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LA Lakers 2017-18 Season Preview

The LA Lakers are going to be hugely popular this season, but will that equate to more wins? We take a look at the LA Lakers in this 2017-18 Season Preview.

Basketball Insiders

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Despite not being projected as a top western conference team, the Los Angeles Lakers will garner much attention next season. Want proof? The Lakers are set to make a combined 35 national television appearances next season with only four teams having more appearances. The team is coming off a 26-56 season in which they were nearly the worst team in the league. However, with a few key roster changes, next year looks to be a key building year as the franchise continues to develop and position itself for future success.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

Magic Johnson promised to restore the Los Angeles Lakers to their glory days when he was hired as the team’s president of basketball operations.

So far, the Hall of Famer has been slapped with tampering charges from the NBA in reference to the Lakers contact with Paul George, and has drafted a point guard with a father who seems hell-bent on dominating the news headlines.

However, Magic has positioned the Lakers to return to the good ol’ days following another lackluster season. Despite the talent of Lonzo Ball, a 19-year-old point guard will still more than likely struggle to win his team games. What he will do, though, is showcase his talent and playmaking ability for free agents when Los Angeles enters next summer with deep pockets. (Paul George already seems interested, how about you, LeBron?)

With Ball handling the rock, Brandon Ingram entering year two, and new management across the board, brighter days are ahead for the Hollywood franchise. They just need to get past next season’s below-average results.

4th place — Pacific Division

Dennis Chambers

Amazingly, it seems that the Lakers and their fortunes have changed overnight. Lonzo Ball is entering the league with some heavy expectations, while Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have combined to give the front office an aura of respectability that has been missing for quite some time.

For the Lakers, though, the coming season is likely to be a long one. Aside from Ball, the acquisitions of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brook Lopez should help the team improve upon the 26 wins they clocked last season, but at the end of the day, the playoffs are an at-best and perhaps unrealistic goal.

Still, things appear to be headed in the right direction, so for Lakers fans, this coming season may be the last in the cellar—especially if the team is able to actually secure the services of LeBron James next summer.

I think the Suns are probably a notch below at this point, and the Kings have a respectable cast of characters, as well. The only two teams in the division that I can say are better off are the Clippers and Warriors, so a division-finish as high as third for the Lakers wouldn’t surprise me, especially with Luke Walton at the helm.

3rd Place — Pacific Division

— Moke Hamilton

With rumors already swirling loudly about their potential 2018 summer free agency pursuits, there are a few factors up for debate in Los Angeles this year. Do young guys like Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle remain building blocks for the future, or are they considered as pieces to help move salary and open up space for big names next summer? Does newly-acquired Brook Lopez play a legitimate on-court role, or was he mostly salary fodder to move on from Timo Mozgov’s contract? Just about the only thing we know for sure for this team on the court this season: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma are going to get a lot of chances to show their potential and learn on the fly. How many wins the Lakers reach may ultimately depend on the larger direction management takes, but until starrier names sign on the dotted line next summer, these kids are the future. The Lakers should compete with the Suns for the bottom seed in the Pacific.

4th place — Pacific Division

Ben Dowsett

To say anything less than, “The Los Angeles Lakers will win the 2017 NBA championship” is to draw the ire of Lakers fans worldwide, but here we go anyway: The Los Angeles Lakers will not win the 2017 NBA championship. In fact, they won’t even make the playoffs next spring. Lonzo Ball has been a lot of “fun” so far, but the core of this organization is still incredibly young, all of which is a good reminder that this season is, more than anything, a test run for the imminent arrival of max free agents next summer, as Magic attempts to turn Hollywood into a desirable free agency destination once again. There is plenty to love about this team as constructed, but the kids are still young and it probably will be quite a circus this season. With potentially bigger talent joining this group down the road, however, this circus could just be getting started.

4th Place – Pacific Division

Joel Brigham

The Los Angeles Lakers had an interesting offseason. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelina traded D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov in exchange for Brook Lopez and the rights to the 27th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft (Kyle Kuzma). Trading Russell was the price of the last front office regime signing Mozgov to a deal that was considered an albatross from the moment it was agreed to. However, Russell was a divisive figure in the Lakers’ locker room and now the team can build around their new talented point guard of the future — Lonzo Ball. Ball has prodigious passing and playmaking talent and will likely make a positive impact early on in the season. This is a developmental season for the Lakers, so making the playoffs should not be the priority. Players like Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. neeed to take another positive step forward in their respective development as the Lakers will be looking to attract the biggest free agents next offseason.

3rd Place — Pacific Division

Jesse Blancarte

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player – Brook Lopez

Three of the top five offensive players from last season (Lou Williams, D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young) no longer hold a spot on this year’s roster. Brook Lopez was brought in via trade when the Lakers unloaded Timofey Mozgov’s contract, which required moving Russell. Lopez has averaged over 20 points a game the last two seasons (20.5 and 20.6) and has been accustomed to being the focal point of the offense for some time with the Nets. Expect Lopez to continue flexing his muscle down low as one the league’s true centers capable of effectively scoring in the post, as well as stretching the floor with his three-point shooting. Doing so will do wonders for a Lakers offense that often lacked proper spacing in recent seasons. Although his time with the Lakers may be brief (Lopez is set to be an unrestricted free agent after this season), expect the Lakers to lean on Lopez for consistent offensive production.

Top Defensive Player – Brook Lopez

The Lakers have a lot of young talent, but they don’t necessarily have a lockdown defender on the roster. Though he isn’t known as a top defensive center, Lopez is capable of providing solid rim protection and making opponents think twice about driving into the lane. With a player of Lopez’s size and intelligence anchoring the defense, look for the Lakers to utilize small ball line-ups around him to funnel drives to Lopez, who blocked 1.6 blocks per game last season (8th in the league). However, it’s worth remembering that the Lakers are coming off a year in which they ranked 30th of 30 teams on defense. With that in mind, don’t expect a huge leap forward on this end of the court this season.

Top Playmaker – Lonzo Ball

Lonzo Ball is one of the most talked about rookie in years. With no shortage of hype, the basketball world will be watching to see if his play on the court can match the hype. Despite this and the pressure of playing for the Lakers, Ball has a chance as the starting point guard to use his pinpoint passing and excellent court vision to quickly become the Lakers’ top playmaker. How well Ball physically holds up to the rigors of his first NBA season will determine how effective he can be in this role this season. True rookies, even with ample playing time, don’t often make great contributions in their inaugural season. Expect Ball to be the exception.

Top Clutch Player – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

The absence of Lou Williams and, to a lesser extent, D’Angelo Russell hurts in this category. With Williams, Russell and Young off the team, look for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to try and fill the shoes here. KCP is on a one-year deal and will want to make the most of his season with the Lakers, so look for him to be aggressive, especially on offense. With a good free throw percentage (83.2), three-point percentage (35.0) and improved ability to move the ball (career high 2.5 assists last season), expect the Lakers to trust KCP in high-pressure late game situations. Brandon Ingram could also step into this role potentially. However, Ingram’s shooting and ability to generate separation from his defenders consistently will need to improve for this to happen.

The Unheralded Player – Julius Randle

Entering his fourth year, forward Julius Randle continues to improve and has the opportunity to make huge strides this season. Randle is in great shape and wanted the league to take notice of his offseason workouts. Randle has already demonstrated that he is capable of doing serious damage offensively near the rim and in transition. He also shown that he has the strength to be physical with bigger, more experience players on both ends of the court. Also, as mentioned above, the improved spacing provided by Lopez and the emphasis on passing, through the addition of Ball and Coach Luke Walton’s offense, should benefit Randle greatly. Randle stands to improve as a shooter, which would open up his game even more. Time will tell how far Randle has developed in that department. Expect Randle to turn the corner this season and show that he is worth investing in as a long-term piece for this Lakers team.

Best New Addition – Lonzo Ball

While Lopez will likely make the biggest impact immediately, Ball is the key addition to the franchise. With him, the team has a foundational piece to build around and grow alongside the team’s other young players. In addition, Ball’s ability, willingness and desire to make those around him better through his passing and playmaking abilities will endear him to teammates and fans alike.

– James Blancarte

WHO WE LIKE

1. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the perfect kind of signing for the Lakers. He is on a one-year contract, which provides the Lakers with flexibility when they have the chance to potentially sign big name players (e.g., Paul George) next offseason. KCP brings outside shooting, an emerging ability to run the pick and roll and defensive impact and consistency. Don’t be surprised if KCP puts in maximum effort this season and hits a new gear considering he is looking for the long-term contract that eluded him this offseason.

2. Lakers Management

President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka deserve credit. Their front office has managed a team with a promising core and supplemented that with expiring contracts and loads of cap space. The signings of Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng were disastrous, but they happened under the last regime and unloading Mozgov’s salary should pay off somewhat quickly, despite the loss of Russell. After making some savvy moves, the pair is positioned to make some serious acquisitions next offseason, which could catapult the Lakers back into contention for the first time in years. If the team strikes out, look for Lakers management to continue investing in and bolstering the young core of talent while maintaining long term cap flexibility.

3. Brook Lopez

As explained above, Lopez should quickly become an anchor for this team on both ends of the court. He may not be a perfect fit in the small-ball era of the NBA, but Lopez is still a very productive player. His ability to knock down three-pointers is a nice bonus that should pay off in a significant way – especially if Coach Walton can find creative ways to utilize it within the team’s offense.

4. Luke Walton

Remember the remarkable streak of success that Coach Walton experienced when manning the helm for the Golden State Warriors during their record breaking season in 2015-16? It certainly feels like a long time ago. Despite the fact that the Lakers went 26-56 last season, Walton immediately brought a new sense of cohesion to the Lakers. Walton is a player’s coach and quickly worked to establish a bond and sense of trust between himself and his players. The team is young and played inconsistently last season, but the positive change in culture was apparent. Coach Walton also continues to implement a modern offense, which has helped bring the Lakers into the modern era of NBA basketball. If the Lakers win more games than they are projected to this season, Walton’s coaching will likely be a big reason why.

James Blancarte

SALARY CAP 101

The Lakers have been clear that their primary goal is to open two maximum-salary slots in the summer of 2018. While they’re not quite there yet, moving off the contract of Jordan Clarkson via trade, letting Julius Randle walk as an unrestricted free agent and stretching the final two years of Luol Deng’s contract would put the Lakers at roughly $70 million in space next year (with a $102 million cap projection). Trading Deng could help the Lakers keep one of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brook Lopez, Clarkson or Randle, while still maintaining room for two max players.

Meanwhile, the Lakers are expected to use their $4.3 million Room Exception before the season on forward Shabazz Muhammad. Once completed, Los Angeles will have 15 players under guaranteed contract, which doesn’t bode well for camp invites Vander Blue, Briante Weber, Stephen Zimmerman and V.J. Beachem. The Lakers do not have a first-round pick next June. Per the Stepien Rule, the Lakers cannot trade their 2019 first until after the 2018 NBA Draft.

Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

Youth, financial flexibility and perspective. The Lakers have one of the best cores of young talent in the NBA. Developing these foundational players is what matters most for this team, especially considering how much financial flexibility the team will likely have next offseason. The Lakers understand that they aren’t going to win a championship this season and could even miss the playoffs again. However, if their core players all show great improvement and signs of being future stars, the team could make a serious pitch to big time free agents next summer. Keeping this perspective in mind will help the team overcome the crushing weight of expectations in L.A. and will help to keep their collective eye on what matters most moving forward.

James Blancarte

WEAKNESSES

Defense. The Lakers ranked dead last in defense last season. Despite adding Lopez, the team will continue to rely on a number of young, developing players, which doesn’t bode well on this end of the court. Expect the team defense to move up a few spots with Lopez manning the middle, but not by much.

James Blancarte

THE BURNING QUESTION

Should Lakers fans have realistic hope that the team can be competitive enough to make the playoffs?

In short, they should not. Despite all of the positives mentioned above, the Lakers youthful core is too inexperienced to be truly competitive. The western conference is as strong as ever and the Lakers simply don’t have the veteran talent, depth or experience to be a serious playoff contender next season.

James Blancarte

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NBA

Life After Philadelphia is Just Fine For Turner

Evan Turner goes 1-on-1 with Basketball Insiders to explain how life in Philadelphia shaped the rest of his career.

Dennis Chambers

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Once upon a time, Evan Turner was the second overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, and the next man in line to save the Philadelphia 76ers.

After finishing his junior year at Ohio State University, Turner declared for the draft and eventually was taken directly after John Wall by the Sixers. Turner joined a team that won just 27 games the year before, but had more than a few promising young pieces.

Andre Iguodala, a former Sixers top-10 pick in his own right, was the oldest of the core bunch, at just 27. After him, the likes of Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, and Spencer Hawes were all under the age of 24. All in all, adding a No. 2 pick to that mix looked to set up the Sixers for years to come.

For the most part, the beginning of Turner’s career was successful. After making the playoffs his rookie season and losing in the first round to the Miami HEAT four games to one, the Sixers pushed the Boston Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals during the 2011-12 season.

Turner started 12 of those 13 playoff games during his second season, averaging 11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.5 points per game.

Just as Turner seemed to be coming into his own, though, the tides in Philadelphia began to turn, and turn quickly.

His third year in the league, and first year as a full-time starter, came and went for Turner. He posted decent numbers. His 13.6 points per game were second only to Holiday. He was third on the team in assists and sixth in rebounds. In the midst of his fourth season, while averaging a career-high 17.4 points, Turner was traded to the Indiana Pacers.

Newly hired president of basketball operations, Sam Hinkie, had a plan in place that didn’t include Turner. It didn’t include Holiday either, as he was shipped off during the 2013 draft for Nerlens Noel and future first-round pick.

Just as the Sixers were becoming “his” team, Turner was sent packing to a new zip code. In his mind, he never got a fair shake at trying to the be the guy he was drafted to be in Philadelphia.

“I don’t think I really ever had a chance to shoulder it, to tell you the truth,” Turner told Basketball Insiders. “I didn’t start my first two years, but numbers wise I thought I did well. Nobody averaged more than 13 or 14. We were a great unit. My third year, my first year starting, I thought I did pretty well for a first-year starter. We missed the playoffs, which is always tough. Within the next year, it got blown up.”

Turner reiterated that in his mind, he wasn’t allowed the leash to become a franchise guy. But it wasn’t all for naught in Philadelphia.

“Honest opinion, I don’t think I ever fully got the chance,” Turner said. “But I got the chance to do a lot of great things. Learn how to win, learn how to defend, learn how to prepare.”

Since leaving Philly, Turner’s role in the NBA has shifted from a potential franchise player to a serviceable role man on a playoff caliber team.

Last summer, Turner inked a four-year, $70 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers after his stint with Indiana, and then two years with the Boston Celtics. Beyond the years in Philly, Turner’s life in the Association has been kind to him.

“It’s been fine,” Turner said. “On the up and up, I was fortunate to make the playoffs every year since leaving Philly. I made the playoffs two out of three, or three out of the four years that I was here. It’s cool, it’s a blessing. Healthy, stable, and living the dream.”

On Wednesday night, Turner returned to Philadelphia and the Wells Fargo Center to square off against his old team. Nowadays, this version of the Sixers is much different than the one he left behind. A process that nearly began with jettisoning Turner to the Pacers feels near completion, and the energy Turner once felt on the court in a Sixers uniform is returning in full force.

When walking around the building, this time as a visitor, Turner takes appreciation in seeing some old faces. The guys “behind the scenes” as he put it, always are welcoming. Brett Brown, Turner’s former coach, never fails to show him love, and the arena in South Philly, Turner says, is always a great reminder of where he came from.

Turner thinks the process that was kicked off with getting rid of him and his core teammates is promising, though.

“It’s turning around,” Turner said.  “Just off the first eye glance, I know Coach Brown can coach his butt off. Even the fact that they’re getting up a real practice facility says a lot. Obviously on the court, the energy. You see on tv before, it’s more sold out. When you see the Sixers sometimes it would be a joke, in regards to how many games they lost, or whatever. But now it’s kind of like you’re going to see some great highlights, you’re watching a lot of energy from the crowd and things. I’m happy for them. It seems like it’s trending in the right direction.”

It wasn’t always rainbows and sunshine for Turner in Philadelphia; he would be reminded of that as he was greeted with boo’s from the crowd when he checked into the game for the first time Wednesday night. The city of brotherly love has a reputation that doesn’t necessarily precede its name.

“Much is given, much is expected,” he said. “One thing is, when you get kind of labeled as whatever, you kind of get tagged for the most critical stuff. I saw how sometimes Iguodala would get blamed for everything, and then I kind of moved into that. I went from the cute little kid, to moving into that responsibility. Then MCW (Michael Carter-Williams) went from that position. It’s just kind of, you know, part of the game.”

The harshness of the city, and Turner’s situation particularly, helped guide him through his career after Philadelphia. In Turner’s words, “The only way to go from here, in a certain sense, is up.”

Portland’s sixth man has lived a long, lucrative life in the NBA, even if it didn’t go exactly how it was initially planned to. Turner was quick to point out that any time he heard someone complain during his travels around the league, at least they weren’t facing the wrath of Philadelphia.

“Going into new situations, people are like, ‘Hey they do this or they do that,’ and I’m like are y’all serious,” Turner said with a smile. “Go to Philly and see what they’ll do to y’all.”

Maybe his time spent in Philadelphia didn’t turn out the way fans had hoped, but Turner found out quickly there was a spot for him in the league as a former second overall pick, and that his career has gone just the way it was supposed to.

“I’m a firm believer in everything is supposed to happen how it’s supposed to happen,” Turner said. “Regardless of which, it’s a blessing.”

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Mock Drafts

NBA AM: The First 2018 NBA Mock Draft

With College Basketball getting underway and things starting to get interesting in the standings of the NBA, what better time to drop a 2018 Mock Draft than on Thanksgiving.

Steve Kyler

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The Thanksgiving 2018 NBA Mock Draft

With College Basketball getting underway and things starting to get interesting in the standings of the NBA, what better time to drop a 2018 Mock Draft than on Thanksgiving.

So with that in mind here is my first Mock Draft of the 2018 Season, look for more of these are we march on (and hopefully you like the new Mock Draft table design.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this summer.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would convey.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

Check out our Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA

NBA PM: Lopez Leading On And Off The Court

Brook Lopez has been a valuable addition to the Los Angeles Lakers, both on and off the court.

Ben Nadeau

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In spite of the ongoing media circus, an inherently tougher conference and a roster that features just five players with more than three years of NBA experience, the Los Angeles Lakers are 8-10. Naturally, that won’t be good enough to reach the postseason in the West, but it’s better than most expected the young Lakers to fare. Their early season successes can be chalked up to their glut of budding talent — Julius Randle, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, among others — but there’s one other major driving force at hand here and his name is Brook Lopez.

Following years of will-they, won’t-they rumors, Lopez was acquired in a shocking blockbuster trade with the Brooklyn Nets just prior to this year’s draft. The Lakers were eager to get out from under Timofey Mozgov’s lengthy, albatross-sized contract, so they packaged him with the once-troubled D’Angelo Russell, shipping the pair off for Lopez and the No. 27 overall pick. The deal was largely made with financial implications in mind, but the initial returns on Lopez have been a massive win for the Lakers as well.

Although Lopez is currently logging a career-low in minutes (24.3), he still often leads the way for Los Angeles — like the night he effortlessly dropped 34 points and 10 rebounds on 6-for-9 from three-point range against his former franchise. Through 18 games, Lopez is averaging just 14.8 points and 5.1 rebounds — a scoring mark that ranks only above his rookie season with the New Jersey Nets in 2008-09 — but his statistical impact is key on this inconsistent roster nonetheless.

But beyond that, it seems as if some of Lopez’s biggest contributions this season have come off the court — just ask Kyle Kuzma and Ivica Zubac.

“[Lopez] has taught me how to be a professional,” Kuzma told Basketball Insiders prior to their game against the Boston Celtics earlier this month. “He’s one of the first guys in the gym, one of the last ones to leave.”

Lopez, who has carried his fair share of incredibly poor teams in the past — and often with a smile — is in the final year of the contract he signed back in 2015. His expiring deal worth $22.6 million made Lopez the perfect acquisition for a Lakers team hoping to shed cap space before the upcoming free agency period — where, allegedly, LeBron James and Paul George are both targets.

For a 7-foot center that just added a three-point shot to his game and knocked down 134 of them last season alone, Lopez may be one of the greatest trade afterthoughts in recent memory. The Lakers will likely finish in the lottery rather than the postseason, but Lopez — along with veterans Andrew Bogut, Corey Brewer and Luol Deng — have been a helpful presence for the slew of young Lakers as they adjust to professional basketball.

“They’re all great — they’ve been there, done that,” Kuzma said. “They have a lot of experience in this league, so it’s good to learn from those guys because they’ve played 10, 13 years and that’s what I want to do.”

Kuzma, of course, was selected with that No. 27 overall pick that the Nets sent to Los Angeles in the trade, and he’s been red-hot ever since. Following an impressive combine, summer league and preseason, Kuzma jumped into the starting lineup after Larry Nance Jr. fractured his hand just eight games into the campaign. Although the Rookie of the Year battle has been dominated by the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons so far, Kuzma — averaging 16.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game — has emerged as a strong runner-up candidate.

For Zubac, however, it’s been a slower start to his NBA career but with Lopez, he says, things have gotten easier.

“The whole summer, I worked on my three-point shot,” Zubac told Basketball Insiders. “But also [I worked on my] post offense too, that’s what [Lopez] is good at. I’m really focusing my game around the post, so that’s where I’m trying to learn.”

Last year, Zubac was a popular late-season member of head coach Luke Walton’s rotation and he finished his rookie year averaging 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds in just 16 minutes per game. Unfortunately, the new arrivals and recent emergences have limited Zubac to just 10 total minutes over four appearances in 2017-18. Still, Lopez gives Zubac a mentor worth modeling his game after, even if it’s at the expense of real experience this season.

To get Zubac on the floor, the center has spent time with the South Bay Lakers, Los Angeles’ G-League affiliate, as of late. In two games, Zubac has averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds on 73 percent shooting from the field. Despite the lack of playing time, Zubac was more than happy to praise not only Lopez but the efforts of the other aforementioned veterans too.

“I can learn a lot from them and they help me play my game,” Zubac said. “Whoever’s on the court, whoever I’m playing with, I just try to learn as much as I can from them.”

Ultimately, though, it all comes back to Lopez.

Again, Lopez has averaged a career-low in minutes, but his contributions have been crucial in the Lakers’ overall standing thus far. In the games that Lopez has played less than 21 minutes, the Lakers are 0-5; but when he plays more than 30, the team is 3-1. On top of that, the Lakers are 5-1 when Lopez hits two or more three-pointers in a game as well. That sample size is still certainly small, but it’s nice indicator of Lopez’s inherent on-court impact, even when he’s not carrying the team on his shoulders.

“[He makes life] a lot easier for me,” Kuzma said. “He’s one of the most established scorers in the league and his career average is, like, 20 [points] a game. You can always count on him to be there every single night.”

While the Lakers can plan for a dream offseason haul involving James, George and others, they’ll have a tough decision facing them in July. Whether he’s efficiently stretching the floor, finishing off assists from Ball or setting the tone in an inexperienced locker room, Lopez has been quite the addition for Los Angeles.

This summer, Lopez enters unrestricted free agency and will likely garner offers outside of the Lakers’ pay range considering their big plans. If the Lakers decide to focus elsewhere, another team will reap the rewards. Until then, the youthful core in Los Angeles will benefit from having Lopez train and educate them each day.

“[Lopez] takes care of his body, he stays low-key and is never in trouble,” Kuzma said. “He’s the type of professional I want to be.”

Whether this is just a one-year detour in his extensively underrated career or the start of a great, new partnership, Lopez’s arrival in Los Angeles has been a huge success already. But as far as role models go for both Kuzma and Zubac, there are few choices better than Brook Lopez — both on and off the court.

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