Let me get this out of the way right now, I didn’t think the Lakers played particularly well last night. They struggled mightily in the 3rd quarter and had lapses in execution throughout the game. I’ll touch on a lot things I saw (both good and bad) in a second but it should be clear that the Lakers have some growing to do as a team.
That said, those trying to ascribe too much value to last night’s game are reaching. This was a pre-season game and the first time a lot of these guys played NBA caliber basketball in months. Many Lakers looked rusty and more than a few looked fatigued, never catching their second wind in a game that had a decent pace and flow to it. So while I would have liked to have seen the team play better, I’m also not going so far as to say that this game is somehow indicative of how this team will play long term. We’ll get a much better idea of who this team is over the course of the season; making definitive judgments now isn’t in anyone’s best interests.
Now, on to my scattered thoughts from last night:
- Kobe’s offense already looks season ready. He had good lift on his jumper and showed nice burst turning the corner in pick and rolls. He also showed a nice first step out of his triple threat arsenal. He had 22 points on only 10 shots and went to the FT line 15 times with a 66.3 TS%. These numbers are very good on any night, but for the first game out of the box they’re a testament to where he’s at. Where he continued to struggle was in his penchant for giving the ball away, comitting one third of the Lakers 21 turnovers all on his own. Some of these were ball handling gaffes – which will seemingly be a concern for the rest of his career due to his multiple hand injuries. However, he also left his feet far too often without a plan and found himself airborn without an outlet. I can live with some of the ball handling issues but he must be sharper about when he leaves his feet and play a more controlled game.
- The Lakers bigs were mixed bag. Both Bynum and Gasol showed that their size still mattered as they did a pretty good job of walling off the paint when they were paired together. Bynum rebounded well but fatigue obviously affected his ability to finish inside (as did a challenging DeAndre Jordan) as he missed a few point blank shots that are normally made baskets. As for Pau, I would have liked to have seen him rebound better (especially on the offensive end) by going after the ball with more vigor. I also wonder where his jump hook has gone as he often shot turnaround jumpers even when his positioning implied he could have taken a hook instead. However, his defense was pretty strong on Blake Griffin as he took away driving lanes and challenged both jumpers and shots going to the rim. Blake only shot 6 FT’s and missed 7 of his 11 FGA’s. A lot of that had to do with Pau’s approach on defense.
- As a whole, the Lakers offense offered both positives and negatives all night. On the positive front, there seemed to be ample player movement on the weak side to occupy defenders and free guys up. Kobe worked off stagger screens to open him up on the wing and down screens to get him the ball at the top of the circle. The big men took advantage of duck in opportunities on the weak side and used this action to get several paint touches that turned into solid looks at the hoop. These are the types of sets that the Lakers can use as foundation for their offense moving forward. On the negative side, there were a lot of tentative passes and too much dribbling by guys thinking about the next option rather than reacting to what the defense was providing. After the game Brent Barry – who played in this system with the Spurs – mentioned that this offense has a lot of reads in it and that it will take some time for all the players to find a comfort level both with the system and with each other within it. That comment rang true for me as I rewatched some of the decision making in the half court last night.
- Building on that point, this Lakers team – outside of the starting group – didn’t look like they new each other that well. The bench had little chemistry and when the Clips broke the game open in the third quarter there were turnovers and miscommunications on D that gave them too many chances to get easy baskets. One can only think this will get better with time but last night it was obvious that the chemistry isn’t quite there between a lot of the guys that either haven’t been here very long and/or aren’t used to playing together.
- Defensively, the Lakers showed they’re going to be a “hard hedge” team and step out to slow the ball handler in P&R sets. Last night showed they’re not quite there yet, though Chris Paul had a lot to do with that. I thought Bynum did a better job than Pau of getting wide and stopping the dribbler and then racing back to the paint but overall both players’ effectiveness executing this technique suffered as the game advanced. Again, this could be due to fatigue but I also chalk it up to a change in scheme from what the Lakers have done in year’s past.
- I’m not sure if the Lakers are actually going to find one, but a combo guard that could handle the ball and back up Kobe sure would be nice. At one point the Lakers went with Walton, MWP, and Kapono with Morris and Bynum and that unit did absolutely nothing on offense save for Morris hitting some off-balance J’s at the end of the clock. Luke, Ron, and Jason are all natural SF’s and all have limitations in how they can attack a defense. Last night this was all too clear when they shared the floor.
- Speaking Morris, he showed he has pro-level skill but with a lot of rookie tendencies. He over dribbled. He often tried to blow by his man off the bounce only to find that he’s not in the Big 10 anymore and he can’t just race by his man. Even when he did get by his man he saw the recovery speed of NBA defenders and the size that steps up to meet you in the paint at this level. All in all he flashed his feel for the game, his ability to push the ball, and some late clock creating skills, and for that he gets a solid score in his first NBA action.
- McRoberts also had a good night and brought the game that was advertised to us upon his signing. He went hard all the time, hit the glass, made some good passes, got a nice dunk, and looked lost on a post touch where he had to create for himself. If we see less of the latter and more of the former when he’s in the game his addition looks to be a good net positive overall.
In the end, this game was hyped but the result on the scoreboard means much less than the results that are on tape that can be used as teaching tools moving forward. Brown expressed his displeasure with the team’s defense and I can’t blame him as there were a lot of late rotations to shooters and some late help on P&R’s where the back line defender needed to step over and cover a penetrating ball handler. I’d certainly like to see a better effort to clean up some of the mistakes on Wednesday even if the end result (a loss) is the same.