Heisler’s Lakers report card: They’re coming but a long way from being there

first_img“You are what your record says you are. No better. No worse.”Unfortunately for the Lakers, their prospects pale in comparison to the Timberwolves’ Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach Lavine and the 76ers’ Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel.On the other hand, it’s not about where prospects start but where they end up. It’s a long-term process, even if everyone thinks that means from now to the end of the season.Aside from the prodigies, you don’t get a clear picture of what a player will be in one season, or two … or, as often as not, three, four or five.Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan just broke out … in his eighth year … going from last season’s career-high 23.5 points per game to 28 in this one. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error His teammate and fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry didn’t average double figures until his fifth season and didn’t average 15 until his ninth, when he was with his third team.Even prodigies can take a while. Golden State’s Steph Curry was a great shooter from the day he arrived but needed four seasons to get his average above 20 points.So if nothing we know is definitive, here’s a report card on the Laker prospects:D’Angelo Russell >> Happily for the Lakers, if he’s still young two months shy of 21, he’ll never again be as young as he was a year ago when he acted more like he was 15 while showing his limits athletically, defensively and as a playmaker.It’s now clear he’ll be an NBA player, at least, averaging 15 points, shooting 39 percent from 3-point range.The question is where he goes from here. If his percentage moves into the 40s, he can be a good player, which the Lakers need him to be, or a star, which they need someone to be.The comparison the Lakers can’t escape is the Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis, whom they passed up at No. 2 in 2015 to take Russell.Nicknamed “the Unicorn” by Kevin Durant because he’s such an anomaly, the 7-foot-3 Porzingis looks like a stretch forward for the ages, shooting 40 percent from the arc while averaging 20.6 points for a team challenging for the top four in the East.Brandon Ingram >> If his game suggests he’s the most likely Laker to become a star, he’s the farthest away now with his blade-thin body (6-8, 196 at the 2015 Hoop Summit, the last time he was measured in stocking feet).Ingram, not Russell, might wind up as the point guard with Luke Walton already using him there.Ingram has graceful moves, a picturesque jump shot and isn’t shy, driving it to the basket despite his spindly frame. The ball just isn’t going in often (35 percent overall, 28 percent from 3-point range).Young is young and he’s 19 years, three months and 16 days old. To see what that means, there was Ingram batting an in-bounds pass carelessly to T.J. McConnell who laid it up, starting a 76ers’ comeback attempt Friday before the Lakers held them off.Nevertheless, for Lakers fans wishing on a star, pray to Brandon’s bobblehead.Julius Randle >> Unorthodox as he is, he has star potential as the most productive … and edgiest … of the group.Despite being undersized (6-7-3/4 in stocking feet at the draft combine), he’s averaging just under a double-double for his young career (11.5 points, 9.8 rebounds). In the good/bad news, he’s doing it without a jump shot, relying on floaters in the lane and set shots from the perimeter, making just 33 percent from beyond 5 feet.He’s also totally left-handed but so quick and strong, he gets away with it. Next to his shooting issues, it almost doesn’t count.Edgey can be good if it’s a Kobe Bryant-style edge. With Randle’s ball-handling ability and I’m-a-great-waiting-to-happen attitude, he could become some version of a Draymond Green – the piece all teams now seek — if he learns to shoot as Draymond did.Larry Nance Jr. >> Everyone’s favorite blue-collar power forward with highlight-reel dunks, deft playmaking and no-look touch passes.His dunk over Brook Lopez in Brooklyn was a classic, like Blake Griffin’s over Timofey Mozgov years ago. Like Griffin, Junior encountered the 7-footer head-on and just seemed to keep rising over the top of him.On the other hand, he’s also undersized (6-7-1/2 in stocking feet) and a reluctant shooter (33 percent beyond 5 feet). Randle knows he has to take open shots and does. Nance takes longer to talk himself into it, then often throws up some kind of funky runner.Junior is assured of being around a long time. If he becomes a decent shooter, he’ll be a lot better than that.Jordan Clarkson >> The dean of the Lakers prospects in his third season, he’s already a good combo guard coming off the bench.The question is whether he has hit a plateau with his minutes down from last season’s 32 to 29, his scoring from 15.5 to 14.3 and 3-point shooting from 35 percent to 30.Showing how elusive this process is, we didn’t know who Nick Young was after nine seasons with five teams.We thought we did and it wasn’t good before Walton turned Nick into a starting-caliber player who tried on defense at long last.One more name belongs on this list: Walton’s.As a rookie coach at 36, he’s as much a young prospect as any of his players and his debut was eye-popping.For one been-down-so-long-this-looked-like-up-to-them month, he changed the culture as the Lakers beat better teams by playing to what they had – depth, if no superstars – and turning games into score-fests with Lou Williams and Young as their best players, doing what veterans are supposed to with young teams.As we learned a year ago in his audacious debut filling in for Golden State’s Steve Kerr, Walton has a natural presence with his deep voice and blunt candor, zinging himself along with everyone else, challenging his players privately – he reportedly called them “soft” after the Nets loss – while reminding everyone how long-term this project will be.“I think starting with the coaches, we got away from what our main message was going into the season and that’s the process,” Walton said before the win in Philadelphia. “… To develop the right culture and habits that we want and not judging our success on the wins and losses.”Playing to your strength is a major plus. For all their talent with highly-regarded coaches Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota and Brett Brown in Philadelphia, the Timberwolves and 76ers don’t do it yet.Better days lie ahead for the Lakers, almost by default.The big question is how far ahead, and whether we can see it from here.center_img As they say in Lakerdom … oops!If the team’s 10-10 start amounted to a heat check, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that they failed it, the more so as injuries and road games piled up.Rebuilding isn’t easy if you have prodigies like Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, whose teams are far behind the Lakers in the standings.For all the Lakers fans wondering what happened, there’s the maxim articulated by the great Chuck Daly:last_img

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