Before training camp began back in September, a familiar — yet unexpected — name popped up on the Lakers’ roster.
Metta World Peace — who had spent the previous season playing in Italy and China — was on his way back for a second stint with the Lakers.
Huge contributions on the floor weren’t expected from the 36-year-old. Instead, the focus was on having the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year and 2010 champion provide a positive influence for the Lakers’ young core.
“I was trying to get back into the NBA: trying to be a competitor and, at the same, trying to mentor,” World Peace said during his Lakers Voices session on Thursday.
World Peace has spent the year overseeing the valuable crop of rookies and sophomores, including second-overall pick D’Angelo Russell.
Initially, Russell joined the team with a high basketball IQ, but “wanted to play around too much,” according to World Peace. But he now says the 19-year-old has a sharpened sense of focus.
“Now he gets it, and he’s been playing great,” World Peace said. “The last month and a half, he’s been playing big: hitting big shots, moving better without the ball.
“I told him, ‘You got to be able to move off the ball, like Stephen Curry.’ Stephen Curry’s not only the No. 1 scorer in the league, but he’s the No. 1 hockey assists guy. That’s unheard of. That’s the right way to play.”
Russell was joined in the Rising Stars Challenge last week by his backcourt mate, Jordan Clarkson, who quickly ascended from No. 46 pick to First Team All-Rookie last season.
World Peace didn’t know much about the unheralded second rounder at first, but has been impressed with his development.
“The cool thing is that he’s showing it every night,” World Peace said. “You can have a great training camp or first couple of games, but he’s actually coming every night. He has to get better (with) defensive awareness, finishing defensive plays. He has to become a better passer.”
But perhaps the greatest of praise went to Julius Randle, who missed his entire rookie season due to a broken leg. World Peace predicts that the 21-year-old has a place among the league’s most productive offensive players.
“I think he’ll be at his prime in maybe two years,” World Peace said. “You’re gonna see big games out of him. … That’s impressive for him to have so much upside I think he can be a 25-point per night guy, easily.
“And if he wants to, he can get more because he’s so strong. Depends on if he adds some hustle, offensive rebounding, putbacks — and then starts hitting that jumper and doing all the little things.”
While Russell, Clarkson and Randle yield much of the attention regarding Los Angeles’ future, World Peace also had plenty to say about No. 27 pick Larry Nance Jr.
World Peace said that it took a while for Nance to build up his confidence, as the rookie claimed that he was purely a “hustle guy and rebounder.”
“I’m like, ‘Man, you’re a great player,’” World Peace said. “’We need you to play basketball. We don’t need you to be a great hustle players; we need you to be all-around.’”
Nance’s all-around game has steadily improved throughout the season, with his mid-range jumper becoming dangerous enough to warrant the defensive attention that he lacked early on.
World Peace’s work with the young guns has perhaps helped him on the path toward one of his post-playing goals.
“One day I do want to be a coach,” World Peace said. “It’s gonna be interesting, but if the opportunity ever arises, I would love to coach one day. I think it would be fun.”