Ranking Every Player on Lakers Roster Following Isaiah Thomas Trade

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2018

Cleveland Cavaliers' Isaiah Thomas drives against the Detroit Pistons in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Tony Dejak/Associated Press

After reports came out from ESPN's Ramona Shelburn and Adrian Wojnarowski that the Los Angeles Lakers might punt on free agency this summer, it seemed like they would stand pat at the trade deadline. 

But in the end, they decided to ship off Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye. 

After the trade drama, I have ranked every player on the active roster, according to Spotrac. While the rankings are mostly based on what can be expected of them for the duration of the season, I also considered how much they are a part of the future in L.A.—particularly since that may influence playing time as the season winds down.

           

15. Luol Deng, SF

Luol Deng has played 13 minutes this season. He's getting paid $17.2 million. Need I say more?

        

14. Gary Payton II, PG

The 25-year-old Gary Payton II is one of the team's two-way players, but most of that has been in the G League. He has appeared in two games for the Lakers, scoring six points in 21 total minutes, but he hasn't done enough to comment on.

        

13. Thomas Bryant, C

Thomas Bryant is another one who hasn't earned many minutes, but at least he's a little younger. At only 20, there's a slim chance he's part of the Lakers future—but it's still slim. Nance's departure might create some minutes for him.

        

12. Ivica Zubac, C

Ivica Zubac, the 7'1" center, has played in 15 games, including a four-point, four-rebound performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves on New Year's Day. He could also get a little more time following Nance's departure.

          

11. Corey Brewer, SG

Corey Brewer is a wing who once specialized in defense and getting buckets in transition. He doesn't do much of either anymore, and as a result, he has fallen out of the rotation.

He's only played 63 minutes in the last eight games, and that includes three DNPs.

         

10. Channing Frye, PF

A stretch-4 who isn't as stretchy as he once was, Frye is hitting just 33.3 percent from deep this year. Also, his defense is questionable.

The fact that he's on an expiring contract suggests he won't be a big part of the rotation, seeing as this is a young group trying to figure out what it has for the future. But it's possible his shooting gets him some minutes, particularly since the Lakers are 30th in three-point percentage.

       

9. Tyler Ennis, PG

Tyler Ennis has bounced around a lot over his brief career. It's his fourth season, and he's already played with the Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks, Houston Rockets and the Lakers.

Last year, he showed real signs of progress, with a 14.3 Player Efficiency Rating, per Basketball-Reference.com, but that's fallen off this season to 9.4.

Given a chance to start 11 games, he only had one good showing (20 points against the Houston Rockets).

         

8. Josh Hart, SG

Jim Mone/Associated Press

Before you dismiss the Cavaliers' first-round pick obtained in the Isaiah Thomas trade, look at Josh Hart as yet another example of how well Los Angeles has done drafting late in the round. The Lakers received the rights to Hart (the No. 30 pick) and Bryant for the No. 28 pick (Tony Bradley).

Starting the last four games, Hart is averaging 13.5 points and 11.0 rebounds.

In some ways, he reminds me of another No. 30 pick: Jimmy Butler. He's extremely strong for a shooting guard. He's smart and well-rounded. He plays both sides of the ball. And he played four years in college, which, like Butler (who played three years), is more than most stars these days. 

       

7. Julius Randle, PF

Julius Randle may or may not be a long-term piece for the Lakers, depending on what they do this summer. He's a restricted free agent, and depending on how big their free agency eyes are, they may not be able to afford to keep him.

Coming off the bench this year, he's found a groove. He's averaging 21.3 points and 11.0 boards per 36 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference. His energy is positively effusive. But how much is a bouncy big off the bench worth? Particularly one with questionable defense?

        

6. Lonzo Ball, PG

Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

Lonzo Ball was having a disappointing rookie season, and that was before he got injured. It might not be as disappointing as some people have made it out to be, though. Not all of the criticism is fair, either, as he can't expect to be cashing checks his daddy's mouth wrote.

He is averaging 10.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists. Other players to do that include Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Ben Simmons and absolutely no one else, according to Basketball-Reference.

Yes, he'll need to work on his shot, but that's a pretty good start to a career. Last I checked, most players improve after their rookie season.

        

5. Brook Lopez, C

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

I listed Brook Lopez fifth because he's still the starting center. The chances he is a Laker next year are somewhere between none and zero.

It's not that he doesn't have some game still. He's averaging 11.9 points and 3.9 boards per game. He even hits on 33.2 percent of his 3-point shots—not bad for a stretch 5.

But he doesn't fit age-wise, and he's on the last year of his contract. While there was some speculation that he could be a buyout candidate, at least for now, it looks like he's staying put, per Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

        

4. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or "KCP" has been about as good for the Lakers as he was for the Detroit Pistons. That's not good news, though, because the Lakers were hoping he could become more. He's averaging 13.1 points and shooting 35.6 percent from deep—very "meh" numbers.

He has a defensive reputation, but he's more average than anything else.

He will probably quietly play out the season with the Lakers, and that's about all that matters. 

          

3. Isaiah Thomas, PG

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Thomas became the pariah in Cleveland, and while some of it might have been fair, not all of it was. That's true simply for the reason that many of the problems started before Thomas ever returned. If anyone could use a fresh start, it's him.

This is a guy who is one season removed from 28.9 points and 5.9 dimes per game on 62.5 percent true shooting. He has had just 15 games in a hostile situation to come back from a devastating injury.

It seems like a lot of people are ready to write him off, but this could be a real trade steal if the Lakers get his Bird rights for almost nothing and he starts getting back to the player he once was.

When Ball returns, if he resumes the starting role, just feel free to switch him and Thomas in these rankings.

         

2. Kyle Kuzma, PF

Jim Mone/Associated Press

Look, anyone who thought Kyle Kuzma would be this good is either A) Kyle, B) Kyle's mom or C) Lying. He has been amazing—and right there with Donovan Mitchell as the best rookie drafted this season. He's averaging 15.7 points and 5.8 boards. His true shooting percentage is a decent 54.6.

For a rookie, those are solid numbers. For a guy taken with the 27th pick, they're virtually unheard of. There are 38 rookies in NBA history to average 15 points and five rebounds with 54 percent true shooting.

(Click on the link and check the names; it's some impressive company).

Of those, the only other two who weren't top-10 picks were Kelly Tripucka (No. 12) in 1981 and Dino Radja (No. 40) in 1993.  

        

1. Brandon Ingram, SF

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Brandon Ingram is the Lakers' best player now and going forward. It's possible that if Ball fixes his shot, he might have a higher ceiling, but right now, it looks like Ingram's the more likely of the two to reach his ceiling.

His numbers are better. He's averaging 15.9 points and 5.3 boards along with 3.7 assists—all significant increases from last year, but that's only surface stuff.

He has shown growth both physically and figuratively this season. He's gained weight and gotten stronger, and it's helped his game. He's not as easy to push around as he was last season, and he's played huge games, such as his 32-point performance against the Golden State Warriors on Nov. 29, and provided huge moments, such as his game-winner against the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 7.

Whether he can be the next franchise player of one of the great franchises in American sports is another question. But, for now, he's the best hope they have. 

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