Lakers: Projecting the Final Roster For Opening Night

Lakers training camp opens on September 26th. Which players will probably make the opening night roster, and who will the likely starters be?

Currently, one of the biggest uncertainties surrounding the Lakers’ roster is what they intend to do with Nick Young this season.

Although he can still be a productive scorer in the right system, Young doesn’t seem like a good fit for the Lakers’ rebuild. For now, let’s count him as out and look at the rest of the team.

Backcourt

Barring something completely unforeseen, the opening night starters will be D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson.

Russell is anxious to prove that the Lakers were right to select him with the second pick of the 2015 draft. If summer league is any indication, he is ready to accept leadership of the team.

Clarkson is likely to pick up right where he left off last year, as he was the Lakers’ steadiest player for the second straight year. He has continued to work hard in the offseason to improve his 3-point shot and together, one of the two will likely lead the team in scoring.

Reserves should include Lou Williams, who can be a great scorer off-the-bench, even though he tends to monopolize the ball, and Euro vets Jose Calderon and Marcelo Huertas.

Interestingly, all five have played point guard, so ball-handling should be a strength. On the other hand, none is yet a better-than-average defender and that’s being generous. So playing time might open for Anthony Brown, the team’s best perimeter defender behind perhaps Luol Deng. A natural small forward, Brown played the 2-guard in summer league. If he rediscovers his 3-point stroke that has been missing in action so far in the NBA, he might earn even more minutes than expected.

Small Forward

Luke Walton will probably give the starting nod to veteran Luol Deng to take some pressure off top draft pick Brandon Ingram. That will allow the rookie to develop slowly without having to match up right away against some of the league’s best players, like Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard in the west, and LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in the east.

Deng has played in all 82 games only twice in his 12-year career, and at age 31 is unlikely to do so this year. Look for Ingram to step into the starter’s role around mid-season when Deng inevitably misses a game or two due to injury. And who knows- he just might emulate Lou Gehrig and remain in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future.

Power Forward

The power forward position will be manned mostly by two promising youngsters. The starter will likely be Julius Randle, who quietly averaged a double-double in points and rebounds last season, and who reportedly worked hard this off-season to improve his mid-range jumper.

Fan favorite Larry Nance Jr will provide a spark of energy off the bench and should earn major minutes. He has also developed a more dependable outside shot. When Walton goes with a small lineup, Deng might play the 4 and perhaps Ingram will too.

Center

Over the past two years, when Walton was the assistant coach in Golden State, the Warriors alternated up to five players a game at the 5 position. Walton just might do the same this season with the Lakers.

The front office was maligned for signing Timofey Mozgov to a rich contract. But when healthy, Mozgov is a better player than most people realize.

They drafted another 7-footer, Ivica Zubac, whose unexpectedly impressive summer league performance may foretell a bright future, and also re-signed energetic Tarik Black. In a recent surprise move, they signed former NBA player Yi Jianlian, who starred in China the past few years.

Rookie Zach Auguste, who is under a non-guaranteed contract, is the best bet to earn the final remaining roster spot. But chances are he and Zubac will start the season in the D league.

Walton is likely to start Mozgov, then pick and choose game-by-game among the others. In addition, Black, Jianlian and perhaps Auguste can play power forward.

Team

What can be expected from this young, inexperienced roster, when only six of the 15 players have logged more than two NBA seasons? The only certainty is that they will be both inconsistent and unpredictable, but probably a lot more exciting too.

Coaches, fans and the media will have to be patient. Players like Russell and Randle will be better this season than they were last year, but not as good as they’ll be a year from now. And it will take time for Ingram and Zubac to adjust to the NBA.

The team is a work in progress. This young roster represents only the beginning stage of a total rebuild, and it’s unrealistic to expect an immediate turnaround. How many games they win is less important than how much they improve both as individual players and as a team.

Fortunately the seeds for future success have been planted and will hopefully bloom in seasons to come.

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Lakers training camp opens on September 26th. Which players will probably make the opening night roster, and who will the likely starters be?

Currently, one of the biggest uncertainties surrounding the Lakers’ roster is what they intend to do with Nick Young this season.

Although he can still be a productive scorer in the right system, Young doesn’t seem like a good fit for the Lakers’ rebuild. For now, let’s count him as out and look at the rest of the team.

Backcourt

Barring something completely unforeseen, the opening night starters will be D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson.

Russell is anxious to prove that the Lakers were right to select him with the second pick of the 2015 draft. If summer league is any indication, he is ready to accept leadership of the team.

Clarkson is likely to pick up right where he left off last year, as he was the Lakers’ steadiest player for the second straight year. He has continued to work hard in the offseason to improve his 3-point shot and together, one of the two will likely lead the team in scoring.

Reserves should include Lou Williams, who can be a great scorer off-the-bench, even though he tends to monopolize the ball, and Euro vets Jose Calderon and Marcelo Huertas.

Interestingly, all five have played point guard, so ball-handling should be a strength. On the other hand, none is yet a better-than-average defender and that’s being generous. So playing time might open for Anthony Brown, the team’s best perimeter defender behind perhaps Luol Deng. A natural small forward, Brown played the 2-guard in summer league. If he rediscovers his 3-point stroke that has been missing in action so far in the NBA, he might earn even more minutes than expected.

Small Forward

Luke Walton will probably give the starting nod to veteran Luol Deng to take some pressure off top draft pick Brandon Ingram. That will allow the rookie to develop slowly without having to match up right away against some of the league’s best players, like Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard in the west, and LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in the east.

Deng has played in all 82 games only twice in his 12-year career, and at age 31 is unlikely to do so this year. Look for Ingram to step into the starter’s role around mid-season when Deng inevitably misses a game or two due to injury. And who knows- he just might emulate Lou Gehrig and remain in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future.

Power Forward

The power forward position will be manned mostly by two promising youngsters. The starter will likely be Julius Randle, who quietly averaged a double-double in points and rebounds last season, and who reportedly worked hard this off-season to improve his mid-range jumper.

Fan favorite Larry Nance Jr will provide a spark of energy off the bench and should earn major minutes. He has also developed a more dependable outside shot. When Walton goes with a small lineup, Deng might play the 4 and perhaps Ingram will too.

Center

Over the past two years, when Walton was the assistant coach in Golden State, the Warriors alternated up to five players a game at the 5 position. Walton just might do the same this season with the Lakers.

The front office was maligned for signing Timofey Mozgov to a rich contract. But when healthy, Mozgov is a better player than most people realize.

They drafted another 7-footer, Ivica Zubac, whose unexpectedly impressive summer league performance may foretell a bright future, and also re-signed energetic Tarik Black. In a recent surprise move, they signed former NBA player Yi Jianlian, who starred in China the past few years.

Rookie Zach Auguste, who is under a non-guaranteed contract, is the best bet to earn the final remaining roster spot. But chances are he and Zubac will start the season in the D league.

Walton is likely to start Mozgov, then pick and choose game-by-game among the others. In addition, Black, Jianlian and perhaps Auguste can play power forward.

Team

What can be expected from this young, inexperienced roster, when only six of the 15 players have logged more than two NBA seasons? The only certainty is that they will be both inconsistent and unpredictable, but probably a lot more exciting too.

Coaches, fans and the media will have to be patient. Players like Russell and Randle will be better this season than they were last year, but not as good as they’ll be a year from now. And it will take time for Ingram and Zubac to adjust to the NBA.

The team is a work in progress. This young roster represents only the beginning stage of a total rebuild, and it’s unrealistic to expect an immediate turnaround. How many games they win is less important than how much they improve both as individual players and as a team.

Fortunately the seeds for future success have been planted and will hopefully bloom in seasons to come.

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