Tyson Chandler, the 34 year old NBA veteran is jawing at young Laker’s forward, Julius Randle after they tussled with each other at the other end of the court. Phoenix is down by seven with just under two minutes left in the game. Just minutes before the Suns were only down by one after mounting a come back from double digits but somehow, the game doesn’t seem out of reach. There is plenty of time especially with Phoenix’s young phenom, Devin Booker shooting the lights out in the second half. Finally the referees give both players technicals after the verbal insults become some healthy competitive elbowing on the next play.
With 16 seconds left on the shot clock, D’Angelo Russell in bounds the ball to Randle as everyone clears out while he proceeds to take Chandler one on one with a swagger of a college kid. As the clock ticks down, Randle dribbles closer and closer tempting Devin Booker to double team leaving his player out beyond the three point line. Everyone is the arena is cheering on this upcoming battle but with seconds left, Randle suddenly swings the ball to an open Jordan Clarkson who nails a dagger three pointer to seal the game with a double digit lead. Clarkson is the player that Booker was guarding. Randle could have easily let his emotions and ego get in the way and force a shot against the veteran to show him up but instead, he got the gaming sealing assist. After the game during interviews when ask about why he gave up the ball, Randle said “I’m past getting caught up in the emotions. I just want to win.” True maturity for the young Laker.
It’s early in the year but this epitomizes this year’s Lakers. While Kobe’s last year was an amazing farewell tour, the team only won 17 games while losing 65 games whereas the northern rivals, Warriors won 73 games. The Lakers only won six more games than the Warriors lost all year. This year is entirely different not just because Kobe Bryant is gone but the young core from last year is one year older with a new veteran supporting cast. Gone is the unreliable bench that consisted with all around good guys but basketball challenged of Anthony Brown, Ryan Kelly, and Robert Sacre. Gone is the rent a center named Roy Hibbert. Veterans including a mobile center, Timofey Mozgov, wise man, Jose Calderon and utility man, Luol Deng join dependable hold overs of Lou Williams, Marcelo Huertas and Tarik Black. Also it must be highlighted that Nick Young who seemingly was supposed to be traded or waived has become a resurgent force not only regaining his scoring prowess but magically becoming a defensive threat which only months before would have been unimaginable. Actually we didn’t even think that he thought defense was a word.
The early success of the Lakers who at the time of this writing have a winning record of 4-3 beating the Warriors and at the time undefeated Hawks, is largely attributed to the maturation of Julius Randle, D’angelo Russell, Larry Nance and Jordan Clarkson. Jordan Clarkson, last year’s starting shooting guard has humbly taken a seat on the bench along with Lou Williams to become the best scoring bench in the NBA. Russell who was supposed to take over as the primary scorer and ball handler has become a better shooter and scorer while being mature enough to give up ball handling duties to Williams, Clarkson, Randle and even the highly touted rookie, Brandon Ingram. Nance continues to improve while adding an outside job to his incredible motor. Putting in time at the gym like his teammates, Randle continues to improve from averaging a double double last year while ridding of his weaknesses of not being able to finishing with his right hand and not being able to shoot that didn’t break the rim.
The abilities of the young core, Clarkson, Russell, Nance, Clarkson, Randle along with Ivica Zubac and Ingram continue to improve through their work ethnic. Supposedly Clarkson, Russell, Nance, Ingram and Randle, are self professed gym rats. Their basketball IQ grows not only from experience but from the guidance of former player, Luke Walton. The future looks bright and for once in a long time, it’s exciting to watch the Lakers again.