Kobe-less Lakers a fantasy basketball gold mine

The Los Angeles Lakers, led by young point guard D'Angelo Russell, boast a lot of undervalued fantasy assets. Harry How/Getty Images

The 2015-16 edition of your Los Angeles Lakers were crafted upon three principles:

1. Must not land out of the top three in the NBA draft lottery. Anything lower than No. 3 overall gets sent to Philadelphia . . . which would mean a whole season of tanking will be in vain.

2. Kobe Bryant gets to do whatever he wants.

3. Byron Scott rides shotgun.

In reality-based NBA terms? These three principles produced their desired synergistic effect: Brandon Ingram.

In fantasy-based NBA terms? The 2015-16 Lakers were a numerical sinkhole.

They placed 29th out of 30 teams in Offensive Rating (101.6 points per 100 possessions), 30th in effective field goal percentage (.460), 30th in true shooting percentage (.509), 18th in pace (95.6), 30th in assists, 22nd in 3-pointers, 23rd in steals and 24th in blocks.

Bad teams can equal fantasy upside. They can combine promising young players with the copious minutes required for growth.

In this case...that wasn't the case.

This team-wide implosion was evidenced with a pronounced lack of Player Rater production.

Jordan Clarkson led the Lakers with 4.36 points. D'Angelo Russell finished strong and posted 3.61 points. Lou Williams posted 3.12. Julius Randle posted 2.65. Kobe Bryant? A time-management/injury depressed 1.28 points. And that's off of a stratospheric (2008-esque) 32.2 percent usage rate. (Their combined score would have place fifth overall on the Player Rater, right ahead of Chris Paul).

The 2015-16 Lakers were -- easily -- one of the worst NBA fantasy teams of the past decade.

The 2016-17 Lakers are a case study. An object lesson. A laudatory tale. They are what happens when you:

1. Forget about next year's lottery-protected pick and play to win, but in a low-expectations, youth-infused atmosphere.

2. Subtract a retiring superstar (and his 32.2 percent usage rate) and divvy up his touches amongst your young, promising core.

3. Bring in Luke Walton to turn up the pace.

Exit Kobe. Exit Roy Hibbert. Enter Brandon Ingram, Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov. Exit Byron Scott. Enter Luke Walton.

The still-young season features multiple still-young teams that have increased both their pace and fantasy prospects. (Brooklyn, Phoenix, Denver).

But none have leaped so far, so fast as the Lakers.

Los Angeles is now 12th in offensive rating, 10th in effective field goal percentage, ninth in true shooting percentage, fourth in pace, seventh in assists, 10th in 3-pointers and fifth in steals. (But just 25th in blocks. Nobody's perfect).

And one of the impressive aspects of the individual Lakers' fantasy improvement is how they're doing with essentially a series of timeshares. Ten Lakers are currently averaging over 20 minutes a night. No Lakers average 30 MPG. On most teams, this distribution of minutes would spell roto regression. But these Lakers are statistically better for it.

So which individual players have benefited from the Lakers' new look? All of them.


Lou Williams, PG/SG 2015-16 Player Rater: 3.12 2016-17 Player Rater: 7.01 (leads Lakers)

Lou Williams is averaging 23.5 minutes per game. That puts him on pace for his lowest amount of playing time in five seasons. Yet, somehow, he's registering career highs in points per game (16.6), 3-pointers (1.9) and steals (1.3).

Lou Williams is what happens when you start parsing out a departed superstar's touches in a higher-paced, more efficient system. In a career stuffed with super-compacted superb stats, Williams is averaging a career high 28.2 percent usage rate. He's destroying his previous career high in PER (23.00 vs. 20.22 back in 2011-12).

Williams has also taken over as Lakers closer. He's third in the NBA in fourth quarter scoring. On a young team still learning how to win -- yet has already won half as many games as last year's Lakers did in a full season -- Walton's given Williams an incandescent late-game green light.


Jordan Clarkson, PG/SG 2015-16 Player Rater: 4.36 (led Lakers) 2016-17 Player Rater: 5.77

Clarkson has also primarily come off the bench. He's logging almost five minutes less per game than in 2015-16. Yet he still leads the Lakers with 27.8 minutes per game.

Despite the minutes drop, Clarkson's volume stats by and large compare with his solid 2015-16 numbers. But the secret sauce in his improvement comes from the steals department. Clarkson currently averages 1.8 thefts per tilt, a huge leap over last season's 1.1 steals. He's already posted multiple five-steal games, including last Friday's monster 20-point, 4-3-pointer and 5-steal line versus the Warriors.


Julius Randle, PF 2015-16 Player Rater: 2.65 2016-17 Player Rater: 4.70

Randle's minutes have also decreased. He's dropped by two rebounds per game. Yet Randle's fantasy impact has also improved. More than improved: it's nearly doubled.

Cause one: his field goal percentage bump. His .538 percentage marks a quantum leap versus last season's .429. Randle's shooting has improved despite the average distance of his shot moving out from 6.7 to 7.9 feet. Even more incongruously, his biggest jump is in deep 2-pointers (from .254 to .556).

The area where Randle's doing something special for his position? Assists. Randle's court vision has opened up to the tune of 3.8 assists per game. That's one of the best big-men per game averages in the entire league.

Randle still isn't adding much in the defense categories (0.7 steals, 0.6 blocks), but his dimes have the potential to make Randle a unique fantasy asset.


Nick Young, SG/SF 2015-16 Player Rater: -3.43 (depressed due to injury and a social media mishap) 2016-17 Player Rater: 4.45

Young's heartwarming comeback campaign suffered a bit of a scare last night via an Achilles strain. It's hard to believe, but the preternaturally sophomoric Young has transformed into something of a 31-year-old grizzled veteran.

Like every other Laker on this list, Young's transformation arrives via efficiency. Young's improvement is concentrated in one specific area: 3-point production. As of last night's game, Young was averaging a career-high 2.6 3-pointers per game. That high average is accompanied by a career-high .418 3-point percentage.

(I mean come on. Nick Young's eFG% is 59 percent! Walton should get Coach of the Year based on that alone.)


Larry Nance Jr., PF 2015-16 Player Rater: -0.31 2016-17 Player Rater: 3.87

Nance is only getting 21.8 minutes per game. He's only averaging 7.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. But he's shooting 60 percent from the field and is averaging 1.2 steals per game.


D'Angelo Russell, PG 2015-16 Player Rater: 3.61 2016-17 Player Rater: 2.99 (depressed due to injury)

Calm down. He's been hurt. He'll be back in 10-14 days.

In the meantime, comfort yourself with these averages: 16.1 points, 4.8 assists, 2.5 3-pointers, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.3 steals. And he's 20. Russell's got a higher ceiling than anyone on this list. (As far as 2016-17 is concerned. Beyond that, it's a foot race with Brandon Ingram.)

Two numbers tell me Russell's going to break out in the New Year: 28.6 percent usage rate, 17.37 PER. I'll tell you: Russell's a true fantasy star in the making.

(Note: I'm not a Laker fan. I just live here. No Lakers Exceptionalism in this house. I'm too busy editing together Ledell Eackles highlight reels).


Timofey Mozgov, C 2015-16 Player Rater: 0.87 (with Cleveland) 2016-17 Player Rater: 2.92

For the year, Mozgov is averaging 8.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 0.7 blocks and $191,121.95 per game. So, before we criticize Mozgov's lack of rebounding, let's be honest: how good of a year did you have?


Brandon Ingram, SF/PF 2015-16 Player Rater: NA 2016-17 Player Rater: -0.31

Ignore the crappy shooting (.372 FG%). Ingram is a 19-year-old drooling -- teeming, oozing, percolating -- with athleticism and freakish upside. He's already averaging 24.6 MPG. He's already defending his position. He's already started to hit the NBA 3-pointer (.438 3-point percentage over his past five games).

Ingram may not be roster-worthy in standard leagues until the last lap of the season. But I have a feeling that when Ingram arrives, it will happen in an awful hurry.