Archives For Laker Analysis

With the NBA season only a week away, we are officially in the “season preview” portion of the year. Everyone is putting on their forecasting hats and trying to figure out exactly what is going to happen with the league.

One of the best preview guys out there is Nate Duncan, who recruits guys who cover each NBA team to come on his Dunc’d On podcast for a season outlook discussion. Nate is one of the smartest guys out there — so you might question why he had me come on to talk about the Lakers — and we had a good discussion on the Lakers — the off-season changes, the progress of the young players, and more.

Thanks to Nate for having me on. You can follow him on twitter here and get all his podcast stylings here. Click through below to listen to our discussion.

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After trimming the roster by 3 last week, the Lakers’ roster currently stands at 17 players. That means they need to make 2 additional cuts before the start of the season — which is rapidly approaching. Who will those final cuts be? If you were hoping Luke Walton would know, well, you would be disappointed:

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I have written, on more than one occasion, that Nick Young would not/should not be on this year’s Lakers. The drama from last year mixed with the two pretty bad seasons left little reason to feel good about a Young return this year.

But, to be completely honest, I am mostly indifferent about Young. I know this is pretty rare for Lakers fans, though. There is a large swath of fans who see him as not just a bad player on the court, but a bad influence off it. Then, I know others who see him as — in the right sized role — a useful talent who is just a quirky, mostly harmless dude who likes to have fun on and off the court.

If I had to really self examine my opinions, I’d say I fall somewhere in the middle. Young can be useful and can be a good natured guy who simply enjoys himself (especially enjoying living in Los Angeles while being a Laker). Thing is, Young also can be a severe drag on lineups due to ball-hoggery and low efficiency while exhibiting the type of immaturity off the floor which can be too negative an influence on young (and potentially impressionable) teammates.

For those who have their minds made up about Young, there is no reconciling these differing views. He is one or the other and no amount of explaining is going to change a mind. And, really, I don’t want to go down that route anyway nor do I blame folks for seeing things the way they do. There is enough evidence on both sides to come to a conclusion either way and, to be fair, Young isn’t so good a player where arguing over such things makes sense to me. No offense if you’re reading this, Nick.

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The Lakers are 2-1 this preseason and, had it not been for a makeshift lineup of fighting-to-make-the-roster players losing a 4th quarter lead, they would probably be 3-0. The record has caveats attached — it’s only preseason!, teams are not playing their starters heavy minutes, rotations are wonky — but after three years of heavy losing, you’ll have to forgive some fans for feeling good about the W’s.

Even with the team playing well to start the exhibition season, their approach hasn’t come without some raised eyebrows. Namely, fans are wondering about the team’s starting lineup and why Luke Walton has had Lou Williams in with the first five instead of Jordan Clarkson while also turning to Metta World Peace and Nick Young instead of Brandon Ingram while Luol Deng has sat out with a sore knee.

Walton’s turn towards veterans shouldn’t be that surprising and that’s before even hearing his reasoning. As much as we would like to view Luke as the anti-Byron Scott, things are never so simple. Yes, Walton comes off as more thoughtful when explaining things to the media. He also offers his players much more praise than his predecessor did. And, of course, his offensive philosophy is more modern and indicative of a forward thinking approach.

But, when it comes to certain coaching values, I would imagine Luke and Byron have some overlap. We have already heard some soundbites which suggest as much. So, Walton following up those quotes with ones about wanting “more experience/a veteran” presence in the starting lineup when discussing Lou over Clarkson or his turning to Metta/Young in favor of Ingram shouldn’t really be shocking.

Beyond the rhetoric, however, there’s also the nuts and bolts of building a rotation and constructing a lineup. And while, on the surface, starting Lou over Clarkson seems hard to posit when putting it into the context of how pieces fit, there are arguments to be made in support of the move.

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In my preview for Sunday’s Lakers vs. Nuggets preseason game, I wrote the following about what I was watching for with D’Angelo Russell:

Can Russell come close to duplicating Friday’s effectiveness? When Russell is on offensively, he is a terror. His feel for scoring is fantastic and his ability to get buckets at all three levels of the floor stands out compared to some of his PG peers. On Friday he had his entire game working and I would love for the same thing to be the case today.

Russell didn’t just come close to duplicating his previous game’s effort, he surpassed it.

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The Lakers’ preseason rolls on today with another match up against the Nuggets. The Lakers may have lost the last game against this team on Friday, but showed new tweaks on offense which allowed them to be in control for most of the contest. Defensively they also continued to look solid, though there were still breakdowns to work on.

Of course these types of growing pains are to be expected. The Lakers are relying on several young players while also integrating new veterans who will play meaningful roles. With a new coaching staff in place as well, all sides need to get familiar with each other and find ways to get on the same page. After this happens, the level of play will go up even if wins don’t always follow.

That said, I don’t want to undersell some of the real progress we have seen. As noted, the offense is taking a more modern approach and we are seeing the fruits of this improved focus. The team has also been drilling fundamentals on defense and, if watch closely, those things are showing up on tape and helping the team win possessions. Watch how D’Angelo Russell dips is inside shoulder when navigating on ball screens. Look at Jordan Clarkson’s hand placement when defending back door cuts. Look at how Larry Nance is passing off cutters and rotating early to stop dribble penetration.

These are small things, but small things help you win; small things are what good teams execute every possession because they have become second nature. The Lakers are not there yet, but seeing them starting to do them more often gives me hope that they will become habits which can be built upon.

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The Lakers may have lost to the Nuggets in their second game of the exhibition season on Friday, but in many ways they actually played better than they did in Tuesday’s win over the Kings. Odds are the Lakers actually win this game if they hadn’t played a lineup which featured a total of zero players who should see any sustained minutes in the regular season, if they make the team at all.

So there are many positive takeaways from Friday’s game despite taking the L. D’Angelo Russell bounced back. Julius Randle, while still a bit erratic in the halfcourt, showed the open court skills which make him such a tantalizing prospect. Jordan Clarkson was again a positive defensively while bringing his typical attack style on offense. Nance, Zubac, Black, Calderon, and Ingram also all had flashes. All in all, there were just a lot of good things to build on even though there is a lot of work to do to improve.

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After a recent training camp practice, Mike Bresnahan of Spectrum Sportsnet interviewed D’Angelo Russell. Their chat was all the standard fare about how camp has been going and the new atmosphere under Luke Walton, but at the beginning there was an interesting exchange:

Bresnahan: Finally started to do more offense, the first couple of days was defense, defense.

Russell: Still defense. It’s been the main focus.

Bresnahan: Really? Does that surprise you?

Russell: Not really.

Bresnahan: It surprises me. Only because Luke came from Golden State right? And you would think, “oh, you guys are just going to shoot 3 pointers all day.”

Russell: Also, well, what were they? A top 3 defensive team in the league, so, it came from getting stops.

This. This right here.

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