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The Lakers Have Nothing to Play for and Nothing to Lose

With 22 games left in the team’s season, it’s time to check in with a Los Angeles squad that doesn’t seem so hopeless

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The Lakers are in limbo. It isn’t a bad thing — it’s just a reality. This year’s inconsistent team is not in the tank race (it doesn’t have its first-round pick this season), but also isn’t in the playoff race, standing at seven games out of the 8-seed in the West. They have nothing to play for, but also nothing to lose.

Sixty games in, the Lakers have reached homeostasis after injuries, trades, and, well, a lot of polarizing moments for a noncontending team. Now, they’re winners of three in a row (a streak that prompted the creation of an adorable Twitter Moments thread by the team account), and are riding out the last 22 games with an interesting bunch of players who could have fleeting stays or become mainstays for the squad’s long-term goals. Let’s check in.

Brandon Ingram’s Gradual Leap

Ingram is one of the few players of consequence on this team. Lonzo Ball gets all the shine, but Ingram should be considered the prized jewel from the Lakers’ rough years. Over his two seasons in the league, I don’t think any other player has had their name in the same sentence as “flashes” more often than Ingram. He’s shown a lot of them, to be clear, but in 2018 Ingram, long limbs and all, is showing not just how good he may be down the line, but just how good he is now. Ingram has averaged 18 points, five rebounds, five assists, and one block in his past 10 games, shooting 54.5 percent from the field and 52.2 percent on his 2.3 3-pointers per game. He’s also getting to the line twice as much as he did as a rookie and looks completely engaged, far more in control, and capable of anything on the court.

Off the court, Ingram stays in the shadows and is sponsored by Express. He’s the antithesis of a typical Los Angeles sports star, but that’s probably for the best. I think it’s impossible to reiterate enough that Ingram, who was drafted second overall in 2016, isn’t even 21 yet. That his flashes are quickly becoming longer burns bodes well for the Lakers, whether they turn him into a franchise cornerstone or LeBron’s youthful sidekick.

Life With Isaiah Thomas

Something I did not expect from the 2017–18 NBA season: Isaiah Thomas being the best quote in the league for better or — for the teams he’s been on — for worse. The guy treats the postgame scrum of reporters like his parochial confessional. We get an eye-opening quote every night. Monday night, it was about Lonzo’s shot — only six games into their tenure as teammates, mind you.

“I mean, it’s ugly as hell,” Thomas said. “It’s an ugly shot, but he’s been successful with it his whole life … there is no need to change it.”

Fun fact: Thomas has a doctoral degree in backhanded compliments. This is actually good for the young Lakers. Thomas won’t be there next season, but at least he’s bringing some lively trash-talk possibilities and veteran panache (good and bad) to the locker room. Of course, if Lonzo wants to get back at him at all, all he has to do is play this clip:

It’s every bad play and moment from Thomas during the past three months encapsulated into one tragic pass. After watching episodes like that, and in a contract year no less, it’s tough seeing Thomas take some of Lonzo’s minutes on the ball like he did against the Hawks on Monday. But weirdly enough, the offensive numbers (the team has a 111.1 offensive rating with Thomas on the floor) point to Thomas — or a player like him — being the type of playmaker the Lakers need. (Imagine what they could do with LeBron or, heck, anyone who is a better defender than Thomas.) At least Thomas is getting a chance to restore his value, however so slightly, in this system, because a Brink’s truck is not going to be waiting for him in free agency this summer.

What’s Going on With Lonzo?

I don’t know whether the collective basketball world has Twitter-muted LaVar Ball or what, but I have been very glad that we have not heard from the elder Ball in some time. Of course, it probably helps that Lonzo has been dealing with a knee injury, and I know that once these words are published, we’re immediately going to get the next LaVar controversy, but hey, let’s enjoy the silence while we can.

Lonzo missed 15 straight games before returning to the court last Friday. He’s missed 21 games total all season and hasn’t been able to get in a consistent groove, despite showing improvement, especially with his shooting. In his last 10 games before getting hurt, Lonzo was hovering around 38 percent from deep. Lowering the bar for a second overall pick feels too generous, but given how Lonzo began the season shooting 31 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3, it’s important to point out the improvement. Plus, as always, it’s in the passing game where he’s making the most difference (his 28.6 assist percentage is second among all rookies).

Not to repeat myself, but I don’t think we’re putting enough stock in the fact Lonzo is not 21 yet. At the same time, I don’t think we’re asking enough questions about Lonzo’s top-five rappers list:

Or are surprised enough that Bow Wow beat him in a shooting contest.

Lonzo is a young player with a bright future, even if it isn’t one in which he saves the Lakers and becomes the next great superstar. He’s also a meme.