The Los Angeles Lakers wrapped up their preseason Friday night in Anaheim where they lost to the Phoenix Suns 98-94. The loss is the Lakers’ 5th in a row and drops their record in the preseason to 2-6. The Lakers now shift their focus to the regular season which starts on Wednesday (10/26) at Staples Center against the Houston Rockets. One task that they’ll need to complete before that time is trimming their roster to a maximum of 15 players and with the roster currently at 17 that means that at minimum 2 players will be cut.
The three players that are vying for the final spot are Metta World Peace, Yi Jianlian and journeyman Thomas Robinson.
Metta is the biggest long shot of the group and recent reports coming out of the Lakers being interested in him joining the coaching staff this season is a sign that they have other plans to make use of his veteran leadership outside of suiting up in player’s garb.
That leaves the final spot open for two players: late addition to the roster and Chinese stand out Yi Jianlian and former lottery pick Thomas Robinson.
Yi Jianlian has excelled internationally since his last stint in the NBA back in 2012. Yi has played for Chinese’s top professional league and put up massive numbers.
A better gauge of Yi’s much improved play since his time in the NBA is his performance in the 2016 Olympics where he matched up against much tougher competition. Yi averaged 20.4 points (ranked 3rd overall), 6.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 1.2 blocks and shot 46.7 percent from the 3 point line. The most impressive part of his stat line in Rio is his 6.2 free throw attempts per game which he knocked down at 74.2 percent rate.
Yi didn’t fare as well this preseason with the Lakers where he played in just 6 games and ended up with averages of 3 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.2 blocks while shooting 35 percent from the field in 10.7 minutes.
Stats aside Yi’s allure is his ability to spread the floor with this outside shot coming from the center or power forward position which is a skill set that the Lakers currently do not have on the roster. Yi didn’t have success this preseason demonstrating his effectiveness from the outside, shooting a woeful 16 percent from 3 and 35 percent overall, but it was a very small sample size of 64 minutes overall and just getting 6 shots up from deep.
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Yi has the advantage of possessing a skill set that none of the other bigs on the roster currently have which is being a threat from the outside while still being able to grab a few rebounds and do a little work in the post. If the Lakers opt to go with Yi they will be doing so more on their projection of what he can do over the course of an entire season and not how he performed this preseason.
Thomas Robinson has played for 5 teams in 4 seasons since being drafted with the 5th overall pick by the Sacramento Kings in the 2012 NBA Draft. Robinson never developed into a player worthy of being taken so high in the draft but he’s shown that his game of an athletic big that works tirelessly on the court has value which is why he continues to get looks from teams.
Robinson was a long shot to make the roster coming into training camp considering they have players locked in with guaranteed deals that do similar things on the court as him with Randle, Nance Jr. and Tarik Black, but he has played, or better said worked his way into consideration.
The numbers for Robinson this preseason don’t really jump out at you but like Yi he received very little playing time. Robinson played in 6 games and averaged 3.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, shot a robust 66.7 percent from the field in just 7.6 minutes (45 minutes in total).
Robinson showed the Lakers what he’s shown the 5 teams before them, that he plays hard on both ends, out muscles competitors for boards and can score those garbage points. He also showed what he can’t do which is pretty much anything else.
With Nance Jr. , Randle and Tarik Black expected to get the bulk of the minutes at the 4 position, possibly Deng and Ingram to get some minutes there as well in certain situations, Mozgov the fixture at center and exciting rookie Ivaca Zubac being brought along slowly there doesn’t seem to be any room for Robinson on the roster.
Another thing hurting Robinson’s chances is that while his style of play and skill set is valuable it is redundant on this roster. Conversely, Yi brings something to the table that varies and gives the Lakers more flexibility and the option to provide a different look to the line-up throughout the season.
If the Lakers go with Robinson it will be because he definitely earned it with this play this preseason and not because of need.
So it will come to the Lakers awarding the last roster spot based on either merit or need. For a team coming off 17 wins and not expected to make a huge jump from that total this coming season as they continue going through the growing pains of rebuilding it would seem that adding flexibility to the roster which will allow them to give teams different looks would be more beneficial; if the Lakers see it the same way they’ll go with Yi.