NBA: Three Teams With Game-Changing Young Talent

Apr 8, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Injured Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) practices prior to a game against the New York Knicks at Wells Fargo Center. The New York Knicks won 109-102. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 8, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Injured Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) practices prior to a game against the New York Knicks at Wells Fargo Center. The New York Knicks won 109-102. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Los Angeles Lakers: Transitioning From Kobe Bryant To The Next Kevin Durant And The Long Lost Croatian Gasol Brother

It is rare that losing a transcendent superstar probably lead to sighs of relief from said player’s team. But for the Lakers, there was probably a contingent of people who saw Kobe Bryant’s retirement as a signal that the franchise might be on the path to actually being a real NBA basketball team again.

Lost in the past two years of Kobe Bryant’s extended farewell party, many might not have noticed how much honest to god legitimate young talent the Laker’s have been accumulating.

Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports /

Even just looking at their newest edition, Brandon Ingram, is cause for excitement. He profiles as an NBA level ball handler who’s 6-feet-9-inches tall with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and and a 9-foot-1 1/2 standing reach. To put a couple of those measurements into context, he has the wingspan and standing reach of a center who plays the game like a small forward or guard.

His standing reach is actually a full inch higher than his fellow oft compared to alien Kevin Durant. For Ingram, the only main concern for his development is that he weighs 190 pounds.

To compare, 5-foot-9 Isaiah “Actual Midget” Thomas weighs 185 pounds. While Thomas is much bigger than most players his height, the point still stands that Ingram is proportionally as thick as a modestly sized twig.

However, aside from his apparent need to gain dozens of pounds of muscle, there aren’t many holes in his offensive game. He can shoot at least from the NCAA three point line very well (having boasted a .410 three point shooting percentage and a strong .552 true shooting percentage at Duke), can handle the ball like a guard and can get to the rim with an impressive level of burst.

He also took care of the ball; as evidenced by his 11.3 Turnover Percentage.

In this highlight video you’ll see him make jumpers and handle the ball effectively. However, his lack of strength is pretty obvious, as it looked like his inability to muscle his way just slightly past disciplined defenders meant he had to rely on catch and shoot and step back jumpers to score, and his ability to get efficient looks at the basket was therefore limited.

He did, however, make a good amount of those jumpers. Those plays showed how ready his handle and shot already are, while also proving that his body isn’t quite there yet.

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He is a legitimate star prospect with his main career concern (weight/strength) being imminently correctable. What is important is that if he gains the necessary amount of muscle, Ingram looks like he’ll be able to score with efficient volume in any system. If so, it would be quite a pleasing development for the Lakers’ organization and fans, and a pretty scary one for everybody else.

Defensively, Ingram projects to potentially be just as scary as Durant. With a 7-foot-3 wingspan, and more than adequate lateral quickness, Ingram will most likely thrive on the perimeter as soon as he becomes accustomed to NBA defensive schemes.

There is even precedence for this in Ingram’s Duke tenure. Not only was Ingram a stud offensively, he also had 1.1 steals per game while posting strongly positive Defensive Win Share and Defensive Box Plus Minus scores. Once he puts on muscle, his 6-foot-9 frame will also ensure he is no pushover in the post. All in all, Brandon Ingram barring any unforeseen circumstances seems like he will very much live up to the hype.

The second draftee for the Lakers was Ivica Zubac, who is coincidentally also a candidate for this year’s “Who Is He And Why Has No One Heard Of Him?” Award  (also commonly referred to as the “Greek Freak” Award”), which was handily won last year by Nikola “Advanced Statistician’s Wet Dream”/Long Lost Serbian Gasol Brother” Jokic.

Zubac is a 19 year old 7-foot-1, 265 pound center prospect hailing from Croatia.

While he did not have impressive numbers volume wise last year in the Adriatic League, scoring around 7 points per game while pulling down 3 rebounds, he did so efficiently while only playing 13 minutes a game.

When the Los Angeles Lakers drafted him at 32, it was with overall little fan fare. You would be hard pressed to spot any fans in the crowd wearing vintage Ivica Zubac Adriatic League jerseys.  However, he made quite the impression during summer league.

In multiple games he showcased some very intriguing physical tools. As with most of my other highlighted rookie prospects, here is a video of some of Zubac’s summer league highlights that do a decent job in showcasing some of his offensive and defensive strengths.

Here he demonstrates a consistent ability to finish over the shoulder hook shots, a great understanding of when to roll and when to crash the offensive glass, and very good hands. At the 1:10 mark not only do you see Zubac run a pick and roll very well, but you’ll also get a bonus Ingram highlight as he is the player that makes the right pass to Zubac as the big man rolls. Zubac  also convincingly made a few midrange jumpers in other games as well, which if cultivated as a consistently usable skill would drastically increase his value as a prospect.

Zubac did have some very exciting blocks, but he also committed his fair share of defensive errors in terms of both in the pick and roll and in terms of defensive rebounding. There were a few times when he would run to block a shot on one player only to not get back in position; allowing the opposing team to have multiple second chances.

There was a glaring example of this in his summer league debut highlight video against the Pelicans, as shown starting at the 1:26 mark until the 1:41 mark, which is somewhat ironic.

Instead of trying to stay vertical and rebound, he goes for the block which does result in a couple of deflections, but this also puts him out of position which allowed the opposing team to get offensive rebounds and second chance attempts.

Also while he is not “un-athletic”, Zubac is not the most explosive athlete and he showed to be very capable of getting burned on pick and roll switches. Guards will gladly make plays against him rather than against opposing guards.

All in all, Zubac might fall just a bit short of being prime Dwight Howard level annoying as a perimeter secondary defender. However that is a pretty high standard, and Zubac has the chance to more than hold his own respectably after he receives enough NBA coaching.

As with Ingram, his issues were more related to mental seasoning and physicality rather than talent deficiencies. He could very well reach a very high ceiling, and he could plausibly end up a player who could function as a rim protector on defense and as a jack of multiple trades on offense.

Next: The Timberpups