The Lakers’ time in China is coming to a close. On Friday morning (4:30am PST, to be exact), the team faces off against the Warriors in Shanghai with a return to the states shortly after. I’m sure after spending a week in China the team is ready to come home, despite some adventurous immersion into a new culture with some NBA diplomacy mixed in.
While the games in China are the most pure example of an exhibition — the Beijing game featured mostly offense and an up and down tempo — the seriousness of a training camp evolving is also on the mind. Just yesterday the team cut ties with Darius Johnson-Odom, trimming their roster to 16 in the process. The players that remain are all viable candidates to make the final roster, thought at least one additional cut will be made.
With that in mind, the players on the bubble should all be looking over their shoulders as at least one of them will be going home. Who that will be remains an open question, but as I’ve written, I think the final decision will come down to choosing between Marcus Landry, Elias Harris, and Ryan Kelly. Of those three, I think the safest bet is Harris, not just because of the partial (though relatively small) guarantee on his contract but also because of Mike D’Antoni recently calling him a “keeper”. The language of training camp can often be twisted to mean whatever the interpreter wants, but when you combine the salary component with Harris’ age, experience level, and skill set, I think that term can be taken literally with him surviving the final cut.
As for the Landry and Kelly, I still believe Kelly is the better (and smarter) bet to make the team, but this game (as well as the remaining ones) will give us more information. So look for both to get a fair shot to continue to show their respective worths, finding themselves on the floor with enough rotation ready players that they can play comfortably in roles they would be expected to fill when the games actually matter. As for other things to look for, let’s get to it…
*Mike Trudell of Lakers.com reports that both Jordan Farmar and Wes Johnson will be available for action. This leaves Kobe as the only player who won’t be able to play. With a full squad at his disposal, I’m interested in seeing how rotations play out and what personnel groupings are deployed. The season starts in less than 2 weeks and if Mike D’Antoni is going to start to tip his hand (assuming he hasn’t already) on what a rotation may look like, the next games should provide more hints.
*With that in mind, a few questions that I hope to see answered: Will Blake see any time at SG? Will the front court partnerships — Pau and Kaman, Hill and Williams — remain the same or will they start to be mixed together more? Will Xavier Henry still see substantial minutes or will Wes Johnson slide back into his presumed role as the rotation wing? How much will Jodie Meeks play? Lastly (and maybe this should be first), who will start on the wing — Meeks/Young, Blake/Young, Young/Johnson? The answers to these questions could provide important intel on what we see come the start of the season.
*Can this team score in the paint more frequently? The points in the paint totals this preseason haven’t been pretty. Rather than getting shots close to the rim, the Lakers have been relying on long jumpers to fuel their offense. Having a team that no longer features Dwight Howard and has Kobe wearing finely tailored suits will do that. That said, Mike D’Antoni has often said that he wants his team to get the most efficient shots possible — layups/dunks, three pointers, and free throws. The latter two haven’t been a big problem. The first, though, has. This team has to try and get shots closer to the rim and that means either executing in the pick and roll (not pop, but roll) better and by getting their post players better position. The latter point is one we’ll explore more another time, but just note that having Pau and Kaman try to body their way into the paint for post ups hasn’t been working. More strategy on getting them into the post will be needed if this team wants to get more points in the paint.
*I’ve tried not to get into too many opponent specific notes in these previews, mostly because I really don’t think the opponents matter much. However, as noted above the season is getting closer and when these teams played on Tuesday, David Lee had a field day offensively. I’d like to see if he can be better defended in this contest while also keeping a side eye on the help schemes that are executed when he’s working in isolation. Lee can be a dangerous player when facing up at 18 feet and while slowing him is initially the responsibility of his man, the schemes to help on him when he puts the ball on the floor or is looking to facilitate their sets are also very important. I’ll be watching both pretty closely.
Where you can watch: 4:30am PST start on TWC Sportsnet. Also watch in NBA TV nationally.