The NBA is an unforgiving league. While the season start date has been pushed up and a fair amount of the scheduling hardships have been removed, some things are unavoidable. Stuff like opening the season on a Thursday, getting your butt kicked, and then having to fly out right after to play a back to back game on the road in another city Friday is still a thing.
And that’s what the Lakers are facing.
And considering Lonzo Ball dealt was seen limping in the 2nd quarter after stepping on Patrick Beverley’s foot and the team is shorthanded with KCP still out, things are looking a bit rough. If there’s good news, it’s that the team the Lakers are facing are supposed to be bad. They lost their own season opener by 48 points and did so at home! Suddenly, losing by 16 doesn’t seem so bad does it?
But here’s the bad news again, the Lakers don’t look like a good team either. And while some of that can be rectified with better effort and rotations which better balance the necessity to score the ball, there are some underlying issues with this team that are going to be difficult to overcome on a night to night basis.
But let’s stick to what the team can try to control, shall we? After the game it was reported that Luke Walton got the sense that Julius Randle seemed affected by not starting. As we noted, Randle’s play uninspired on many levels, but none more so than his general malaise that domino’d into every facet of his game. Randle, whether starting or not, is one of the team’s best and most important players. He needs to be engaged and playing hard. And if that means Luke needs to pull him aside and draw that out of him, so be it. But it needs to happen and there’s no better time than tonight.
Walton also needs to adjust on the fly with his rotations and player combinations. Starting Luol Deng did not work against Clippers. Not because Deng did so poorly in his individual matchup with Gallinari, but because of how he’s no longer a starting level SF in this league and because starting Deng also meant moving Ingram to SG where he’s also out of position. The league is trending towards sliding players up a position, not down. Walton did the latter last night and I thought it went poorly. So did the lineup data.
The sample was small and is only a single game which brings a lot of noise to the data, but the lineup that saw Brewer in Deng’s spot with the remaining starters had a positive net efficiency rating and was worlds better defensively. Again, the sample was small, but if you’re only going to play Deng one short shift to start each half, why play him at all? Especially if it’s out of position at SF where he’s less likely to be successful?
While I doubt Luke would insert Clarkson into the starting lineup (which would be my choice), I at least hope that Brewer would be a viable option with Clarkson and Lonzo playing heavy minutes to compensate for KCP’s absence. The Lakers need more playmaking from the wing in general and with KCP out that need only intensifies. Rather than purposefully skirting that need, why not cater to it? I understand there are other rotation ramifications which can spring up from that, but give me the best players on the floor for longer to try to figure it out. If you’re going to go down, do so with your best guys getting the burn.
There’s more I’d like to see, but I’ll leave it at that for now. Not because I’m tired of talking, but because I do feel it’s important to understand that people like me or other analysts or fans in general can often get on our high horses about what we think and why we’re right and why the coaches are wrong. Honestly, I can find that nauseating at times. I don’t know it all and neither do any of you. And sometimes there are no good solutions and you simply make the one you’re most comfortable with, understanding that you’re just going to have to live with the results.
More than that, one game is only that – one game. I don’t expect the team to be in its final form now. Not with the mish-mashed lineups coming out of a fractured preseason, and not when it’s clear this team still doesn’t yet know how to fully complement each other with all its disparate parts. Meshing is going to take time and I’m not going to pretend that a single game gives us a big enough sample to answer what changes need to happen. I do think there are things to store away as reference, and I’ll do just that.
That said, I just want to see the players go harder and the coaches show more flexibility with the lineups deployed considering the available personnel. Combine both of those two, win or lose, and I’ll consider it a positive step forward from Thursday’s loss. More of the same and, well, there’s a shovel and some dirt over there that I’ll be taking a step towards.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.