As you read this, the Lakers are back in the states after a week long trip to China. The trip was eventful in many off the court ways, but on the court the team lost both contests to the Warriors, including yesterday’s blowout defeat that saw a close game at the half deteriorate into a highlight reel of Warriors’ fast breaks and three point bombs.
The decline in play during the 2nd half has been a theme most of this preseason. And while there are a variety of reasons that play into why it’s occurring — resting the starters, playing mismatched lineups, playing fringe players heavy minutes — it’s still no fun to see the team give up leads and lose these games. Preseason or not, it would be nice to start to get into some better habits about how to close games, especially if they’re winnable contests.
That said, I’m not exactly going to get overly concerned about the team’s 3rd string not winning games down the stretch against more talented players. When the regular season comes, I don’t expect to see too many contests where Marcus Landry, Xavier Henry, and Ryan Kelly play crucial minutes against other team’s starters. That’s been the case this preseason and the results are what you’d expect.
As for other trends, yesterday’s game offered few. Mostly because, with a full roster at his disposal, Mike D’Antoni tinkered with his starting lineup and with the personnel groupings throughout the game. This created some solid play in spurts, but also a general unevenness when certain groups who haven’t really played together saw extended action. It’s difficult to say if any of the changes in player groupings we saw will be the new norm, but I’m interested in seeing if that turns out to be the case.
On that topic, a few thoughts on some of the groups we saw…
*With everyone healthy, Steve Blake and Shawne Williams were inserted into the starting lineup, replacing Jodie Meeks and Chris Kaman. For the most part, this change worked out fine, especially offensively. Blake offers more skill than Meeks and is just as good a floor spacer and Williams, though not the mid-range and post player Kaman is, did provide more spacing by playing more above the arc. Where this duo suffered was defensively where both played with major size disadvantages against Klay Thompson and David Lee. As we saw in this match up last season, Blake will struggle when defending Thompson in the post and in general will not be able to bother his jumper due to the difference in height. Williams, meanwhile, doesn’t have the size or defensive savvy to consistently battle the crafty Lee and that showed whenever Lee isolated against him. Williams battled and showed his athleticism, but Lee is simply bigger and possesses excellent skill, making it difficult for Williams.
Moving forward, I don’t see these defensive issues going away should the Lakers go smaller with this lineup — especially against teams like the Warriors who have size at SG and PF while also possessing above average players at SF and C (which means Nick Young and Pau Gasol can’t cross match without it also causing problems). These smaller groups will have to be really good on offense to compensate and while they showed they could do that in spurts this past game, they’ll need to be more consistent than that to really make this work.
*In the 2nd half Wes Johnson moved to the starting lineup and he played a fair amount of PF next to Pau. If you thought Lee overpowered Williams, his match up with Johnson was even more one-sided. This was Johnson’s first game back and it could be argued — though unsuccessfully so — that he was simply a bit rusty in his return and that he’ll be better as a PF moving forward. But, in reality, Johnson simply doesn’t seem to have the strength to do the necessary grunt work in the paint defensively and on the glass to play PF for long stretches. I also question if he has the want to do that work. We’ll see if this changes over time, but I’ve seen little this preseason to suggest he shouldn’t be a SF or SG on this team rather than a stretch PF. I know he has the height and length to play the latter, but without the mindset and strength, he is miscast in that role.
*Just as Johnson returned, so did Jordan Farmar and the results were bit mixed. I love Farmar’s aggressiveness and it’s clear that his quickness and ability to create shots for himself and others will be valuable. Also, his jumper is good enough that he’ll be a threat beyond the three point line and that will only open up his offensive opportunities more. That said, Farmar didn’t do a lot beyond running the P&R in the half court and the team didn’t look particularly organized with him at the helm. Sets were often stagnant with him doing a lot of dribbling up high and, while he was able to use his shot creation skills to generate good looks for himself or a teammate, this style of attack didn’t produce a good flow nor a sustainable, reliable attack.
*I didn’t see much from any of the bottom of the roster forwards fighting for the final spot, but I did like a little jump hook from Ryan Kelly when defended by a smaller player. I also liked his general feel for how to operate offensively in this system. I also liked how Landry moves around the floor and continue to enjoy how he competes defensively, but I still don’t see how he fits in as a viable bench player on this team. I like the idea of his shooting, but he’s not been making his shots so it really is more about liking the idea of his game rather than the actual results.
*Pau Gasol seems to still be drifting around the wing too much for my liking. On many possessions he floated around near (or outside) the three point line and served more as a pressure release than a featured player in the offense. That said, on several plays when he did catch the ball on the perimeter (especially the right wing) he did do a good job of using his dribble to get near the paint where he could create a quasi post up chance and shoot a jump hook. All in all, though, I’d like to see him roll more to the paint out of the P&R and for the coaches to implement more screen actions to get him near the post so he can work closer to the basket more often. Maybe this will come with time, but this game (and others this preseason) are starting to show that using him as a pick and pop option often leaves him 15-20 feet from the hoop with regularity.