They were the future for the Lakers, a young core of players the franchise had put its faith in to be the saviors.
Now the Lakers have the dominating force of LeBron James and veteran leadership with point guard Rajon Rondo, but the continued development of youngsters Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart remains central to the team’s success.
The growth of that foursome throughout the summer has been paramount.
“The work ethic, the habits they’ve created in this short time speaks to who they are, speaks to how seriously they’re taking the game of basketball,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said Monday at the team’s media day. “But it’s also the culture that we want and it, to me, is going to allow us to have success for years to come with guys like that around.”
Despite having arthroscopic left knee surgery in July that limited what he could do during the summer, Ball still found a way to make strides.
As he sat before the media Monday, Ball’s body looked more defined from working out. He played in just 52 games during his rookie campaign because of three different injuries to his left knee and and an ailing shoulder, so it was important for the 6-foot-6 point guard to gain some strength.
He claimed that he “has not changed” his jump shot a lot. He brings the ball in front of his body instead of across it, and his follow-through is straighter.
“I just think I got a lot stronger so I ain’t got to really fling the ball like I did last year,” Ball said. “It’s moved a little more to the middle, but it’s still on the left side. But I’m just trying to focus on my mechanics now, keeping my hand up, keeping my elbow in more. I think just me being stronger in my upper body is just easier for me to get to the rim.”
For Ingram, he wants his body to hold up more than it did during his second season, when injuries limited him to 59 games.
“Well, the main thing is this year I want to play more games than I did last year,” he said. “I was really into taking care of my body.”
Ingram, who averaged 16.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists last season, talked about his mentality.
“I think I just tried to grow with confidence,” Ingram said. “Every time I come on the basketball floor, I grow. I have confidence. When I step inside the weight room, it gives me confidence. It’s just seeing every day. I’ve looked three months behind, six months behind, I just see myself getting better every day with confidence.”
Kuzma, who worked on his playmaking skills, a hook shot and trying to become a better defender, spent part of his summer working and learning from the master, Kobe Bryant.
“It was great to be in the gym with Kobe,” Kuzma said. “He’s so particular about the game and . . . why and how things work. That’s one thing I kind of love about him. If you ask him something, he’s going to tell you A, B, C and D, and how that affects each play.”
Hart wanted to improve on his solid rookie season by working on his ball-handling skills and learning to shoot off the dribble.