.
Cons: While his shooting has improved from 42.9% last season to 48.7%, his rebounding has dropped from 10.2 to 8.6. Randle has shown he's a willing scorer, but he needs to stay sharp in the other aspects of his game.
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Pros: It's a long shot to project the Bosnian rookie as becoming an alpha, but he's 7-foot-1 and 19 years old. He had 25 and 11 in a game this week, showing he can score in a variety of ways, but his four blocks in the first five minutes the night before were equally exciting. He and Ingram have the best builds to become strong defenders, and this Lakers team needs that more than anything.
Cons: Zubac is young and fresh out of the D-League. He's a second-round project adjusting to a new country and playing with other youngsters. Lakers history has a long line of great big men, so you'd think Zubac could get a better mentor than Timofey Mozgov.