Positional Breakdown: Small Forward
Other Positions: Point Guard
After signing a lucrative contract in the offseason, Luke Walton will be relied upon to lead the charge at small forward for the Lakers either in a reserve role if Lamar Odom opens the game at the three or as the team’s starter against smaller opponents. Vladimir Radmanovic will look to rebound from a poor showing in his first season with the team and become a reliable role player for the Lakers.
What We Already Know: While Walton may not have the physical ability of his legendary NBA father, he certainly possesses the same no-nonsense style of play and basketball smarts displayed by the elder Walton. With outstanding court vision, an ever-improving outside shot, a knack for making big plays and a mastery of the triangle offense, Walton is valuable asset for the Lakers.
Last Season: The University of Arizona graduate came into his own for the Lakers last season and was considered by many to be the team’s second best player for most of the year. Walton dazzled fans with his superior passing ability and all-around game, complete with a dramatically improved outside shot, precision passing and an expanded repertoire of post moves on the offensive end. He also showed an increased willingness to take the ball to the rim—an ability he had not displayed in his first few seasons in the league. Although the forward’s overall play tailed off toward the end of the season due to lingering injuries, Walton was one of the key bright spots for the Lakers last year.
Moving Forward: In becoming one of the leading candidates for the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award, Walton served as an on-court leader for the team and a spark that the injury ravaged Lakers desperately needed. Walton will need to build upon his breakthrough season and continue to work on his defense in his quest to become one of the better all-around players in the game. Walton will also be relied upon as a floor general for the Lakers second unit if Odom starts at the three and he is relegated to a reserve role.
What We Already Know: Radmanovic is one of the league’s preeminent shooters, owning a touch from outside that extends defenses in a way few players can. Radmanovic is much more than a three-point specialist though as his 6’10” frame enables him to bang in the post and grab rebounds from smaller defenders. However, the forward’s defense is suspect at times and his ability to stay focused within the offense has been questioned by many coaches—most notably by Phil Jackson.
Last Season: After his heralded signing to the full mid-level exception prior to last season, Lakers coaches and players predicted Radmanovic would become the third scorer the Lakers desperately needed alongside Bryant and Odom. The forward failed to fulfill the lofty expectations as he seemingly lost his stroke from the get-go due to a hand injury and—brief glimpses aside—failed to recover it. After injuring his shoulder in a snowboarding injury during the season’s second half--he lost the respect of the organization and eventually fell out of Coach Jackson’s rotation altogether.
Moving Forward: Radmanovic showed up to Lakers training camp with a renewed sense of dedication. Unlike last season, Radmanovic is completely healthy and appears to have regained his touch from outside in six exhibition games thus far. This season, Radmanovic will need to focus on his interior defense if he hopes to earn minutes at both forward positions along with committing to play within the confines of the Lakers offense. If he is able to prove to Lakers coaches that last season was simply an aberration, the forward could still make a huge impact off the bench for the team.