The Los Angeles Lakers plan to have an open competition for their starting lineup during training camp.
The Los Angeles Lakers look to have a bright future. They are loaded with young talent and a bright head coach in Luke Walton. The front office got an overhaul this season with Magic Johnson being brought back into the fold and Rob Pelinka being hired as general manager.
The Lakers are not used to rebuilding, but there is excitement about what is being put together in Hollywood. The Lakers wrapped up their regular season last week with a 26-56 record.
They were able to accomplish Walton’s goal of ending the season with momentum, as they went on a five-game winning streak near the end of the season; a loss to the Golden State Warriors in the season finale snapped that winning streak.
With the focus now solely on the 2017-18 season, the Lakers can begin their preparations. They are hoping part of those preparations includes a top-three pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. If they do not land in the top-three of the lottery, the pick will be sent to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Whether they add a top pick to the roster or not, one thing is clear; the Lakers will be having an open competition for the starting lineup next season. The Lakers’ goal this season was to grow their young talent, not necessarily trying to win games. There were multiple reasons for doing so, and the Lakers accomplished that goal. They went to great lengths to do so, benching veterans Timofey Mozgov, Luol Deng and eventually Nick Young.
If they want to begin competing for the postseason again, they will need those veterans mixed in with their youngsters. Walton recently expressed that there will be an open competition for the starting five in training camp.
The Lakers have plenty of players worthy of starting. D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson played well together after the All-Star break once they were given more opportunities with Lou Williams traded and Young eventually shut down.
Russell averaged 18.5 points and 5.0 assists per game on 42.5 percent shooting after the All-Star break, increasing his numbers from 14.2 points and 4.7 assists per game on 39.2 percent shooting prior to that. Clarkson increased his scoring average from 13.7 before the break to 17.2 after. Brandon Ingram, who benefited from Deng being shut down, went from eight points on 36.3 percent shooting before the break to 13.2 per game on 47.5 percent afterward.
Arguably the biggest increase came from rookie Ivica Zubac. Zubac, who the Lakers selected with the 32nd pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, played a lot more than he was expecting to in his rookie season.
“I expected it to take more time to help a team,” said the 20-year-old Zubac. “I didn’t expect to play as much this season as I played. As soon as I got my chance, I showcased my skill and tried to help my team.”
In 12 games, Zubac averaged 11.1 points on 57.1 percent from the field, adding 4.8 rebounds per game. An ankle injury ended his season early, but he showcased his skills.
Zubac will face stiff competition from Mozgov in training camp for the starting spot. Mozgov signed a four-year, $64 million deal with the Lakers last offseason. It was a peculiar signing given the state of the Lakers, but Mozgov is a solid starter in the NBA.
Mozgov doesn’t believe that Zubac is definitely ready to be a starter, as he would like to start for the Lakers again next season.
Zubac believes otherwise, saying he knows he can start. He played very well when given a chance in March after Mozgov was shut down. But he knows that he will have to perform if he wants to earn the starting spot.
“I don’t think Luke thinks there’s a guy that will start every position,” Zubac said. “I think the positions will be open. Whoever plays open and whoever can help the team win, that will be the guy that’s going to start.”
The Lakers will be a fun team to watch leading up to the 2017-18 team. They have a lot of young talent and a front office that looks like they will provide them the tools to flourish. If the Lakers keep their first round pick this season, they will have an excellent opportunity to add even more talent to their young core.