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Jordan Clarkson’s journey with the Philippine National team has ended, for now. The Philippine National team was hopeful to have Clarkson join them later in September for the FIBA Asia Championships in China, but, via a statement by the PBA, those hopes were recently dashed:

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If you haven’t listened to it already, I cannot recommend enough the recent Lowe Post podcast where Grantland’s Zach Lowe had Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck as a guest. The entire podcast focused on Beck’s time as a Lakers’ beat reporter when he worked for the LA Daily News from 1997 through 2004. Beck left the LADN for the NY Times in the summer of ’04, of course, but he recalls his time covering the Lakers fondly and brings great perspective as well as some untold stories that are, for Lakers’ fans especially, essential listening.

I use that podcast as an intro here because one of the many topics covered during their hour-long discussion was Kobe’s reputation as a “gunner”. Lowe and Beck go into great detail about how, while it’s an idea that Kobe now himself propagates, it’s also one which doesn’t do him many favors since it often deflects the proper credit he should receive for an all-around player and, especially, how great a passer he’s been throughout his career.

This is a topic which I don’t think gets enough run in many conversations about Kobe, but it’s something I do feel is important when discussing him as a player. Throughout the majority of his career Kobe has played, positionally, shooting guard but has spent most of his time on the floor as a player who either initiates the offense a la a point guard or has the offense run through him as the primary decision maker. Playing this style has allowed Kobe to flex his scoring muscles — after all, with him handling the ball so much there was little in the way of stopping him from simply shooting — but has also put him in position to show just how gifted a passer he is.

Reflecting on this took me to youtube and, lo and behold, I found this wonderful compilation of Kobe passing clips — all of which come from last season:

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When we last discussed Jordan Clarkson’s desire to play for the Philippine National Team in the Asia Championships the focus on him being named to 24-player pool and his status was tied more to is ability to play as a “natural born” player. The Philippine basketball federation was said to be getting FIBA the paperwork they were requesting to clear Clarkson and, thus, opening the avenue for him to play in the end of September tournament whose winner would earn a berth to the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Well, while we are still waiting for a final word from FIBA, there seems to be a more pressing question about Clarkson’s availability and it is tied to the Lakers, the start of training camp, and the timing of the tournament in China. Kurt Helin at Pro Basketball Talk has the story:

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A Shaq Filled Saturday

Darius Soriano —  September 5, 2015 — 13 Comments

Over on NBA TV, all week, the channel has been celebrating Shaquille O’Neal in what they’ve dubbed Shaq Week. The programming has included a ton of fantastic programming, including games from his time with the Magic and Heat, his off-court exploits, and, of course, highlights from his 8 years with the Lakers.

Understandably, it’s the latter which has interested us most. I am too young to have seen Wilt Chamberlain play live, but I would argue prime Shaq was the closest approximation you’ll find to the man they called the Big Dipper. Shaq — a man of many nicknames himself — was simply a juggernaut on the court, man handling opponents with his strength while simultaneously baffling them with his agility and quickness.

Recalling Shaq’s physical gifts, however, doesn’t do him justice as a player. While he was bigger and, often, athletically superior to his peers, his skill level was also off the charts. Over the course of his career, he consistently added primary and counter moves to his arsenal to keep opponents on their heels. He was also a much better passer than given credit for, mastering the cuts and movements of the Triangle to the point where he always knew where his teammates would be with an ability to deliver them passes when the defense tried to send extra attention his way.

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Welcome to a new series at FB&G where we will take one player on the Lakers’ roster and discuss one specific skill they possess. Sometimes it will be something very subtle, others it will be more straight forward. We’ll try to shed some light on how this skill can help the team in the coming season. First up in our series (or, second up, if you count Roy Hibbert’s boxing out) is Jordan Clarkson and his mid-range jumpshot. Enjoy.

The NBA is an ever changing game. Go watch tape of the 1980’s or early 1990’s and compare it to the version of the game you see today. The game of my youth only bares a slight resemblance to the version played today.

Efficiency is the buzzword of the 2010’s, with teams striving for offensive possessions to end with a shot at the rim, a three point attempt, or a free throw. These are the shots that optimize offensive output so they are the shots sought after.

But every shot cannot come from those places. The NBA halfcourt is 2,350 square feet and the offenses which can threaten defenses from the most amount of that space are going to find themselves the most difficult to defend. And while more and more teams cut out the mid-range shot from their arsenal, the players who can thrive in this area can not only exploit defenses by making the shots opponents are most willing to cede, but they can open up opportunities for their teammates.

Jordan Clarkson is one such player. Here is a simplified shot chart for Clarkson from the games after the all-star break (when he became a key part of the rotation):

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Lakers’ fans have legitimate reasons to be excited this season. Whether it’s the prospect of watching a healthy Kobe, finally getting Julius Randle back, seeing if Jordan Clarkson can make another leap in his growth, or watching D’Angelo Russell develop there’s a newness and fresh feeling heading into this campaign. And because the last few seasons have been such horror shows, the light at the end of this particular tunnel seems even brighter.

The sense of optimism really is palpable. The fans are ready for this team to take a step forward and the players, coaches, and front office seem to all believe they will do just that. Remember, it’s not just the players mentioned above, it’s the additions of veterans Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams, and Brandon Bass who add to this feeling the team can improve by a fair amount. This group, more than the last few season’s outfits, feels like a team. Yes there’s redundancy and there are depth questions at a couple of positions, but overall, you’d be hard pressed to find any fan who doesn’t feel better about this team than the one last year or the year prior.

Include me in that bunch, too.

Now is where I remove the blanket from the puddle of water on the floor and place it right on your shoulders. If you polled experts, the Lakers are still slotted to be one of the worst teams in the league. When stating this team will be better than last year, they agree it will be — just not by very much. And when the bar to clear is as low as a 21 win dumpster fire, improvement is a relative term. Especially when placing it in the context of the rest of the league.

While I do not know if the #ESPNForecast prediction of 26 wins will be accurate, I do have my own concerns about issues that could plague this team. Even if I forget for a moment my long held concerns with the head coach, there are several issues I’ve been mulling over that I cannot seem to escape as being issues worth diving deeper into.

And since I love bullet points, here we go…

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The Lakers didn’t have the type splashy signing off-season they hoped to have in the lead up to the July 1st opening of free agency, but they recovered nicely in building a roster that addressed many of their needs. In signing a quality group of veterans — including, reportedly, international point guard Marcelo Huertas — and flanking them with a crop of young players eager to make inroads as contributing players, the Lakers have taken a step towards becoming more competitive.

Before that competition begins against other NBA teams, though, there will be a lot of competition just to sort out who the final players on the roster will be. I touched on this briefly on twitter, but as of today, if including Huertas, the Lakers have 17 players on their roster heading into camp. Of those 17, 13 have fully guaranteed contracts (this would include Huertas). Of the four remaining players, two have partial guarantees (Jonathan Holmes and Michael Frazier) and two have non-guaranteed deals (Tarik Black and Jabari Brown).

For the sake of argument, let’s also include Robert Upshaw as a player who will end up getting an invite to Lakers’ camp. Let’s also assume he’ll get a partial guaranteed deal, similar to the ones Holmes and Frazier recently signed. Heading into camp, then, the Lakers would have 18 players (and maybe more) competing for, at most, 15 roster spots.

While it’s fair to assume the Lakers would probably keep all the guaranteed guys on their roster, that’s not a foregone conclusion. While Ryan Kelly and Robert Sacre are both well regarded by the Lakers and have team friendly deals, neither should be considered “locks” to make the final team. I’m not saying they would be cut (that seems unlikely to me), but it’s very possible both could be looked at as possible pieces to trade away should a deal bring back a better prospect or generate flexibility.

In other words, expect there to be as many as seven players — Sacre, Kelly, Black, Brown, Frazier, Holmes, and Upshaw — to be competing for the final three to four roster spots. What gives this competition even more interesting is that those seven players represent exact position battles between an incumbent (or two) and a guy who, theoretically, is fighting to fill that same role for this team:

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With about a month left until the start of training camp, the Lakers continue to add talent to their roster. The most recent addition, according to Adrian Wojnarowski, is Brazilian Point Guard Marcelo Huertas:

Free-agent guard Marcelo Huertas – one of the Euroleague’s most accomplished playmakers – has agreed to a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Huertas also provides some background as how he believes he can be successful in the NBA:

“There’s so much more space in the NBA,” Huertas told Yahoo Sports in April. “It’s not like Europe now, where you have one guy full-time in the paint. Space is harder to come by. One of my strengths is playing in the pick-and-roll, finding open guys and making shots in the mid-range game off the dribble.

“I think that part is harder to find now, because you mostly have guys who get all the way to the hole, or they’re three-point shooters. And if I’m open, and I can get my feet set, I’m going to make a lot of those kind of shots.”

Huertas believes he can make a difference in the locker room, too, by mentoring young players and meshing with veterans. For the Lakers, Huertas could give them an ideal partner as Russell is groomed to become the franchise’s cornerstone.

“If you look at NBA rosters, there are unbelievable starting point guards, but maybe not as many guys who can come off the bench able to run the team, score the ball, as well as being able to be a leader for young players,” Huertas said. “Those are things I know I’ll be able to bring with me.”

Mitch Kupchak and Byron Scott have both mentioned their want for another point guard — preferably a veteran — on the team and it seems they have found him.

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