It’s been a wild ride for the Lakers to get back into the playoffs since their last appearance in 2013. They’ve made tough decisions to balance the roster, cap-saving moves to set up the signing of LeBron James, and some no-brainer decisions like the big trade to acquire Anthony Davis. And they did it all while undergoing significant changes in the front office. It all seems worth it, as LeBron and AD have propelled the Lakers to a 2-0 lead on the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals.
Between 2013-14 and 2018-19, the Lakers had 25 rookies on their roster. Only Kyle Kuzma, drafted 27th in 2017, and Alex Caruso, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017, are still on the team. Of the remaining 23 ex-Lakers, 11 are currently without a full NBA contract, and the 12 others are scattered around the league. Some spent this season as difference-makers on playoff contenders, but most others toiled in mediocrity. There are so many former Lakers draft picks since 2013 that you could make a full team out of them. And so we did. With only four teams still standing in the 2020 playoffs, let’s take a look around the league at the ex-Lakers All-Stars.
Brandon Ingram, Forward, Pelicans
Drafted by L.A.: No. 2 overall, 2016
Left L.A.: Traded to the Pelicans for Davis, 2019
The 2019-20 season was a good one for Ingram, who was named an All-Star for the first time and was awarded Most Improved Player of the Year. Ingram spent all of last summer revising his shooting mechanics, and that change unleashed his offense; he averaged 24 points on 39 percent from 3 and 85 percent from the line. Ingram also excelled getting to the basket, hitting spot-up 3s (at an over-40-percent clip), making slick passes for his teammates, and showing good pick-and-roll chemistry with Zion Williamson.
Ingram needs to sustain his improved shooting, but after early January his dribble-jumper collapsed; he hit only 21 percent of his pull-up 3s, per NBA Advanced Stats. It was a sample of only 43 shots, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. Still, it was wonderful to see things come together for Ingram; he’s long been one of my favorite players—he was my top-ranked prospect in 2016, ahead of Ben Simmons, and I argued that the Lakers should resist trading him unless it was totally necessary. But I didn’t vote for Ingram as Most Improved Player. Aside from his impressive strides as a shooter, I found his overall progress to be overblown.
Usually Lakers players get overrated or overhyped by the media, but Ingram was way underrated during his years in L.A. He developed significantly in those three seasons, particularly his ability to get to the rim and finish or draw fouls. He’s also been a good passer ever since he was in high school. The 4.2 assists he averaged in New Orleans was nothing new; if anything, he can still be better. There were other players who made notably larger overall strides.
In fact, Ingram actually got much worse on defense with the Pelicans, often appearing less focused than he was the past two seasons with the Lakers. Something changed for Ingram to become a player who got routinely eaten alive. Maybe it’s the team culture—defense looks like a chore for the entire New Orleans roster. It could be that he was defending more forwards than wings, which he’s best suited for as a leaner player. Or maybe it was the offensive load wearing him down. But Ingram needs to step up on defense for the Pelicans to win at the highest level.
When I interviewed David Griffin, head of the Pelicans front office, in July for The Restart, he brought up on multiple occasions how offense isn’t the problem for New Orleans, it’s defense. “Our ability to win and be a great team is going to be predicated on our ability to get stops,” Griffin said. “When we got Brandon from L.A., all of our analytics guys were like, ‘Defensively, he’s really good.’ But he’s struggled all year because he’s playing the 4, defending guys with size. If you play him as a 3, he can be pretty good. It’s a fascinating group of kids to look at and think about what we could potentially be. But we’re really young, and we have no idea what it takes to win, we’re not good at consistency. Individual defensive effort and accountability is not good. Potentially, this thing could be really cool, they’re good kids who don’t care who gets the limelight, and that’s fun to be a part of.”
To make the leap to true stardom, Ingram will need to become a reliable shot-maker off the dribble and step up his defense. This offseason he’ll be a restricted free agent, and re-signing him will likely require a max contract. Soon, Ingram will turn from a promising young player still on his rookie deal to a player being paid like a star. Players like Ingram make it easier for Pelicans fans to get over AD, but Ingram still needs to keep getting better. The team needs to start getting stops to start winning. That all starts with their best two players, Ingram and Zion, setting the tone for everyone else.
D’Angelo Russell, Guard, Timberwolves
Drafted by L.A.: No. 2 overall, 2015
Left L.A.: Traded along with Timofey Mozgov to the Nets for Brook Lopez and a first-round pick (Kuzma), 2017
Karl-Anthony Towns and Russell played only one game together in early February—a thrilling, high-scoring loss against the Raptors—before Towns was sidelined with a fractured wrist and the season got suspended one month later. It’s a shame. The Timberwolves were robbed of valuable time for Towns and Russell to get acclimated in live games. Without Towns, Minnesota still got a taste of all the good and bad that Russell brings to the franchise.
First, the bad: The Timberwolves were 3-9 with Russell in the lineup, and had the league’s second-worst defensive rating (117.4) over that time. Minnesota’s defensive issues are nothing new—its defense hasn’t ranked better than 24th since 2013-14. Russell won’t help. He’s inattentive off the ball. He ball-watches, allowing cutters to get to the rim and shooters to get open looks. On the ball, Russell lacks natural lateral agility and plays on his heels, so opponents zoom by him. He’s athletically challenged and he’s lethargic—there’s no worse combination. Next season, Towns better play the best defense of his career to compensate for Russell’s faults.
Russell showed why the Timberwolves got him on offense though. They finally have a dynamic on-ball shot creator who has a natural feel for running pick-and-roll and for scoring against a set defense:
It’s easy to envision Towns sliding in as a pick-and-roll partner for Russell with shooters spacing the floor all around them. KAT can finish any pass near the rim or pop behind the line for 3s or drive against rotating defenses. They could become one of the most dynamic duos in the NBA, serving as the foundational piece of their offense.
Russell showed in Golden State how potent he can be as an off-ball cutter and shooter; it’s important that the Timberwolves don’t lose sight of those abilities when building this team. They landed the no. 1 pick in the 2020 draft, and ideally their choice will complement Russell and Towns by providing defense and the ability to do work off the dribble. (Anthony Edwards or Deni Avdija, perhaps?) Regardless, Minnesota is going to score a ton of points. Malik Beasley is emerging as a nice third wheel; he averaged 21 points on 43 percent from 3 after being acquired. Juan Hernangómez shot the hell out of the ball too. Rookie wing Jarrett Culver began to find himself offensively before the hiatus, and he appears to have improved his shooting mechanics during offseason workouts.
The Warriors traded Russell for Andrew Wiggins and a pick because they are betting the Wolves won’t be able to field a decent defense with Russell on the perimeter and Towns patrolling the paint. Russell has shown he’ll make Minnesota’s offense much better, but in the loaded West, will that ever be enough?
Lonzo Ball, Guard, Pelicans
Drafted by L.A.: No. 2 overall, 2017
Left L.A.: Traded along with Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and multiple first-round picks to the Pelicans in a three-way trade for Anthony Davis, 2019
Getting over a tough breakup is supposed to take time, but Zion is the greatest rebound in relationship history. Having players like Ball, Ingram, and Hart—the main players sent from the Lakers to Pelicans for Davis—helps, too. Had it not been for the season shutdown, the Pelicans, with the league’s easiest schedule in front of them, could have made the playoffs.
Lonzo is one of the big reasons they were even in the hunt; he motors their fast-paced offense with his dribble:
And with his passing:
Lonzo and Zion are a match made in heaven. Ball is a magnificent playmaker who can throw pinpoint full-court dimes to Zion like the one above; in only 25 games together, they connected for eight “touchdowns”—a pass made from behind the backcourt line into the paint—which is second only to 16 LeBron-to-Davis connections, per data provided to The Ringer by NBA Advanced Stats. With time, Lonzo and Zion could develop deep chemistry like Drew Brees and Michael Thomas.
Plays on the break make for fun basketball, but winning basketball happens in the half court. Lonzo has always been a magical passer, but he had to improve his shooting to remain effective when the ball wasn’t in his hands. After working with Pelicans assistant coach Fred Vinson to revise his shooting form, Ball hit 39 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s this season. “Coach Fred took me under his wing when I got here and helped me ever since,” Ball told me last November. “I’ve been shooting that way for a long time, so it’s hard to change. I’m still working on it. Catch-and-shoot is feeling normal, but shooting off the bounce and stepbacks is the next step.” The side-winding slingshot release is no more. Ball’s form looks relatively normal these days. But his percentages fell off at Disney World, and over the season, he still made only 57 percent of his free throws and 32 percent of his dribble jumpers. He needs to prove his shot is for real.
Beyond his jumper, the next step is developing his ability to score around the rim. Ball shot only 35 percent on drives to the rim, which is subpar and nearly identical to his percentages from his first two seasons, per NBA Advanced Stats.
Ball could stay the same for the rest of his career and be a good player because of his feisty defense, solid spot-up shooting, and dynamic passing. But he’ll only be 23 next season, meaning he could do even more than motor one of the league’s fastest and most potent offenses with his passing.
Larry Nance Jr., Forward, Cavaliers
Drafted by L.A.: No. 27 overall, 2015
Left L.A.: Traded along with Jordan Clarkson to the Cavaliers for Channing Frye, Isaiah Thomas, and a first (Moe Wagner), 2018
The Cavaliers are big with Kevin Love, Andre Drummond, and Tristan Thompson in the frontcourt. Nance has been used as a small forward, most notably in overtime wins over the Heat and Spurs. In 74 total minutes with the 6-foot-7 Nance at small forward, the Cavs are miraculously outscoring opponents by 29 points per 100 possessions, per PBP Stats. “That big lineup was tough,” Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said in August on The Mismatch. “Every time I talk to Larry Nance, that’s all he says to me: ‘Big lineup! Big lineup!’”
Small sample size be damned, Nance has more than held his own racing around screens with Miami’s Duncan Robinson:
And guarding San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan one-on-one:
“Everybody wants to play when it matters, and when it matters is the end of the game. If you can guard multiple positions, and stay with a DeMar DeRozan or a Duncan Robinson, all while being a bit bigger than those guys and helping at the rim, coaches can’t help but keep you in the game,” Nance told me in April. “I’ve always prided myself on defensive versatility. Anytime I can add to my minutes, it’s what I’m looking to do. I’m always just trying to show J.B. Bickerstaff and our coaching staff that if you need me to do that, I got you.”
Nance did more than defend at a high level, though. He was understandably pigeonholed as a rim-running center as a youngster in Los Angeles because of his bouncy athleticism. In 2018, Nance’s loud dunks earned him a spot in the dunk contest, where he honored his father. But Nance has quietly kept improving outside the paint. In college, he became a reliable midrange shooter, and with the Cavaliers, he’s extended his range behind the 3-point line. Nance hit 37 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s the past two seasons, per NBA Advanced Stats. Now he’s a big man who can roll hard to the rim, comfortably spot up from outside, and make smart plays off the dribble.
“When you first get in the league, you want to establish yourself and show you have staying power,” Nance said. “I’ve established that and now it’s more so about expanding my game to see how good I can be. There’s no point in getting to this point and stopping.” The Cavaliers are a long way from winning meaningful basketball games, but in Nance, they found a player who can fill a wide range of roles.
Ivica Zubac, Big, Clippers
Drafted by L.A.: No. 32 overall, 2016
Left L.A.: Traded along with Michael Beasley to the Clippers for Mike Muscala, 2019
Doc Rivers had options at center. He could play small with Marcus Morris, or use Montrezl Harrell’s energy and at-rim finishing ability. Or he could stick with his starter, Zubac, who brings something different with his size and reliable rim protection. Zubac is best at patrolling the paint: Opponents shoot only 47 percent against him at the rim, which ranks second in the NBA behind only Brook Lopez, per NBA Advanced Stats. He might be unable to switch on perimeter players, but he has value in playoff matchups against bigs like Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, Jazz center Rudy Gobert, and possibly even Davis and the Lakers. Too bad Doc didn’t see that value sooner against Denver, as he stuck with Harrell for far too long despite his struggles.
It’s not like Zubac is a liability on offense. He serves an important role as a pick-and-roll screener for Kawhi Leonard—the Leonard-Zubac combination was actually more potent this season than the once-dominant Lou Williams–Harrell bench duo. The Clippers’ choke job made Lakers fans cackle, but in a future playoff series between both Los Angeles teams, Zubac could make the Lakers regret giving him away.
Josh Hart, Wing, Pelicans
Drafted by L.A.: No. 30 overall, 2017
Left L.A.: Traded to the Pelicans for Davis, 2019
Hart will be remembered for this moment:
In real time, it didn’t look so bad. But photographs and memories will create a different lasting image. And, in a weird way, it captures Hart’s game. He tries. He really does. But the results aren’t always there. The Pelicans utilized him in one-on-one matchups against the likes of James Harden and Kawhi Leonard, and he’ll have moments of lockdown defense. He’ll take a charge, dive for a loose ball, or chase down a rebound. He’s just not always capable because he’s athletically limited. Opponents might flash by him or leap over him—like LeBron nearly did in the unfortunate image above. But you have to respect Hart’s effort. If he’s consistent on defense—and on offense; he’s a streaky 3-point shooter—he’ll become a far more reliable rotation player once the Pelicans are contending.
Svi Mykhailiuk, Wing, Pistons
Drafted by L.A.: No. 47 overall, 2018
Left L.A.: Traded along with a second to the Pistons for Reggie Bullock, 2018
Svi is turning into something in Detroit. He drained 40 percent of his 3s, with many of them coming off plays in which he raced around screens then twisted his body like a contortionist to get a shot off.
Mykhailiuk hit 41 percent of his 3s in four college seasons at Kansas, so he has a long history of shooting success. But he told me in April that he’s been working hard at hitting difficult shots off the catch, as he does in the clips above. One of the players he watches a lot, which should come as no surprise, is Klay Thompson. “Klay shoots the same shot every time, no matter where he is. If you really watch him, his shot looks the same from any angle at any spot on the court,” Mykhailiuk said. “I feel like, for shooters, that’s one of the most important qualities to have.”
Players can’t be one-dimensional in today’s NBA, though. A shooter might hit over 40 percent of his 3s, but if he can’t make plays off the dribble, opponents will run him off the line. And if he can’t defend, opponents will attack him. Mykhailiuk showed more skills in his four collegiate seasons, and he began to translate them to the NBA in his first season with the Pistons. He’s a savvy cutter who reads defenses and makes his moves at the perfect moment to get to the rim. He’s a good passer too.
One weak spot: Mykhailiuk’s scoring in the paint. He hit just 27 percent of his shots on drives, which is the second worst of any player to drive to the rim at least three times per game, per NBA Advanced Stats. “That’s the main thing I gotta get better at. It’s angles, feel for the game, and touch,” he said. “It’s what I’m gonna be working on all offseason to try and get better.”
At the least, Svi is looking like a Kent Bazemore– or Marco Belinelli–type wing with the potential to be much more than that. Mykhailiuk is only 23, and by the time he hits restricted free agency in 2021, he might be a hot commodity.
Jordan Clarkson, Guard, Jazz
Drafted by L.A.: No. 46 overall, 2014
Left L.A.: Traded to the Cavs, 2018
Clarkson is the same player in Utah as he was in Los Angeles and Cleveland. One possession, he’ll hit a buzzer-beating jumper off the dribble with a hand in his face. Later, he’ll take an unwarranted shot early in the clock that’ll make you throw your remote at a wall. He remains allergic to passing the ball to open teammates. Defense is a challenge, too.
But Clarkson played quite well for the Jazz in the playoffs. He averaged 17 points with two assists to only one turnover. Clarkson will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and it’d make sense for Utah to bring him back. He might not be a steadying presence, but at least he provides a spark.
Julius Randle, Big, Knicks
Drafted by L.A.: No. 7 overall, 2014
Left L.A.: Signed a free-agent deal with the Pelicans, 2018
Not much has changed with Randle. He averages almost 20 points, but it’s empty calories. He can’t shoot well. He’s a chucker. He’s got butterfingers. He’s a turnover machine. He’s so bad on defense that he makes Knicks fans long for Enes Kanter. A total of 64 players made at least $18 million this season; Randle performed the worst of the 22 bigs.
It’s not all Randle’s fault, of course. A lack of spacing in New York has made it harder for him to get to the rim, and the lack of a playmaker makes it harder for him to find open spot-up 3s. Excuses have been made for Randle for years though, whether it was the fact he was still young when playing at Kentucky, or that he’s been in losing situations with the Lakers, Pelicans, and now the Knicks. Maybe Randle just isn’t good? He displays occasional passing vision, but doesn’t use it often. He rebounds like the ball is his fuel, but he doesn’t hustle up the court in transition and there isn’t a worse off-ball help defender in the NBA.
Randle’s talent is undeniable, and he’s posting numbers. But it’s hard to keep the faith that he’ll start impacting winning when he’s on his third team in six seasons and not much has changed.
Thomas Bryant, Big, Wizards
Drafted by L.A.: 42nd overall, 2017
Left L.A.: Waived, 2018
Bryant is energetic. Nobody celebrates more than he does after rolling hard to the rim and jamming it. He can shoot 3s, too. It’s hard to believe, but this is true: Bryant scores 1.2 points per possession, which ranks better than 94 percent of the NBA, per Synergy Sports. He understands his role and does it well, typically playing within himself and making wise choices as a passer.
He’d be a $20 million player if he didn’t move laterally on defense like he’s wearing his sneakers on the wrong feet. It’s the one significant drawback that held him back in college, causing him to fall to the second round, and it hasn’t gotten better in the NBA. Though his offensive qualities are already enough to help him stick in a rotation, Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard told me in July they are “probably more focused on bigs” for the 2020 draft. That could be a good thing for Bryant, though, since it could put him into an energizer role off the bench.
Isaac Bonga, Wing, Wizards
Drafted by L.A.: 39th overall, 2018
Left L.A.: Traded along with Wagner, Jemerrio Jones, and a second to the Wizards in the three-way trade for Davis, 2019
The Wizards might actually have something in Bonga. He’s gotten much stronger since being drafted in the second round by the Lakers in 2018, and he’s become a versatile defender against guards, wings, and bigs.
In the clip above, Bonga shows awareness by reading the Mavericks’ play and switching onto Kristaps Porzingis. Then he has the quickness and length to stay in front of him and block the shot. Even when the Wizards are losing games, Bonga competes. Washington could use more guys like him.
The big question was Bonga’s offense. While playing in Germany, he showcased the ability to make smart plays off the dribble, but in the NBA he’s lacked the shooting ability for that to matter. He still can’t shoot off the dribble, but on a small sample of 66 shots, he hit 38 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s. He can’t shoot off movement, but even if he maxes out as a scorer who stands in the corner, attacks closeouts, and cuts, those skills blended with his versatile defense are enough to make him an important role player for any contender.
Moe Wagner, Big, Wizards
Drafted by L.A.: 25th overall, 2018
Left L.A.: Traded to the Wizards, 2019
Wagner started hot but fizzled as the season wore on. He’s a theoretical stretch big, hitting 31 percent of his 3s, and he fouls too much on defense to stay on the floor. It’s hard not to fall in love with the idea of what Wagner can become if he curtails his fouling issue though. He can pick-and-pop, attack the basket off the dribble, and move off-ball like a wing.
Bradley Beal is the only reason the Wizards were on the East playoff bubble. But young players like Bonga, Bryant, and Wagner showed glimmers of the players who could someday be fixtures on a contending team. The same could be said for any of the 12 players on this list. The Lakers couldn’t wait for that time to come—that’s why they’re all gone.