It’s pretty rare that you can learn anything substantial in a preseason game.
Before the contest, Mike Brown addressed the media and relayed that he’d barely scouted the Warriors (even admitting that he didn’t even know who was on their roster) and that a win or a loss wasn’t going to matter much. He spoke of wanting to get everyone into the game, wanting to see the some of the offense they installed played at game tempo, and of wanting to see his defensive principles executed by all the guys.
On all three of the above counts, this game was a success. The fact that the Lakers lost 110-83 was secondary to so many other smaller things that went on in the game. And while we didn’t learn much about the long term prospects of the team, we did pick up a few things. Here are some notes…
- That Steve Nash guy is pretty good. Seeing Nash completely control the tempo of the game and direct traffic like a true floor general is something to behold. We’ve all seen it countless times from the standpoint of an opposing fan, but when he’s running the offense of the team you root for it carries so much more weight. The pocket bounce passes to rolling big men, the cross court skip passes when the weak side wing digs to the paint to help, the step back dribbles and spin moves and probes into the lane are simply glorious to watch. The fact that Nash team high +12 was not a coincidence. With Nash in the game, the Lakers controlled the the flow and mostly got what they wanted on offense. When he wasn’t their game suffered.
- Kobe Bryant didn’t have a great shooting night (2-7 from the floor) but he picked his spots very well and did a great job of making the extra pass when it was there and being aggressive for his own shots when warranted. He took six free throws in only 19 minutes of play, doing a very good job of attacking off the dribble when possessing the ball and with good cuts when without it. After the game, Nash mentioned that he thought the two already showed a good chemistry and I agree with that sentiment. On one first quarter play on a delayed fast break, Nash picked out Kobe with a nicely timed skip pass that gave him a wide open jumper. Kobe showed great patience and rather than shooting hit Gasol with a little lobe that was converted for an easy lay in. Those plays were few and far between last season but already look like they’ll be a staple of the attack this season.
- There’s little Pau Gasol can’t do on the floor. He changes ends like a gazelle, makes hard catches look easy, can hit shots from anywhere on the floor, and remains one of the game’s best passers at any position. Two plays he made tonight stood out: first was a play where he was posting the right block and after Steve Nash’s entry pass got knocked away, Gasol went out the three point line to retrieve the ball, backed down David Lee, and then canned a turn around jumper in his mug from about 15 feet along the baseline. The awareness and skill it took to turn that play into a basket was extremely high. The second was a high-low play where Pau caught the ball at the FT line and then whipped a touch pass into the post to Robert Sacre who ended up getting fouled in the act of shooting. Only players with fantastic feel can make that pass and it takes great skill to complete it. After the pass, Mike Brown rose from the bench and fist pumped while yelling words of encouragement to the Spaniard.
- Besides Nash, the Laker that probably impressed me the most was Ron. Seeing him up close, he really is in fantastic shape and, on Sunday night, it translated to a level of effectiveness we can only hope continues. In the first quarter, he was a his typical pest on defense getting his hands on the ball for deflections and forcing turnovers. He was responsible for three steals on his own and was part of at least one other Warriors turnover in that quarter. On offense, he showed little hesitation on getting up his jumper and did an excellent job of seeking out opportunities to attack his man off the dribble and post up when the lane was clear. After the game, Ron mentioned that he hopes to only get better as the year advances and based off how he played tonight that’s a scary proposition.
- Jordan Hill’s game intrigued me. He found himself open on several occasions from 16 feet and let his jumper fly when he was given a lot of space. The results were mixed with his J, but the fact that he was willing to take them and then later used the threat of that shot to convert a nice driving hook was an evolution to his offensive game from last season. After the contest Mike Brown praised Hill, but also added that he needed to swing the ball more to the weak side and that he needed to do better work on the glass. I agree on both counts. But, I can say that watching Hill work the offensive glass was fun. He reminded me of a running back seeking out the hole in that when the shot went up he was looking at Warriors’ defenders and then running around them to try and find open space that he could slip into so he could establish inside position.
- Outside of Hill, however, the bench didn’t show that much. Devin Ebanks was a nice bright spot in that he played solid D and looked assertive with his jumper and when trying to attack off the dribble. But every other bench player ranged from okay to really needs work. This is somewhat understandable as they mostly toiled with each other and played against the Warriors’ starters which made their offensive attack predictable and stagnant while creating challenging mismatches on D (David Lee did a number on Earl Clark several times). But even though their performance could be explained, it didn’t make it any easier to watch.
- Speaking of the bench players, Jodie Meeks’ situation bears watching. Before the game Mike Brown made a point of mentioning both Devin Ebanks and Darius Johnson-Odom as back up shooting guard options when Meeks’ name was brought up. And then, in the game, Meeks didn’t see any meaningful minutes with any starter and instead played solely with the bench group that got ran off the floor in the 2nd half. It’s still early in camp so I’m not drawing any conclusions off a single game, but again, it bears watching.
- Another thing to watch: Antawn Jamison got all his minutes at SF behind Ron and didn’t play any PF all night. As with Meeks’ situation, it’s only one game so I’m not jumping to any conclusions but this was interesting. I do think some of this had to do with the Lakers playing Sacre and Somogyi as much as they did at C (which meant Jordan Hill and Pau played PF a lot) but if Jamison plays a lot of SF during the season, the squeeze for minutes will be at SG behind Kobe (and will be a battle between Meeks and Ebanks) rather than trying to find enough PF minutes for Hill and Jamison to split.
- Lastly, there were several X’s and O’s that were simply great to watch. Even though Mike Brown said that the Lakers only showed about “20% of what’s possible” in their offense, there was some great design on several sets. One action that I loved was when the ball reversed from strong to weak side and then the Center filled the post with a baseline cut that gave him deep position. On several possessions this created a solid post up chance for Robert Sacre (who, looked good tonight in getting the start) who was able to finish and/or get fouled a couple of times. Working off of this action, though, the ball could be (and was) reversed which led to a duck in post up by the PF who was hugging the lane line after the first ball reversal. If you’re wondering how Gasol and Howard can both get post up chances in this offense, this is one easy way the team could get them consistently as quick ball movement from side to side gets the D scrambling and allows big men to simply turn, make themselves a target, and then get the ball in position to score. There were also pinch-post sets, some very good pick and rolls, and a few other wrinkles that were nice to see. All in all, the O looked good before the all the starters sat.