After their win tonight over the Orlando Magic, the Los Angeles Lakers have officially completed half of their first season under rookie head coach Luke Walton. The Baby Lakers sit at 15-26 and two games outside of a playoff spot. Compare that to the 9-32 record they held last season after 41 games last season and you can see the large improvement the team has made. The offense is much, much better, the players are playing harder, and the team is simply just more fun to watch. They finished this past week 3-1, which included their habit of blowing double digit leads (this time a 14 point lead to the Portland Trailblazers). They could have gone 4-0 but 3-1 is good enough, considering the tough stretch they went through in December (winning only two games).
Lots of players have made improvements under Walton as expected and their development is starting to show. So without further ado, here are my midseason awards:
MVP: Julius Randle
I was so tempted to give this to D’Angelo Russell because his effect on the team was felt during his 11 game absence. However, because he did miss 11 games, it’s hard to justify claiming him to be the Lakers’ most valuable player. Julius Randle on the other-hand, has not only played in more games but has arguably had a larger effect on the team. In his “second season” (technically his third but he got hurt in his first rookie game) he is averaging 13.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, and 3.8 apg. These were the numbers going into tonight’s game. He finished with 19 points to go along with nine rebounds and five assists.
He is doing all this while shooting 49.9% from the field. He has rounded out his game on offense, improving his handles and passing ability. Over the last 10 games he is averaging 16.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg, and 5.4 apg while joining some great company with a triple-double.
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) January 4, 2017
He has been a beast. Admittedly, he is prone to “zoning out”, or more of just “distancing himself” according to Russell, but when he’s focused, he is the Lakers’ best player. He is a physical specimen and is only going to improve because he is only 22.
Most Improved: Nick Young
Heading into the season, none one and absolutely no one would have guessed this. Nick Young is a changed man….at least on the court (to an extent). Going into today’s game, he was averaging 14.5 ppg on 46.2% from the field and 43.7% from three. His three-point percentage is higher than Steph Curry’s and Klay Thompson’s…seriously. He had a nine game stretch where he made 42 threes (franchise record in a nine-game stretch). He shot 42-75 (56%) in those nine games; truly remarkable.
He has become one of the Lakers primary perimeter defenders and a respectable veteran player and presence. Give Walton the Nobel Peace Prize already. Young has bought into the new coaching staff’s philosophy and culture while becoming an invaluable member of this Laker team. Pretty good for a guy who was predicted to be cut or traded away during the offseason by many.
Sixth Man: Lou Williams
If it wasn’t for Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson would have won this award. Williams is the leader of the best bench in basketball; it’s a bench that averages close to 50 ppg. Before tonight’s game he was averaging 18.1 ppg on 43.8% shooting from the field and 37.6% from three. He just knows how to score. It’s more complicated than it sounds however. He understands all the angles on offense, how to draw fouls, when to pass, when to shoot, when to drive, etc. He is a master at drawing fouls. Even when the defender knows what he’s trying to do, they’ll still foul him. He just knows how to put the ball in the hole. He is also a valuable veteran presence and a positive presence in the locker room. He is part of a two-headed leaderboard with Houston’s Eric Gordon for Sixth Man of the Year.
Defensive Player of the Year: Nick Young
Yes, seriously, although it isn’t saying that much. The Lakers are terrible defensively, although they have shown strides of improvement this past week. Throughout the season they have gone through stretches where they legitimately lock their opponents down a few times a game but because they are such a young team, it isn’t sustained. They usually allow points in bunches too; another sign of a young team. Nick Young has been the most consistent defender for the Los Angeles Lakers and is usually tasked with guarding the opposition’s best perimeter player. He has shown the ability to hold his own, and that is all you can ask for.