Lakers Roundtable: The Last 15 Games

The chances of the Lakers making the playoffs are slim. Simply put, there have been too many losses against lower level teams. In the competitive Western Conference, a .500 record won’t do, so we asked the Laker staff of the BBall Index and special guest Zach Milner to share their thoughts and misery as Laker fans.

Now that the chances of the Lakers making the playoffs are practically gone, do you still want the team to compete?  Or would you like to see the Lakers tank?

Mike: Now that the season is wrapping, the Lakers basically need to start from scratch.  There’s plenty of blame to go around, from the front office all the way down to the players.  The vision for the team didn’t work. The players aren’t on the same page as a whole. The coaching staff has fallen short of expectations when things got rough this season.  

All of this means that there’s an issue of culture. There’s a lack of a unifying mentality or mindset. The players can show it on the floor, but the front office needs to set the example for the team and the franchise.

Zach: The playoffs are pretty much out of the picture, so I’m leaning towards ‘Team Tank.’ I definitely want the Lakers to get the best pick possible, but I wouldn’t say I want full on tanking. I  don’t think the Lakers need to necessarily rest players if they are 100% healthy, but I’d let whoever isn’t 100% sit out and fully recover.

The Lakers should still try put up fights in games and I don’t want Luke throwing games in the 4th quarter with purposely bad rotations. But when it’s all said and done, I won’t be upset if the Lakers lose the majority of their remaining games.

Alex: I think my answer lies somewhere in the middle. The team has invested too much into this season, and this upcoming summer, to completely scrap trying to win/make themselves look appealing in the eyes of potential marquee free-agents. But with that being said, the value of acquiring a lottery pick should not be dismissed.

The pick would be valuable in terms of replenishing the prospect and asset cupboard in trade scenarios, but also in simply fleshing out a more competitive roster going forward. I feel the team should try and win, and try to reestablish a winning culture, but also experiment with lineups and allow their G-League players get some run. If losses are still to be had, then a lottery pick to fall back on would certainly help soften the blow.

Ben: Now with the playoffs out of the equation, the Lakers need to decide which players are in their plans for next season and which players will not be returning. The front office needs to communicate the players their plans for 2020, and those players minutes need to be prioritized by the coaching staff. ‘Tanking’ usually infers that a team will be sitting veteran players in favor of the younger players.

The ironic part for the Lakers is by implementing this course of action it will most likely make them more competitive and in the position to win more games.

Would you want to give any of the South Bay Lakers some playing time?  Who would you like to see and why?

Mike:  Absolutely. Moe Wagner hasn’t gotten enough playing time during the regular season, and I’m surprised how accurate his shooting is given his inconsistent playing time. Isaac Bonga has barely been given a chance to see the NBA floor and has shown plenty of flashes during his South Bay Lakers season.

Even Alex Caruso can step in and provide competitive defense at the point of attack. Sometimes a fresh look can go a long way for a team, and it’s important to give the young players some experience and hopefully give them some ideas on what to work on during the summer, leading into next season.

Zach: Definitely. While I don’t want the Lakers to purposely throw games, this is the perfect time to see what some of these younger guys can do when given the opportunity. My priority would be giving Wagner extended minutes. This will hopefully help him gain some confidence, while also allowing the organization a chance to see what they have with him. It would be great for Wagner to head into the offseason with an idea of what he needs to work on and how he can stay on the court next year.

As for Isaac Bonga, I’m not really sure if he’s ready to get extended NBA minutes. I’d like to see Bonga on the court to get some experience, but I wouldn’t expect much out of him at all. I think they should be a little more cautious with Bonga because you don’t want to ruin his confidence. Finally, I think we’ve seen a good amount of Caruso over the last couple of years, but I’d still give him some time and see if he can finally translate his G-League dominance to the NBA.

Alex: A resounding yes for myself. We already saw the positive spark that the group could have on a team whose effort level has been questioned all season. In the most basic sense, the South Bay players have shown to give it their all when given the chance, even if it outweighs their talent, it is still an immensely valuable skill-set for this team in particular.

Beside the players that already have seen the court, I would personally love to see Jemerrio Jones get a shot with the main club. Standing at only 6’5,” Jones is an absolute force on the offensive and defensive glass. He is currently in the top-10 in rebounding in the G-League despite playing in only 23.7 minutes per contest. His prowess in this area, and his overall hustle everywhere else, deserves to be appreciated by a bigger audience.

Ben: The priority for the rest of the season should be to get as much information to help guide decisions for 2019/20. Wagner should continue to be featured for the remainder of the season regardless of the on court results. I would like to see Caruso given the opportunity to split the point guard duties with Rondo, this can allow Luke to stagger LeBron’s and Rondo’s minutes.

Isaac Bonga has only played 38 minutes so far this season and they should be doing everything possible to increase his minutes as they year draws to an end. This also gives the players critical feedback that is only possible after multiple reps from playing at the NBA level that will help guide their own summer training programs.

What coaching decisions would you like to see out of Luke Walton to close the season?

Mike: Luke has tried different line ups recently, including the small ball lineup that has LeBron James playing the center position with Rajon Rondo starting at point guard.  Since LeBron is on a minutes restriction and I want the South Bay Laker players to get some quality playing time, I wouldn’t mind if he stuck to fixed rotations on a game-to-game basis.  

No hockey substitutions necessarily, just a group of substitutions that work together in a timely matter. It makes sense to have Alex Caruso and Moe Wagner play alongside LeBron James.

Isaac Bonga needs to find his path on this Laker team too.  We don’t know what it looks like with Bonga playing next to a player of LeBron’s caliber. Does he need to initiate the offense? Will he be proactive off-ball? Is he willing to take 3-point shots? It would only help the Lakers assess their own team going forward.

Zach: This is a time where Luke Walton should try out some new rotations, while also trying some new playcalling. These are two weaknesses the Lakers have dealt with this year, and it’d be beneficial for Luke Walton and the organization to experiment with a few things.

I’d like to stay away from all-bench lineups and experiment with what players can fit next to LeBron in his limited minutes. What is the best way to optimize Reggie Bullock, assuming he comes back next year? How can Isaac Bonga fit into the Lakers next year without dominating the ball? There are so many questions that can be answered in the remaining games this season.

Alex: With LeBron and the starters not expected to see much, if any, extensive playing time down the stretch, I want to see Luke Walton begin experimenting. Not simply in terms of lineups and playing the young players, but also with his playcalling.

With James on the team, it often was difficult to run a uniquely diverse offensive system, though this should not be an excuse to being complacent. It will be beneficial to see if Walton and his staff can optimize what will be a pretty bare boned rotation down the stretch, in which they will have to be creative and efficient in order to generate points.

Ben: If I could isolate a two areas for Luke to focus on to close the season the first would be to stagger LeBron and Rondo’s minutes. The Lakers have a -6.5 NetRtg when they share the court but that jumps to +4.3 when Rondo sits. I would also like to see a genuine focus to put Bullock in Hand-Off situations.

When the Lakers traded for Bullock his offensive strengths were in his Spot Up shooting (82nd percentile points per possession vs league) and ability to knock down shots out of Hand-Offs (73rd %ile PPP). When he left Detroit, Bullock was 9th in the NBA for Hand-Off possessions with 112 in 44 games, but since joining the Lakers he has only had 8 in 11 games.

Will you continue to watch the rest of the season?  If not, what will you do with the extra time?

Mike: I’ll watch on a casual basis of course.  It’s just difficult to invest in a team that has no clear plan of what to do next.  However, my focus all season has been on the draft and March Madness is just getting started.

Zach: I’ll probably continue to watch for the most part. I’m not going to cancel everything I’m doing just to catch a game but I’ll throw the game on whenever I’m free and try enjoy the rest of the season. If I see the South Bay Lakers showing out, then I might be more inclined to watch more.

Alex: I will watch, even if it goes against almost every practicing physician’s best advice. If for nothing else, to see Isaac Bonga throw a filthy pass out of the pick and roll or potentially Jemerrio Jones outworking like four guys to grab an offensive rebound. I am totally here for rooting on those guys in getting some shine.

Ben: I will continue to watch. If the team shifts their focus to maximizing the minutes of the younger players there is a level of excitement that will be injected into the remainder of the season as we get to see what they are able to produce. I was fortunate to see Andre Ingram’s debut last season and the atmosphere at Staples was electric, perhaps one of the younger players can have a similar moment to close this season.

*Stats per and Synergy.

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