Sunday night’s game against the Warriors is barely worth discussing. If the first time these teams faced off last Thursday was a beat down, Sunday’s game was a massacre. Before I was even back from the kitchen with my Hansen’s mandarin-lime beverage, the Lakers trailed 14-2. At various points of the game they trailed by over 30 with the Warriors doubling up the Lakers’ point total. They ended up losing the game by 41.

The big theme of the night wasn’t just that the Warriors outclassed the Lakers on both ends, but how they went about doing it. As I noted on twitter, the Warriors and the Lakers really did not look like they were playing the same game:

The fact that the Lakers were struggling to produce good looks shouldn’t necessarily surprise. First of all, the Warriors are a very good defensive team. Klay Thompson is emerging as one of the better wing defenders in the league. While he did not start yesterday’s game, Andre Iguodala has long been a premier perimeter stopper. Those two are backed up by Andrew Bogut (a top flight defensive center) and flanked at any given time by Draymond Green (a versatile tweener forward who can guard stretch fours and wings with equal skill). Add in the other athletes on the roster and the Dubs are going to give offenses issues all season.

Further, the Lakers are learning a new offense while also missing two of their better offensive players. Say what you want about Nick Young or Jeremy Lin, but both can find the holes in a defense and put up points in a hurry. Missing Lin was especially meaningful as he’s the lone player (besides Kobe in the Denver game or Julius Randle) who has shown any ability to get to the rim off the dribble and create a good shot for himself or a teammate this preseason. Combine all this with Nash only playing a quarter and the Lakers’ offense cannot be fully judged off its effectiveness in this particular game.

So lets move beyond this game and onto something that has been consistent over the team’s first three exhibition games: the Lakers are taking a lot of long two point jumpers. I mean A LOT of them. Here is their shot chart from the second warriors game:

Lakers Warriors 2

As you can see, a whopping 48 of the team’s 82 shots were mid to long two-point attempts. And only three of their shots were three pointers without a single shot from one of the corners. If you think this is just a single game thing, it’s not. In the Lakers first game against the Warriors, 38 of their 89 field goal attempts were mid/long range two pointers while they only took 11 threes (with only one coming from the corners). Against the Nuggets, 36 of their 87 shots were mid/long range two’s while they took only 10 threes (with only two coming from the corners).

Individual players can build an offensive attack off mid-range and long two point shot attempts. For years Dirk and Kobe have feasted on defenses while taking these shots at high volume. More recently LaMarcus Aldridge has become an all-star by becoming a master of the mid-range. Not every player is going to shoot this shot as well as those guys, however. And this is why entire teams cannot build an offense around taking this shot. Over the course of a game a team might get hot from this area of the floor and make a defense pay for continually surrendering this shot. But over the course of a season, the offense will lose this battle. There is a reason most coaches encourage opponents to take this shot over and over again.

Meanwhile the Lakers are seemingly running an offense that will have them take this shot more frequently. Further, they seem to be doing so at the expense of taking the three point shot. I’d argue this is just a random occurrence from the first few preseason games, but these quotes from the head coach imply otherwise:

“Our game plan is really to get to that basket,” said Scott after practice Tuesday.  “I like the fact that we only shot 10 threes.  If we shoot between 10 and 15, I think that’s a good mixture of getting to that basket and shooting threes.

“I don’t want us to be coming down, forcing up a bunch of threes.  I really want us to attack the basket.”

I can fully understand Scott’s stance about not wanting to “force” a bunch of threes. One of my chief complaints about the way last year’s team played offense was the players’ lack of discernment between what is a good shot or a bad one. While it could be argued the freedom the team operated with enabled more confidence and better results on those shots, the simple counter to that argument is that the misses and increased pace put the team at a disadvantage defensively far too often.

However, shooting the number of threes Scott says he would like to will put the team at a disadvantage offensively. Especially if that decline in the long ball is traded for long two point shots. And while Scott says that he would prefer his team “get to the basket” more, there seems to be a disconnect in how teams are actually able to get to the basket in today’s NBA. With zone defenses now legal and the onset of Tom Thibodeau inspired strong side schemes that clog the paint, driving lanes are produced via a spread floor. Players who like to attack the basket, now more than ever before, benefit from shooters spacing out the defense to created those creases to the rim. If the Lakers continue to be a team that eschews the three ball in favor of long two point shots, they will likely find a more crowded lane that limits drives to the rim and promotes…wait for it…more long two point shots.

That leaves me tweeting things like this:

Again, it’s important we put some caveats on all this. The Lakers have not had Nick Young, Xavier Henry, or Ryan Kelly available all preseason. Add to that Nash and Lin’s health issues that have kept them out of action and that’s five of the Lakers’ better offensive creators and outside threats. With the team also likely experiencing some heavy legs from Byron’s conditioning and defense heavy practices, the team is not only (probably) a little fatigued but also somewhat behind offensively. Over time, then, the hope is that some of these issues will lessen as the team gets healthier and guys get more comfortable in how they will operate in Scott’s system.

That said, it’s fair to be concerned. Scott’s own words and what the team has been doing on the floor come from a different era of basketball. Further, they reflect a style of play that does not necessarily optimize results for a team who will struggle to be even league average defensively. I mean, if the Lakers are not stopping teams defensively, they must find a way to keep up offensively. Making the long two point shot a staple of the offense will not allow the team to do so.

The Lakers continue their exhibition season tonight, facing the Warriors for the 2nd straight game. That first game didn’t go that well for the Lakers as the Dubs came out firing early to establish a lead they would never relinquish.

What was clear in Thursday’s game was that the Lakers simply were not able to deal with the outside shooting the Warriors offered while still being able to adequately cover the interior. On too many possessions, the Lakers were caught over helping inside, only to be a step slow recovering back to the wing while Klay Thompson or Steph Curry fired off another three pointer. Other times the Lakers were fine recovering toe the wing, but were not good at breaking down in their closeouts which led to the types of blow-by’s that put the interior defense on its heels. After the game, Byron Scott spoke about the poor defense and equated it to not playing hard enough, but what I saw was more about a lack of defensive talent against a team with superior offensive players.

Tonight, then, will be a chance to see which was actually more true. Can the Lakers stick with Thompson, Curry, Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and Brandon Rush? Can they do that and keep the interior clean by stonewalling David Lee and Andrew Bogut to keep them from getting easy looks? My guess is that the answers to these questions will be “no”, as even the best defenses will struggle to do these things this season. But Byron Scott expects better than what his team showed the last game so let’s see if he gets it.

Here are some other things to watch for tonight and some general thoughts on what I’d like to see:

*Who plays point guard? Jeremy Lin’s sprained ankle is likely to keep him out of the game tonight and with Jordan Clarkson sidelined with his strained calf, he will not play either. Steve Nash was rested in Thursday’s game, but we have not yet heard whether he will be active tonight. That leaves Ronnie Price as the only point guard without a question about his status. The hope is that Nash plays, but even if he does his minutes will likely be capped at 15-20. That leaves a boatload of minutes for Price unless someone else steals some time there.

*Will Randle look less “lost” and get more meaningful minutes? Julius Randle didn’t look great in his first stint on Thursday and led to him only getting 6 minutes of action in the first half and not any meaningful burn until garbage time late in the game. In garbage time, however, Randle did start to find his stride and played well in the closing stretch. Randle is still earning the trust of his coach and it would be nice if he could carry forward some of that late game play to the early part of this game in order to get some sustained playing time. The Warriors offer good “measuring stick” match ups for Randle and I would like to see him get some good minutes against Lee, Bogut, and the other veteran Warriors. I would also like to see Randle play more minutes with Kobe to give both players some time playing with the only other isolation creator on the team to see if that opens up chances for both players.

*More Ed Davis, please. Davis has been the Lakers’ best big man so far this preseason when factoring in play on both sides of the ball. He’s been quite effective and efficient on offense and has shown the best defensive instincts of any player (regardless of position). It would be nice if Davis could find some extended minutes (maybe at the expense of Boozer or Sacre) to see if he can keep it going when his workload increases.

*More pick and rolls, especially if Nash plays. Regardless of what you think about Byron Scott or his offense, there is enough flexibility in his sets to simply call for the P&R and run the action if the players want to. If you recall back to the Denver game, Lin and Davis ran that action repeatedly in the 2nd half and it was key to sustaining the team’s offense so they could hold onto the lead. Nash can be more assertive in calling for the pick and playing more two man game in the process rather than simply deferring to Kobe post-ups on the wing. If the Lakers are to be good enough on offense to be competitive, they must extract more value from their point guards than what they get as spot up shooters. Considering Nash and Lin thrive as ball handlers in the P&R, they must look for this action more when they are in the game.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  October 10, 2014 — 37 Comments

After winning their preseason opener on Tuesday against the Nuggets, the Lakers served as a speed bump to a long range sniping Warriors’ team on Thursday. The Lakers fell behind early and never really recovered to make the score any more than cosmetically better. These are the types of games that will happen this season for this team as some nights they simply won’t have enough to appropriately respond to another team’s arsenal. They will play hard, but just won’t always play well.

After the game Byron Scott spoke about the need to play harder and, to be honest, there was some of that on display. But, for the most part, what Scott was saying was mostly coach speak with the reality being the Lakers faced a team better than them at most positions while also having the exact type of wing players who will challenge them consistently all year. Scott can try to manage that in a variety of ways, but facts are facts: when the Lakers face a team with dynamic wing scorers who can create from the arc to the rim they will struggle defensively as a team.

In any event, we’re now two games into the exhibition season and what we’ve seen has offered a few hints at what this team is working towards becoming and the trends that will drive that development. With that, here are some general thoughts about the Warriors game and what we can are seeing to this point in the preseason:

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The Lakers are back in action tonight, facing off against the Warriors in both team’s second preseason game. Like the Lakers, who dispatched the Nuggets in a quality showing, the Warriors took down the Clippers in their first game of the exhibition season.

It’s not that wins and losses really matter here, however. Both teams — but I’d imagine this is especially true for the Lakers with much more roster turnover — are seeking growth and a coming together under new coaches. Both sides, then, will want to show out well and look for incremental improvements that they can carry forward towards the start of the season at the end of the month.

For the Lakers, here are a few things worth paying attention to coming off Monday’s win:

*How do the rotations and lineup combinations change? It has already been strongly hinted that Steve Nash will rest tonight with Jeremy Lin moving into the starting lineup. This should trigger some minutes for Ronnie Price (who did not play on Monday) as well as get Jordan Clarkson some minutes as the long “PG” on the floor*. It will be interesting to see how Lin performs when paired with Kobe, especially related to his aggressiveness and how much control he takes of the offense when given the opportunity to push the ball. Lin did a very nice job of being a set up man on Monday (10 assists to a single turnover) and most of that work came when he put his head down, got into the paint, and drew extra defenders. He should look to be just as assertive in this game even when paired with Kobe. We’ll see if that is easier said than done, however.

*Can Randle build on a good performance from Monday? You’ll notice Byron Scott’s critiques on Randle have not been associated with his game or skill, but rather about his conditioning and how that affects his ability to play harder for longer. Randle will need to work on this, of course, and over time the hope is that his conditioning becomes less and less a concern. But what I am most interested in is whether he can to flash the skill, power, and poise he did on Monday. In this game he’ll have a variety of match ups that test him on both ends of the floor, likely facing off against lineups featuring David Lee, Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green, and Harrison Barnes. These guys will test him both as a traditional PF and as more of a stretch option. If Randle can perform well on both sides of the floor while showing off his ability to play multiple styles, he should only earn more minutes.

*Will the Lakers take more threes? This was a pretty hot topic on social media after Byron Scott said he was happy that the team only had 10 attempts from behind the arc on Monday while adding that he wants the team to shoot only 10 to 15 shots from downtown a night. This approach would fly in the face of more modern thinking about where the game is going and how to build a successful offense in today’s league. In saying that, while Scott’s comments should raise a red flag, I’ll see how things go on the court before making any final judgement. If the Lakers are turning down open threes to take contested twos or drive the ball into traffic that’s bad. I’ll also wait to see if a return of Young or Kelly augment the attempts per game as both of them use this shot as a staple of their games. I’ll have more thoughts on this later, but, again, I am taking a wait and see approach with this.

*How will the big man rotation play out? Carlos Boozer started on Monday (and will again tonight, presumably), but was arguable the least effective big man among the non-Sacre group. Hill, Davis, and Randle not only all put up better numbers, but looked a lot better in doing so. If that continues to be the case tonight (and I honestly think it will be), you have to wonder if Boozer’s role will start to get squeezed. Scott is known to be loyal to his veterans, but talent and production typically trumps all when it comes to these things. Especially when there is more than one alternative**.

*You didn’t think I’d forgotten about Kobe, did you? The tests only get more difficult for #24, moving on from Afflalo and Randy Foye to Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and Green in this game. All three of those players will likely see some minutes defensively against Kobe and all three offer athleticism, length, and strong defensive pedigrees to give him problems. If Kobe can have a similarly effective night against that trio as he did against the Nuggets, I think we can begin to up our confidence in how well Kobe can actually perform this year.

All in all, this should be a good game. The Warriors should be one of the better teams in the West this year and even though this is only the preseason, it’s never too early to look at what an opponents is trying to do on the floor and see how you measure up when both team’s prime rotation players match up. You can watch this game on TWC Sportsnet and NBA TV nationally.

*Clarkson did a lot of ball handling on Monday, but did so while paired with mostly paired with Lin. If Nash really does not play, Clarkson will see more time with Price and Ellington. The latter can handle the ball some, but is not a PG by nature and that would give Clarkson more of an opportunity to be a distributor as the lead guard. We’ll see how he responds.

**While Hill and Davis are Centers for this team, because of what Scott likes to do on both sides of the ball, both could play together and squeeze Boozer’s minutes at PF even more. Scott has said that Boozer and Randle could play some together as well, but as a coach who is stressing defense as much as he is, I doubt he finds that a viable pairing for longer than only short stretches due to foul issues with his other bigs. In other words, if these other guys continue to play well while Boozer looks only average, that could be a problem for him. 

Yes, it was only one game. And yes, it’s too early to draw any lasting conclusions after this single game. But the Lakers showed some positive signs in their first preseason game, defeating the Nuggets 98-95 in an entertaining, if sometimes sloppy, affair.

In all honesty, there wasn’t a single thing that stood out most to me. Yes, Kobe Byrant looked very good. While his 5-12 shooting night doesn’t look great, at least two of those shots were taken with the clock winding down and from a disadvantageous position. And while his first jumper was an airball, he quickly found his stride thereafter, hitting several nice jumpers including a couple of his muscle-memory fading J’s from the baseline that we’ve seen so often over the course of his career:

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