Oct 9, 2016; Ontario, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle (30) and forward Nick Young (0) celebrate against the Denver Nuggets at Citizens Business Bank Arena. The Lakers defeated the Nuggest 124-115. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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Check out our team awards for the Los Angeles Lakers from the 2016-17 regular season.
The Los Angeles Lakers had a difficult season in terms of wins and losses in 2016-17. Los Angeles finished with 26-56 record, the third-worst mark in the NBA. They missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, a franchise-worst drought.
The Lakers are in the midst of a rebuild they hope will start bearing some positives from all of the losing. When you lose a lot, you get top picks. The Lakers have a number of them on their roster. They are hoping that they can add another top prospect to the roster in this year’s draft and that they will help form the next championship core in Purple and Gold.
While no team likes losing, there were some bright spots for the Lakers this season. Head coach Luke Walton said they knew they weren’t winning a championship this season; it wasn’t about how many wins they had. It was about developing the foundation for the team, creating a winning culture and developing.
The Lakers looked to be figuring things out in the final month of the season. They put together a five-game winning streak in April, an impressive feat no matter who the opponents were that they faced.
Los Angeles is taking the right steps forward and they shouldn’t be too far off from being playoff contenders again. This season was a good stepping stone as they build the foundation. While there were struggles, there were also some positives to take away as well.
Here are some awards for the 2016-17 regular season for the Lakers.
Mar 17, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Nick Young (0) celebrates in the first quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Most Improved Player: Shooting Guard, Nick Young
Some people will see Nick Young and scratch their heads. How could a player entering his 10th season in the league be the most improved player on a roster filled with improving young players? But, when looking at the circumstances Young faced coming into the season, he more than qualifies.
There were serious doubts that Young would even be on the team this season. It didn’t seem that the Lakers had a spot for him with their youth movement. Walton saw something in Young that he liked and decided not only to keep him but name him his starting shooting guard. It proved to be the right decision.
Young put together one of the most complete seasons in his career. Young has been known as a gunner most of his season coming off the bench. As the starting shooting guard, he became a solid veteran presence on a young Lakers team. He set the tone defensively and provided a good scoring punch, making a career-high 40.4 percent of his three-pointers.
Young was eventually shut down like the other veterans on the team but his presence was definitely felt. Young changed his perception around the league and could turn it into one last multi-year deal this offseason if he opts out of his contract.
Jan 31, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler (21) tries to score past Los Angeles Lakers center Ivica Zubac (40) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Rookie of the Year: Ivica Zubac
Many people would put Brandon Ingram in this spot. The No. 2 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft came on strong after the All-Star break after a tough first half. But it is Zubac who gets the nod here.
The 32nd overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft came out of nowhere for the Lakers this season. Zubac wasn’t expected to get much playing time with Timofey Mozgov signed in free agency, plus Tarik Black and Thomas Robinson already on the roster. Whenever someone was hurt and Zubac received minutes, he performed well and forced the coaching staff’s hand.
Zubac eventually worked his way into the starting lineup. He took over at center once the team decided to shut down their veterans. In 11 starts Zubac averaged 10.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game. He flashed some dominance at times, as he destroyed the Denver Nuggets on two separate occasions.
Unfortunately, Zubac’s rookie season ended prematurely because of an ankle injury. He ended up playing in only 38 games all season, but he showed well when given the chance. He had a Player Efficiency Rating of 17.0 on the season, which trailed only Lou Williams and Thomas Robinson on the Lakers this season.
Zubac looks like a building block going forward for the Lakers. He will have to earn the starting spot, but he will definitely be in the rotation from the onset of the 2017-18 season.
Dec 7, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. (7) rebounds the ball against the Houston Rockets in the second quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Sixth Man Of The Year: Larry Nance Jr.
There were a number of players that could have taken home this award. Had Lou Williams not been traded, he would have won this award easily. Jordan Clarkson could have taken it home, but he was moved into the starting lineup after the trade deadline, starting 19 games in total. Based on that, Larry Nance Jr. takes home the Sixth Man of the Year award for the Lakers.
Nance Jr. has been a solid rotational player for the Lakers off the bench. He has shown an ability to play both forward spots thus far in his career, even masquerading as a center in some small-ball lineups.
This season Nance improved his numbers across the board from his rookie season. He averaged 7.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.3 steals, and 0.6 blocks in 22.9 minutes per game. Nance is excited by the future after his exit meeting, saying the sky is the limit for him and his teammates.
Nance Jr. would like to be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year in 2017-18. He has the tools to be in the conversation, as he has the size and athleticism to rack up defensive stats. He already is a good rebounder, and his versatility is not easy to come by.
Nance Jr. is another second round pick that the Lakers have to be happy about. He has developed into a rotation player already and looks poised to continue improving.
Feb 3, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Luol Deng (9) controls the ball while Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown (7) defends during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Least Valuable Player: Luol Deng
The first players that come to mind for this one are the veterans. Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng were signed to lucrative contract offers and started the season in the starting five. They were both eventually moved to the bench, and then taken off the active roster altogether. But Deng was worse than Mozgov this season.
While both players landed on here partly because of the handling by management, Deng didn’t contribute as much on the court as Mozgov. Deng had the worst season of his career in the first season of his four-year, $72 million contract.
Deng shot a career-worst 38.7 percent from the field, averaging a career-low 7.6 points per game; it was the first time in his career he failed to score in double figures per game. His 10.13 PER was also the worst of his carer. The contract was questioned when it was announced, and his performance this season won’t change that.
There are uses for veterans on a young team such as the Lakers. But the Lakers could soon regret handing him the contract that they did. Mozgov looks like he can still be a productive player on the court. Based on this past season’s play, the same may not be able to be said for Deng.
Mar 12, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton against the Philadelphia 76ers during the first half at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Most Valuable Player: Luke Walton
The rules are being tweaked a bit for this selection. It is tough to select an MVP for a team that won only 26 games in the regular season. Had Lou Williams remained on the team, he would have probably been the choice. But with him now on the Houston Rockets, we will give the MVP award to head coach Luke Walton.
Walton did an excellent job handling this team. The first month of the season went very well, as the Lakers went into December with a 10-10 record. The wheels would fall off after that, as the Lakers went on an eight-game losing streak. They would win only two games in December, putting them on the tanking track.
Walton kept a positive attitude throughout the season, and things looked to pay off at the end. He led the Lakers on a five-game winning streak in April, which is impressive at any point in the season. When you see who was playing, it is even more impressive.
Knowing that losing games would benefit the team, in the long run, the Lakers benched all of their veteran players. Mozgov, Deng and Young were all shut down. The Lakers had one player, Corey Brewer, on the active roster that has more than two years of NBA experience.