Lakers rumors: Who’s the best member of young core?

Jan 10, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton (right) talks with guard D'Angelo Russell (1) and guard Jordan Clarkson (6) during the fourth quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center. The Portland Trail Blazers won 108-87. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 10, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton (right) talks with guard D’Angelo Russell (1) and guard Jordan Clarkson (6) during the fourth quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center. The Portland Trail Blazers won 108-87. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The latest  Lakers rumors  have to do with which player is the best out of the young core.

While current Lakers rumors range from future draft picks to trade targets, there’s one that comes from within.

Right now, it’s hard to say that the team is going in any certain direction. There’s still plenty of games left to be played this year alone, but that hasn’t stopped them from not doing so well.

In light of that, first year head coach Luke Walton has had a lot on his plate.

Guiding a franchise that’s not used to losing through a rebuild isn’t an easy job, so he should get some grace. As for the players, however, they shouldn’t get as much slack.

The young core of the Lakers is made up of several young, talented stars.

Those include Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance, Jr., and most recently Brandon Ingram.

Let’s break down each of these players and who’s the most valuable player out of the bunch for the team moving forward.

November 25, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson (6) moves the ball against Golden State Warriors guard Ian Clark (21) during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

November 25, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson (6) moves the ball against Golden State Warriors guard Ian Clark (21) during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Clarkson

Above anyone else on the list, Jordan Clarkson comes into the picture with the most to truly prove. Being in his third season now, Clarkson is responsible for showing the rest of the young core how to get and keep initiative.

All three seasons have been with Los Angeles after being drafted by Washington in 2014. He averaged a career-high 15.5 points per game last season, while scoring just over 14 per contest currently.

Clarkson also sets a lot of the tone in and out of the locker room.

The Lakers tried to show they could depend on veterans from across the league in their off-season transactions, but that hasn’t exactly panned out. Luol Deng hasn’t helped too much, and Timofey Mozgov has been a non-factor.

Where Clarkson has problems is with rebounding and dishing out assists.

As it stands right now, he has less than three assists and rebounds per game. While he’s not a starter by default, a strong bench is key to sustainable success.

Nov 13, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle (30) dribbles in the first quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 13, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle (30) dribbles in the first quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Julius Randle

Taking into account that his first season came to a screeching halt because of a devastating injury, the rise of Julius Randle is adding up nicely.

The former Kentucky star has been irreplaceable on the boards for the young team.

Finding their fight is the second step for the young core after their chemistry concerns are addressed. Thus far, no major reason to worry about their chemistry or communication, at least compared to last year.

Additionally, Randle leads the team in rebounds, with 8.3 off the glass per game.

Injury hasn’t been an issue of his this season as much as illness has, which is how he’s currently missing minutes.

The power and double double machine is a force to be reckoned with.

Where Randle could improve, though, is his blocking ability. For such a key rebound-oriented player, he lacks the blocking stats that you might assume go hand in hand with his size and style of play.

In contrast, he averages less than one block per game. That needs to be addressed immediately for his part in the young core to take full effect.

Dec 14, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Los Angeles Lakers point guard D'Angelo Russell (1) argues a call with referee CJ Washington (53) during the fourth quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 14, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Los Angeles Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell (1) argues a call with referee CJ Washington (53) during the fourth quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

D’Angelo Russell

For the second year point guard, scoring hasn’t been a problem. D’Angelo Russell currently averages over 14 points per game combined with 4.6 assists and 3.8 rebounds.

There’s plenty of upside to the former Ohio State standout.

First and foremost is his energy on the floor.

As a point guard, one of his core responsibilities is to control of the offense. There’s been times where his timing or tempo has been off or at least different than his teammates, but that happens;.

During the summer, the Lakers saw a lot of the true potential of Russell. Over that time, it appeared that his game had developed tremendously.

Something he lacked in his rookie season was the ability to keep good chemistry.

Off-the-court issues with Nick Young caused Russell to be disliked to the point where he was being isolated during games and ignored.

While that seems to be behind everyone, the real issue still remains his leadership.

Energy is one thing, but knowing what to do with it is a different story.

Mixed with his constant injuries, it’s more important than ever that Russell grow the quickest.

If he doesn’t get that part of it together soon, it could affect the rest of the young core in the immediate future.

Jul 9, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr (7) dribbles the ball during an NBA Summer League game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Thomas & Mack Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Jul 9, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr (7) dribbles the ball during an NBA Summer League game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Thomas & Mack Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Larry Nance Jr.

One of the more exciting pieces of the young core is Larry Nance Jr., who played his college ball at Wyoming.

Nance Jr. has proven to be a presence when everything goes right, but like Russell, we’ve yet to see any leadership capabilities come to light.

He averages six points and five rebounds, so his numbers are too staggering, but in big games he’s come through on the floor.

Most notably, his dunk against Golden State that put the nail in the coffin against the best team in the league won’t be soon forgotten.

There’s more to having a complete game than just dunking, but it’s a flashy talent that others in the core don’t have.

Ingram could turn into that if he gets bigger, but that’s yet to come.

Where Nance Jr. has to be careful is avoiding the point in his career where all he knows is how to dunk and make a highlight reel that way.

Learning to keep a consistent shot and rebounding, among other things, is the key to staying successful as part of this group.

Dec 16, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram (14) dribbles past Philadelphia 76ers guard Sergio Rodriguez (14) during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 16, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram (14) dribbles past Philadelphia 76ers guard Sergio Rodriguez (14) during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The most recent addition to the young core is former Duke star Brandon Ingram.

At just 19 years old, Ingram is arguably more the face of the franchise than anyone else right now. Actively speaking, if D’Angelo Russell can stay healthy long term and not lose his game, that argument changes.

But not completely.

Ingram averages 7.9 points and two assists per game right now, which isn’t terrible for a rookie.

Finding his groove is crucial for this team to ever compete in the post-season.

He’s had some games where he can’t miss, but just as many, if not more, games where he’s been less of a factor.

What’s unique about Ingram’s situation is whether or not he’ll stand out in times where D’Angelo Russell is either nursing an injury or taking a back seat.

The idea of adding another top three draft pick to the Lakers is a possibility, but if they fall to even fourth-worst, the pick will go to Philadelphia.

Tanking with this kind of young talent shouldn’t be their mentality until it becomes blatantly clear that they don’t have a chance at cracking the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

Ingram’s biggest setback is physical growth to excel at his position. With his current frame, he can still body other players, but going into those match ups with an edge is what the Lakers should want.

That’ll come with time, and aside from that, there aren’t many red flags for a rookie coming off the bench for now.

Dec 12, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton and assistant head coach Brian Shaw chat before the game against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 12, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton and assistant head coach Brian Shaw chat before the game against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Closing Thoughts

Given a little more context, the decision of who the best player in the young core is at this moment is easier to understand.

There’s plenty of angles to argue from, but right now the most important one is experience.

Jordan Clarkson has been that guy.

Coming off the bench, especially early on in the season, he and Lou Williams headlined one of the best benches in the NBA.

Brandon Ingram has had those moments for a few games off the bench, but not to the same extent as Clarkson.

The rest of the young players do have to grow, but that could change depending on how Clarkson leads them.

While not asked to, Clarkson has had to step up for the team when D’Angelo Russell goes out or has an off night.

Being dependability is huge for the Lakers moving forward, and surely Luke Walton will take that into account from here on out.

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