Los Angeles Lakers must diversify the big men on their roster

Dec 16, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle (30) handles the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

With several big men on the roster who can’t shoot or defend the rim, the Los Angeles Lakers will need to figure out a modern construction of big men this offseason.

The Los Angeles Lakers could use some better big men on their roster. Even as the game has evolved to small-ball, using larger wings to soak up minutes at power forward, post-ups losing value and big men who can’t defend being relegated to backup roles, there’s still value in having good big men. 

Quality big men today can do one of three things: space the floor, defend the rim and move the ball. There are several other things needed to be an effective big men in today’s NBA – defend the pick-and-roll and in space, excel at finishing at the rim – but the true elite big men own one, two or maybe even all three of the main skills listed above.

The Lakers have several big men on the roster: Julius Randle, Timofey Mozgov, Larry Nance Jr., Thomas Robinson, Tarik Black and Ivica Zubac.

Lakers Roll Man Data  Via NBA.com’s Play Type Data
Name Frequency P&R Roll PPP  Percentile
Ivica Zubac 27.7% 1.06 58.3
Thomas Robinson 14.8% 1.00 45.5
Julius Randle 10.9% 1.00 45.5
Tarik Black 21.9% 1.06 56.4
Timofey Mozgov 14.7% 1.06 48.2
Larry Nance 22.3% 0.93 32.6

In doses, they show the ability to work well in the pick-and-roll. The issue is the lack of shooting. None of the players listed above shot over 200 threes, which in today’s NBA, is a bit of a problem.  Of the three main capabilities of big men today, only Julius Randle’s high-level passing — a career-high 3.3 assists per 36 minutes and 15.0 percent assist rate – checks off a box. 

It’s not a good thing for Los Angeles and a contributing factor to their losing season.

Part of Los Angeles’ big men fray should be Brandon Ingram, who’ll play some power forward at some point in his career and soothe some of that issue. Despite struggling as a rookie, Ingram is expected to be a decent shooter and has already flashed the ability to create and move the ball.

The same goes for Luol Deng, who should be making a rather permanent trip to the power forward position. After a down season, Deng will have to make adjustments this upcoming season and one should be reverting his minutes to the four. With three seasons left on the books, Deng and Los Angeles will need to find a way to make it work. 

Where should the Lakers look to target better big men?

The 2017 NBA Draft doesn’t present much at the top, but there are some intriguing options with Los Angeles’ late first round pick. Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan is probably the most prolific of the bunch as an All-American this season. Swanigan lost weight between his freshman and sophomore season and took off, averaging 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game with 44 percent shooting from three.

France’s Jonathan Jeanne is another interesting big man. His numbers are enticing – 13.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game – and his seven-foot-two size would give Los Angeles another center option. This one, however, could provide standalone rim defense – something Los Angeles has missed for the past five years.

Free agency appears to be a better area to add players here, with the most interesting name being the Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin. Griffin checks off several boxes – a dynamic passer for a big man, an improving shooter and an underrated defender, especially when healthy. He’d be a big acquisition for Los Angeles. 

Unfortunately, Griffin and the Clippers seem to be on the same line of thinking when it comes to a max contract, meaning he doesn’t seem available.  Outside of Griffin, however, there are some other intriguing options.

Nikola Mirotic is 25 years old and an outcast in Chicago. He could be a solid power forward in Los Angeles, especially in Luke Walton‘s system. Patrick Patterson has the stretch-4 role down and could be a veteran option. In terms of pure rim protector, Nerlens Noel would be perfect, but Dallas is able to match any offers for their restricted free agent. 

The option that intrigues me? JaMychal Green. After getting picked up for cheap by Memphis, Green evolved into an excellent all-around big man for the Grizzlies, averaging 8.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game this past season. Green showed the ability to defend several positions and he spaced the floor — 38 percent from three — this season.

He doesn’t have much mileage on the tires and he’s entering his age-27 season. I like the idea of adding someone like Green on a three- or four-year deal to help the team’s spacing and defense right away. That said, it’s tough to see him and Randle co-existing and if Green receives a big contract, I doubt it will be for him to come off the bench. 

Los Angeles will have to figure out how they can properly shuffle their roster, including their big men. There are a few keepers in the group, but Los Angeles should try to move several of their big men and add better post players – ones that could defend and space the floor with three-point shooting.

At the very least, this free agency period could provide a chance to do so.

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