The Los Angeles Lakers currently have two players in their optimal future starting five under contract: Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell. Jordan Clarkson is a restricted free agent, but there is strong mutual interest on both sides for him to stay in L.A. In addition to these three players, the Lakers’ number two pick of either Brendan Ingram or Ben Simmons will add another player to the purple and gold’s young core. Even though Clarkson has had a very strong start to his career, his best role on a competitive team may be as a sixth man combo guard coming off the bench. Although Lou Williams currently occupies this role, he only has two years left on his contract, and thanks to his excellent production Williams’ role can be easily adjusted in order to accommodate Clarkson’s move to the bench. Williams and Clarkson are not identical players but with Clarkson showing a vastly improved three-point stroke this season, he could be just as effective as a secondary scoring option coming off the bench. Once Williams’ contract expires in two seasons, Clarkson would be able to move into the primary sixth man role on a contending Lakers team. With this roster setup, the Lakers would currently have three starters on the roster in Russell, Randle, and Ingram assuming he will be the Lakers choice in June and is the starting small forward. These three players would leave the center and shooting guard spot available to be filled in free agency or via trade. Below are three realistic players the Lakers should target to fill these two positions in free agency.
C Bismack Biyombo, UFA, Toronto Raptors
Bismack Biyombo would be a great fit as a young, mobile center that would not require many touches in Luke Walton’s offensive system. At 23 years-old and showing significant development as a player this season and in the playoffs, Biyombo would offer tremendous upside to go along with his immediate contributions as a low maintenance rim protector. Furthermore, Biyombo can likely be signed for a much cheaper price than fellow free agent center, Hassan Whiteside. Biyombo’s ability to protect the rim—he averaged 1.6 blocks per game this season and recorded a solid defensive rating of 101 points allowed per 100 possessions—would be much needed on the Lakers porous defense. None of the current players on the Lakers’ roster are strong interior defenders, and Randle has even proven to be a liability on the defensive end. The necessity of a rim protector on a competitive team cannot be underestimated, especially one who is young and mobile. Unlike many big men, Biyombo’s size does not prevent him from fitting in a ball-movement oriented system. Offensively, Biyombo is extremely athletic and does not require many touches to be effective. This season, Biyombo averaged a solid 11.7% offensive rebound percentage and a very low 11.5% usage rate. These numbers are comparable to Tristan Thompson’s returns of a 13.5% offensive rebound percentage with an 11.7% usage rate. Biyombo’s similarity to Thompson as a player illustrates how effective Biyombo can be in an offense paced similarly to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Thompson and Biyombo both primarily rely on offensive rebounds and shot attempts around the basket. For an offense that is likely to be perimeter oriented, Biyombo’s low usage numbers will allow the offense to run smoothly with him on the court. Not to mention that these numbers don’t even include his tremendous outings thus far in the Toronto Raptors’ current run in the Eastern Conference finals. Low usage, good rim protection, and solid rebounding is an equation that has been extremely effective for other big men as well like the Golden State Warriors‘ Andrew Bogut. Biyombo encompasses these very same abilities while having even more mobility than Bogut, demonstrating what that he has what it takes to be successful in purple and gold.
SG Kent Bazemore, UFA, Atlanta Hawks
Kent Bazemore has risen from a bench warmer on the Warriors in the first two years of his career to an excellent three-point shooter and defensive role player with the Atlanta Hawks. He previously spent the second half of the 2013-2014 season with the Lakers performing well in a 23 game stint before signing with the Hawks. Hopefully the Lakers do not overlook him again. This season Bazemore averaged 11.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while shooting 35.7% from three and 44.1% on all field goals. His offense is not where he truly makes his mark, however. Bazemore recorded a defense rating of 100 points per 100 possessions while also contributing 3.8 defensive win shares for Atlanta. He was a vital piece of the Hawks’ Eastern Conference semifinals team which ranked second in the league in defensive efficiency. Aided by his unreal 6’11 wingspan on his 6’5 frame, Bazemore is a defensive stopper on the wing. This tremendous length allows him to play at both shooting guard and small forward based on the lineup. Walton plans to use a fast paced offense very similar to Hawks’ coach Mike Budenholzer’s offensive setup. Bazemore’s effectiveness this season in Atlanta is a perfect illustration of how well he would fit under Walton. His ability to run the floor while shooting a high percentage from three are the perfect attributes for a role player under Walton. In addition, his terrific defense would allow the Lakers to match him up their opponent’s best offensive players, lessening the defensive pressure on Russell. Bazemore’s skillset would fit perfectly in the purple and gold’s new regime, and hopefully Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is able to bring him back to LA.
C Ian Mahinmi, UFA, Indiana Pacers
Ian Mahinmi is a very similar player to Biyombo in that he excels as a rim protector that requires very few touches on the offensive end. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is that Mahinmi is much more experienced with multiple deep playoff runs under his belt with the Indiana Pacers over the past five years. This season Mahinmi averaged a solid 9.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game while shooting a robust 58.9% from the field. He is a very solid defender with a career defensive rating of 99 points per 100 possessions. Mahinmi was a role player for many years with the Pacers behind Roy Hibbert. However, with Hibbert’s fateful trade to the Lakers this offseason, Mahinmi stepped into a starting role for Indiana. He was very solid in the expanded role, contributing 6.2 win shares. Although Mahinmi is weaker on the glass than Biyombo—his total rebound percentage was 15.3% this season compared to Biyombo’s mark of 20.8%–this weakness would not be as pertinent playing alongside rebounding machine like the young Randle. Mahinmi’s mobility and defensive prowess would be extremely useful for the purple and gold and would also come with a much cheaper price tag than Biyombo. In essence, Mahinmi is the older, less expensive version of Biyombo. If Biyombo opts to play for a team other than the Lakers, Mahinmi’s similar skillset would be an excellent fall back option as a player who may even produce at a slightly better clip than Biyombo in the first year or two of his contract.
Out of all three prospective free agents, Biyombo would be the best signing for the Lakers. His young and would fit in perfectly with the Lakers young core. Additionally, though he may command a multiyear contract worth at least $10m a year, but will come much cheaper than Whiteside who will likely get a max deal. Bazemore would also be a good fit for the Lakers, but Clarkson is still an effective enough player at the shooting guard position to do without him, whereas there is nobody on the Lakers’ roster who could be effective as a starting center. The need to fill the center position with talent is higher than the need at shooting guard, pushing Biyombo ahead of Bazemore as the Lakers’ top priority.