Archives For Los Angeles Lakers

In an age of teams relentlessly focusing on efficiency and team basketball, the Kobe Bryant isolation brand of ball is frowned upon more and more. Shots with an insane degree of difficulty, many from mid range, and especially in isolation will just drive coaches and analytic heads like me insane.

But Kobe was different. No, this isn’t some sentimental love letter about Kobe Bryant. I want to instead show you some data to show you just how prodigious his iso abilities used to be.

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A favorite refrain from Jalen Rose is how positions were added to the analysis of basketball to help the more casual fan understand where certain players belong on the court. It’s an interesting premise that might hold water if plays weren’t designed around players fitting roles based on their skill sets and size (you know, positions). There has, however, been a move toward positionless basketball – a more free-flowing, offensive predicated on versatility and individual skill.

Granted, “free-flowing” is not what you think of when Byron Scott’s crossed arms pop up in your head, but the Lakers do have the pieces – especially in their starting five – to make this work, at least for stretches.

The first player most point to when they think of positionless basketball is LeBron James, which makes sense as he should be the guy anyone thinks of first in terms of any style of basketball. He’s really, really good. When considered in this scenario, though, it’s because of his versatility. He’s a Ferrari in a semi’s body, Karl Malone, but as a point guard. Being so athletically dominant and so skilled makes any offense built around him otherworldly.

While the Lakers may not have LeBron on their team, they do have plenty of guys who are more than capable of playing a few positions or stretching the boundaries of what their position typically demands.

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Part of any building process is the acquisition of assets. While in this stage, whoever is responsible for raising a roster from the ashes has to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves as competitors deal with their own issues. In this case, the Lakers could benefit from the Phoenix Suns and an extremely unhappy Markieff Morris.

Anytime a player demands a trade, though, the scenario is obviously pretty complicated. Morris’ situation is no different and the outside variables cannot be ignored. Before we get to those, though, let’s first examine why the Lakers should kick the tires.

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Nick Young couldn’t possibly have felt great about his Lakers signing Lou Williams this summer. The redundancy between the two is fairly obvious if simplified down to layman levels. Young and Williams are both chuckers best used off the bench to bring an immediate scoring punch to whichever lineup they’re joining on the court.

So, Young took the type of measures any normal person would if threatened with replacement by their employer: get a Tupac tattoo on the arm previously reserved for buckets. In all seriousness, though, trying to figure out what to expect from Young this season is pretty difficult given the several variables at play heading into the 2015-16 campaign.

First, we need to understand how we got to this point. Two years ago, Mike D’Antoni’s system lent itself to success in the form of spot-up jumpshots in efficient parts of the floor and isolations against defenses spread thin by excellent spacing. As a result, Young enjoyed a career season and earned the contract the Lakers seemed pretty quick to want to shed this offseason.

So, the question begs asking: is Young the player we saw under D’Antoni or the punchline to the joke that was last season? The answer, as usual, is somewhere in the middle and, as such, he still deserves a spot on an NBA roster. But, Young has some roadblocks to overcome if he hopes to flip the narrative.

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“I don’t see why we don’t contend for a playoff spot,” he said. “But our young players have to grow beyond their years and we have to stay healthy.”

From: GM Mitch Kupchak sees playoff potential in Lakers after offseason pickups

Before I focused solely on writing about the NBA, I worked in public relations. One of – if not the – top priorities was to temper clients’ expectations, which is exactly why I was slightly taken aback when Mitch Kupchak made his comments on the Lakers’ playoff hopes. Why go there?

When the Lakers’ summer league team went to Las Vegas, the talent on the team and these undo expectations informed what many thought would be a nice showing. The end result, however, was a summer league that, in many ways, played out like a microcosm of what we’ll probably see this season.

I was there for those first few games. The atmosphere in each of them was incredible, though I’m not sure it was worth the effect losing in front of those record-breaking crowds had on the players, many of whom not even old enough to partake in Las Vegas’ more notorious activities.

Here’s D’Angelo Russell after last night’s game, via NBCLA’s Shahan Ahmed:

A group of kids shouldn’t bear this kind of pressure for a group of exhibition games with only a handful of practices together under their belts, yet, throughout social media, there were the #SummerLeagueChamps slogans weighing on every turnover, every missed shot.

Let’s compare this week’s activities to how this season will probably go.

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The Lakers finished their weekend as many who travel to Las Vegas typically do: quietly. They lost to the new York Knicks and aside from a few bursts, were never particularly close. Winning or losing in the summer league isn’t a huge issue, the more important outcome is progress, and it’s kinda hard to find progress in a game where the Lakers scored five points in the first quarter.

Russell took a minor step back in this game, still looking tentative in attacking quickly. It’s fairly obvious he’s till getting used to creases in the defense closing as quickly as they do at this level. Mark Madsen opted for Jabari Brown instead of Russell down the stretch of a single-digit game.

Read that sentence again. That’s not ideal.

The rotation on the whole was confusing. Part of that might have to do with getting a rotation player back, so figuring out how to dole those minutes out can take some adjusting by the coaches. One would think it’s at least fairly simple, though. Dwight Buycks’ minutes should go to Jabari Brown. We’ll see how that plays out as the team gets into the tournament format.

Brown did play pretty well. He hit the open threes he’ll need to if he wants consistent minutes. It would be nice to see him improve his decision making in transition. He tends to put his head down and charge forward, versus keeping his head up to find a teammate with a better chance at scoring than he has jumping into defenders.

One thing stood out more than anything else: When the Lakers play with pace, they looked like a much better team. Madsen and Byron Scott’s Princeton sets move at a glacial pace, so when the play doesn’t work out, guys are forced to run isolations, which rarely went well. Tarik Black’s inability to find outlet guards severely slows the team down, so he and the rest of the Lakers’ bigs will have to work on getting the pass out more quickly moving forward.

Julius Randle again struggled to finish at the basket today. It’s great to see him get to the spots he wants to attack from, but the finishing has been an issue all weekend. We could chalk it up to rust, which is completely fair, but if the issue continues, running isolation sets for him won’t make much sense. As the game went on, it become clear defenders were comfortable giving Randle space, so at some point, Randle will probably need to add some kind of midrange jumper to keep defenses honest.

Stat of the Day: Jabari Brown and Louis Labeyrie combined for one of the most random NBA feuds of all time. On a day where Peja Stojakovic was walking around the arena, it was pretty hilarious to find Labeyrie draw the ire of Lakers fans.

Final Score: Lakers: 68, Sixers: 60

I guess we could call this one a defensive struggle. Both the Lakers and Sixers looked like two teams who met just outside the gym before the game. The end result: Some of the ugliest basketball you’d continue watching.

There were bright spots, though. For one, D’Angelo Russell looked a lot more comfortable for longer stretches of the game. As I said yesterday, rhythm should continue to improve as the players he runs pick-and-roll sets with are come accustomed to the spots he prefers on the court. A minor criticism is his tendency to dribble himself into awkward situations. He’ll need to adjust to the smaller attack spaces as he competes more against NBA athleticism.

Jordan Clarkson continued his stellar play, again distancing himself as the best player on the court. Something I’ve noticed these last couple days: At least at this level: Clarkson in transition is good for at least a couple free throws. Usually, though, he finds a way to finish. If the Lakers do play with pace this season, Clarkson will spearhead much of that style of play.

Larry Nance’s third quarter is easily the best he’s looked all weekend. For much of that period, he was contesting everything at the rim and wreaking havoc with any kind of loose ball. If he hopes to earn a rotation spot, he’ll have to do so with all the “little things.” At one ppoint during that quarter, Nance earned “La-rry, La-rry, La-rry” chants. We can add that o the list of things I did not expect to hear in Las Vegas.

Heading into the game, I wanted to pay closer attention to Robert Upshaw. He signed a two-year deal with the Lakers last night and would be matched up against Jahlil Okafor – easily the best offensive post presence in Vegas. Okafor definitely got his, though Upshaw’s length appeared to bother Okafor, especially compared to Tarik Black, who, again racked up five fouls in the first half. Okafor definitely impressed, tallying 19 points and 11 rebounds.

The Lakers won the game, as they found ways to score down the stretch as the Sixers’ one-dimensional offense sputtered in the final minutes. The fans were out in droves again Saturday, at one point cheering “We want La-kers” repeatedly as the game before the one they were there to see apparently was taking too long to end. Gotta love Lakers fans.

Stat of the day: At one point, Clarkson and Russell combined for 23 of the Lakers 33 points.

Final Score: Lakers 68, Timberwolves 81

And so went the most-hyped summer league game in recent  memory.

The anticipation beforehand was palpable, and why wouldn’t it be? A summer league game feature at least two fifths of each team’s potential starting five and had the top two picks facing off against each other for the first time ever.

Add to that the intrigue that comes with Julius Randle’s return to the court and you had a standing-room-only atmosphere. UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center had to pull back the curtains of the upper deck to fit fans who couldn’t find a seat in the lower bowl.

To those who wondered if the Lakers “brand” could handle two years of tanking, there’s your answer, at least for now.

The game started on a high note, as the names those fans came to see lived up to the price of admission.

For the cast majority of the game, Jordan Clarkson was the best player on the court for the Lakers. His counterpart, fellow second-year point guard Zach LaVine was similarly impressive. They finished with 23 and 24 points respectively.

D’Angelo Russell started well, faded a bit and recovered well enough to finish with a stat line of 8 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds. It’s hard to expect much rhythm in the first live action with the Lakers’ pick-and-rolls, and the lack thereof showed for large portions of the game (Russell tallied 5 turnovers). Watch for that to improve as various combinations running those sets grow more accustomed to each other.

Randle probably looked the most rusty of the Lakers’ “big three.” His shot looked short, as if he was aiming the ball to the basket versus releasing the shot confidently. Once he gained some kind of rhythm, though, he showcased the strength the coaching staff and his teammates have been raving about. He only played 20 minutes and will skip tomorrow’s game. He said after the game he doesn’t like it, but that he understands why the team is being cautious.

The Lakers wound up losing the game, as their offense struggled to produce down the stretch. A loss today is obviously inauspicious, given the excitement leading into the event, but there was plenty positive to take away.

All in all, the game went about as expected. Rookies Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns showed flashes, but the best players on the court were the ones who’d been there before. The Lakers will face Jahlil Okafor and the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday.

Stat of the day: Tarik Black finished with 10 fouls – he narrowly missed a triple double, notching 9 points and 13 rebounds. Welcome to summer league.