As you read this, the Lakers are back in the states after a week long trip to China. The trip was eventful in many off the court ways, but on the court the team lost both contests to the Warriors, including yesterday’s blowout defeat that saw a close game at the half deteriorate into a highlight reel of Warriors’ fast breaks and three point bombs.
The decline in play during the 2nd half has been a theme most of this preseason. And while there are a variety of reasons that play into why it’s occurring — resting the starters, playing mismatched lineups, playing fringe players heavy minutes — it’s still no fun to see the team give up leads and lose these games. Preseason or not, it would be nice to start to get into some better habits about how to close games, especially if they’re winnable contests.
That said, I’m not exactly going to get overly concerned about the team’s 3rd string not winning games down the stretch against more talented players. When the regular season comes, I don’t expect to see too many contests where Marcus Landry, Xavier Henry, and Ryan Kelly play crucial minutes against other team’s starters. That’s been the case this preseason and the results are what you’d expect.
As for other trends, yesterday’s game offered few. Mostly because, with a full roster at his disposal, Mike D’Antoni tinkered with his starting lineup and with the personnel groupings throughout the game. This created some solid play in spurts, but also a general unevenness when certain groups who haven’t really played together saw extended action. It’s difficult to say if any of the changes in player groupings we saw will be the new norm, but I’m interested in seeing if that turns out to be the case.
On that topic, a few thoughts on some of the groups we saw…
*With everyone healthy, Steve Blake and Shawne Williams were inserted into the starting lineup, replacing Jodie Meeks and Chris Kaman. For the most part, this change worked out fine, especially offensively. Blake offers more skill than Meeks and is just as good a floor spacer and Williams, though not the mid-range and post player Kaman is, did provide more spacing by playing more above the arc. Where this duo suffered was defensively where both played with major size disadvantages against Klay Thompson and David Lee. As we saw in this match up last season, Blake will struggle when defending Thompson in the post and in general will not be able to bother his jumper due to the difference in height. Williams, meanwhile, doesn’t have the size or defensive savvy to consistently battle the crafty Lee and that showed whenever Lee isolated against him. Williams battled and showed his athleticism, but Lee is simply bigger and possesses excellent skill, making it difficult for Williams.
Moving forward, I don’t see these defensive issues going away should the Lakers go smaller with this lineup — especially against teams like the Warriors who have size at SG and PF while also possessing above average players at SF and C (which means Nick Young and Pau Gasol can’t cross match without it also causing problems). These smaller groups will have to be really good on offense to compensate and while they showed they could do that in spurts this past game, they’ll need to be more consistent than that to really make this work.
*In the 2nd half Wes Johnson moved to the starting lineup and he played a fair amount of PF next to Pau. If you thought Lee overpowered Williams, his match up with Johnson was even more one-sided. This was Johnson’s first game back and it could be argued — though unsuccessfully so — that he was simply a bit rusty in his return and that he’ll be better as a PF moving forward. But, in reality, Johnson simply doesn’t seem to have the strength to do the necessary grunt work in the paint defensively and on the glass to play PF for long stretches. I also question if he has the want to do that work. We’ll see if this changes over time, but I’ve seen little this preseason to suggest he shouldn’t be a SF or SG on this team rather than a stretch PF. I know he has the height and length to play the latter, but without the mindset and strength, he is miscast in that role.
*Just as Johnson returned, so did Jordan Farmar and the results were bit mixed. I love Farmar’s aggressiveness and it’s clear that his quickness and ability to create shots for himself and others will be valuable. Also, his jumper is good enough that he’ll be a threat beyond the three point line and that will only open up his offensive opportunities more. That said, Farmar didn’t do a lot beyond running the P&R in the half court and the team didn’t look particularly organized with him at the helm. Sets were often stagnant with him doing a lot of dribbling up high and, while he was able to use his shot creation skills to generate good looks for himself or a teammate, this style of attack didn’t produce a good flow nor a sustainable, reliable attack.
*I didn’t see much from any of the bottom of the roster forwards fighting for the final spot, but I did like a little jump hook from Ryan Kelly when defended by a smaller player. I also liked his general feel for how to operate offensively in this system. I also liked how Landry moves around the floor and continue to enjoy how he competes defensively, but I still don’t see how he fits in as a viable bench player on this team. I like the idea of his shooting, but he’s not been making his shots so it really is more about liking the idea of his game rather than the actual results.
*Pau Gasol seems to still be drifting around the wing too much for my liking. On many possessions he floated around near (or outside) the three point line and served more as a pressure release than a featured player in the offense. That said, on several plays when he did catch the ball on the perimeter (especially the right wing) he did do a good job of using his dribble to get near the paint where he could create a quasi post up chance and shoot a jump hook. All in all, though, I’d like to see him roll more to the paint out of the P&R and for the coaches to implement more screen actions to get him near the post so he can work closer to the basket more often. Maybe this will come with time, but this game (and others this preseason) are starting to show that using him as a pick and pop option often leaves him 15-20 feet from the hoop with regularity.
Craig W. says
Your analysis certainly honed the observations I have made this preseason. I still think the pessimists are too gloomy, but us optimists probably need to dial back our expectations too.
I think your analysis of Pau is spot on and it isn’t encouraging. We all know he functions better when he can move in and out of the paint, but that doesn’t seem to be his temperament. Perhaps that temperament is why Mike D. benched him last year – as much as Dwight clogging up the middle. It just doesn’t seem to be in him to fight for down low position. He doesn’t want to roll to the basket much and certainly seems to prefer floating out to the elbow to do his work. I think that is one reason we will have to see Hill matched up with him, although that will cause us some problems switching men.
If our front line problems continue into the all-star break, I am beginning to agree with Warren that we could well be trading Pau, getting under the cap this year, and bringing back some ‘beef’ to prepare for 2014-15.
Warren Wee Lim says
There was a time in the 2nd quarter where the Lakers played excellent defense – against Warrior starters at that – and converted a deficit into a small lead. This group was led by Farmar, Blake and Young. I don’t know if we should take much from that but that was the best part of the game for us. It was all downhill after that.
Still can’t understand D’Antoni’s infatuation with slotting Wes Johnson at the four. Each time this preseason in which he’s experimented with it, Johnson has shown that he can’t handle the weight. Literally. As obvious as it is to Darius, it should also be to D’Antoni, that Johnson’s time on the court should be at either the two or the three. For the benefit of our overall team defense, stop trying to make him out to be Shawn Marion.
While on the subject of defense, there were at least 3 times in the 3rd quarter yesterday (while the game was still competitive) in which Pau did everything but give an invitation to 1 of the Warrior players to drive the lane. He offered absolutely no protection at the rim. Hopefully this blase` defense from him doesn’t carry over to the regular season.
Dave M says
I second what Craig W said about the analysis of Pau. After all this team talk of putting Gasol back in his comfort zone, I want to actually see it. It can’t just be when he’s paired with Kaman.
16-66 is very possible without Kobe.
The players who had in season and off season procedures should get slightly better with time. Until then a lot of pressure is on the young guys to carry the team early on. Never really been a big fan of needing to play huge minutes to get in shape and especially now not with the age of some starters. Hopefully D’Antoni trusts his vets to be ready to produce nightly a few months into the season and doesn’t run them hard too early. Harris hasn’t had eye popping stats but I’d slot him in as a 4 for minutes while Hill and Pau gradually work there way back. Also think Lakers should take a long hard look at Pietrus and Kurt Thomas.
I concur. It may take a while for some players who have had major surgeries or other health issues–Kobe, obviously, but also Jordan Hill, Nash, and Pau–to fully round into shape. Hill clearly is not the player he was before he was injured last year and lost for the season. But, he’s only 26 and his body, hopefully, should heal over time.
We shouldn’t assume that Pau and Nash are all the way back, either. And when Kobe returns (I’m predicting mid-November), it may be another 2 months before he gets back to, say, 85%-90%.
The bottom line is this: this team could be a work in progress for the first 20-30 games. After that, we’ll have a better idea as to what kind of team we’ll actually have. Right now, there’s too much guess work to be done.
As I have mentioned a few times, Johnson’s career 3p% is .336, and his career FG% is .400. So, if MDA is determined to have a mobile 4 who can shoot from 3, Johnson is clearly not that guy. Williams is the obvious choice for that role among the available options, which is why, as I said a few weeks ago, I think there is a pretty good chance that Williams will start opening night.
Also think Lakers should take a long hard look at Pietrus and Kurt Thomas.
I don’t agree here. The Lakers have done too much of that the last few years, adding more age to the roster, although it was defensible when they were trying to get one more title out of the Kobe/Pau era. Now, though, they are better off seeing if they can get anything out of guys like Johnson, Williams, Henry, and Farmar.
Slap Dog Hoops (SDH) says
Definitely a poor showing on the part of the Lakers. I know that it was preseason, but I would have expect at least a little more effort on their part since they were representing the NBA in China.
Can’t believe there are no comments about the Clippers covering the Lakers banners during their home games. While I understand it: if they were that sensitive they probably should have never entered in an agreement to share the facilities with such a storied franchise. But, I guess this allows them to hang their Western Conference Banner without belittling their accomplishment by hanging it next to Championships.
Three teams perched to take California away from the Lakers, lol, let the games begin.
Craig W. says
Is anyone here following the Clippers? I don’t really look in to see what they do, or what they change in Staples Center.
They are going to put huge banners of current Clippers’ players’ pictures over the Lakers’ championship banners at home games. Easy to find pix on-line, or just check Darius’ Twitter account.
If you mean on the court, they have added JJ Redick and Jared Dudley to help with their long-range shooting, as well as Darren Collison to back-up Paul. There are some questions about their D, but they have an excellent chance to reach the NBA Finals. Donald Sterling, to give the dork his due, has written the checks, gotten the coach Paul wanted, and stayed out of the way.
Can’t believe there are no comments about the Clippers covering the Lakers banners during their home games.
Haven’t looked into it 1 iota, but a move such as this has 1 name written all over it and that name is ‘Doc’ Rivers.
Yep. I can picture Rivers looking up at the purple-and-gold banners, particularly the 2010 one, and saying, “Cover those damn things up.”
particularly the 2010 one ..
Oh, most definitely Double R. Most definitely.
Clippers: Doc Rivers may have had something to do with that. He is a great leader and a great coach. They are few and far between, so he is a great addition to their team. The question is not whether they want to look at our banners (they don’t), rather it is – who is going to raise the next banner at Staples?
Optimist/Pessimist: This is all about presentation for most. First off – the Kobe factor is a large unknown. Is he playing 82 games at 80%+ or is he playing 50 games at 75%? This has a significant influence on my outlook and I believe the “official” range at this point is 10 days to 4 months – so you tell me : ) That said, if you bake in a middle of the road answer to the Kobe equation, most people are in the range of “might eek into the playoffs” or “might finish in the 12-13 range”. If anyone who considers themselves an optimist differs, than please say so. Simply sounding optimistic doesn’t cut it. Back this up with wins or playoff predictions. If you do not want to predict because of the KB equation (which would be smart) then that is reasonable, but if you are optimistic with/without KB, then let’s here the specifics. The only guy I have heard do this is WWL, who is on the hook for 50 wins.
Warren: You are completely wrong of course : ) However I respect the fact that at least you are backing what you are saying, rather than just saying you are optimistic and the season will be “interesting”.
Stat from ESPN
The Lakers allowed just 96.8 points per 100 possessions with Gasol and Hill as their frontcourt, per NBA.com/Stats, as compared to 104.2 when Gasol played with Dwight Howard.
I know I’m getting repetitive. But only because some poeple on here continue to wonder why Pau isn’t in the high post for the last few years. Really? It’s not rocket science. He isn’t as effective in the post anymore. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. NBA head coaches and players aren’t stupid. The best players get the ball. Players get the ball where they can be effective. Pau isn’t getting the ball in the same spots because even on a team lacking shot creators he still doesn’t stand out as one. We need to all give up on the idea Pau is still a good shot creator in the high post. The guy is now an average post player who defenses no longer need to plan against. If for some reason he gets better and more athletic I’m sure you will see much more of him in the post (especially on this team).
That says equally how athletic Hill was last year as it does how unathletic Dwight was until after the all star break.
Two bets I will be happy to back with today’s posts.
The guy who said Lakers would be 16 and 66.
Clippers I’m the finals. I am not at all impressed with them in pre season and Doc’s personality could be toxic.
As for Pau he is a top 5 center offensively. Not so much defense. Willing to put up cases of fine wine he has better all around offensive numbers then Dwight.
Kelly is a has a much better upside then Johnson at the 4.
All I said is that they have an excellent chance, which they do. So do San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Houston, and maybe Memphis. As to Rivers, he is known as a good leader and a players’ coach, and the star wanted him there.
I guess I just don’t like Doc and it blinded me.
Warren Wee Lim says
The Pau Gasol we saw over the last few games is the Pau Gasol we will see all throughout the season. 16 points, 8-9 rebounds and 3-4 assists per game. He would have his fg% around .456 and his ft% around .750. Granting he is still getting back his form after his knee procedure but to me there is no reason to believe he will “dominate” this year.
Steve Nash is 40 and is rightfully the oldest player in the league. To think he would assert himself into 2007 numbers will not be realistic. 25mpg is what to expect and more efficiency is needed.
At the end of the day, I predict the Lakers to win 50 still, but not with Nash and Gasol as the focal points anymore. Not after what I saw in the pre-season.
Craig W. says
I don’t dislike Doc, but…
He was not thought to be a good x’s and o’s coach until 1) he got Rondo and 2) he got the Celtics to the two NBA finals.
I would still posit he is not a great x’s and o’s coach, but he seems to do ok when he has a great PG – he has Chris Paul. Hummmmmm…the only recent coachs who have won without a good PG are Phil Jackson and Lebron James. Ok, check off that point. The Celtics had 2 clear HOF’ers and Rondo…who, exactly would the 2nd HOFer be on the Clippers – and Chris Paul is the PG.
I seem to remember the Lakers added two proven players last year and things didn’t exactly work out. Now the Clippers add a coach – in a player driven game – and their young stars aren’t showing steady improvement. Hummmmmm….
All this is to say that the Clippers maybe shouldn’t be mentioned along with the Thunder and Spurs – even the Grizz have a more cohesive team. Then there is Golden State in their own conference – who have more athleticism, shooting, and, apparently, more discipline.
They may make me eat my words, but I sure am not going to give them props before they earn them.
Warren Wee Lim says
Last season, teams like Denver and Memphis stormed the league. Their style of plays could not have been any more different. With 2 new young coaches at the helm, expect these 2 to not be as good as previous versions. Denver lost alot by losing Iggy to the Warriors. Memphis would lose its identity with Joerger at the drivers’ seat. They still have good talents on their teams but these 2 teams both have real struggles shooting the ball.
I know Durant has grown alot but with Westbrook out early into the season, I don’t consider OKC as the West’s top dawg as well.
Expect San Antonio to be the most cohesive team still. Expect Houston to rise in the rankings. Expect Golden State to rise as well.
Is it just me or is there anyone else thinks that Lakers need to sign Byron Scott as an Assistant coach?
The Clippers won 56 games last year with a guy who was pretty much universally regarded as one of the worst coaches in the league. They were 4th in ORTG, 7th in DRTG. One of their few weaknesses was 3p shooting–they were 16th, and they have added JJ Redick and Jared Dudley.
The issue will be defense. Bledsoe, Turiaf and Odom have been replaced by Redick/Collison, Byron Mullens, and our old friend Antawn Jamison. Blake Griffin has short arms for a 4, and DeAndre Jordan, while he is explosive, is not a great team defender. But if you look at the top of the West, all of the contenders have questions. Houston, although no one in LA wants to hear it, also could very easily be in the Finals, as of course could San Antonio or Oklahoma City or possibly Memphis.
As to Golden State, they have added Iguodala, but they are going to miss Jack and Landry, and they are counting on Curry and Bogut to stay on the floor, which is a shaky bet. Their PYTH record last year was only 44-38, and they got Denver without Gallinari and with Bogut healthy for once. They will be pretty good, but people should not assume that they are automatically moving up.
The Clippers wouldve beat Memphis last season in the playoffs if Blake was healthy…
Maybe. The line is very thin, and it may be that the Spurs will be the best team in the West again when all the games have been played. But the Clippers are going to be bad news on offense.
The clippers will be hard to beat. Just the fact that they replaced del negro with doc rivers should make them instant favorites to make the finals. Then they upgraded their already deep bench with redick/dudley/collison/mullens. They have to be the favorites to be the best team in the west.
@Kevin: I agree with the Peitrus and and Kurt Thomas signings…We have to ask ourselves what are we trying to do…are we trying to win a championship or get better down the road? Well with the Lakers having “the 25th best” player in the NBA we definitely have to take advantage of that and try to compete…only reason I can see a team paying a 39 yr old point guard 9 mil a year is to compete for a championship …even if next year gives us a potentially better chance to win..
I personally think unless you have outstanding talent with role players you have to have players that are savy and have deep playoff experience or be a vet. Kurt Thomas may only give 15-20 min a game max but his locker room influence and attitude will go a long way. I’ve always been a fan of the PJ Browns/Kurt Thomas’s that are bangers. Pietrus isn’t locking anyone down but he has range and can at least compete defensively on the perimeter…
I personally think that Del Negro has gotten a bad rap as a coach. I can tell you that a lot of people will criticize you as a coach and give credit to players but coaches have to understand what they have and give players the freedom to do so. Del Negro in Chicago did not have a team that would compete for championships and was not gonna get past the Lebron teams or the Celtics. Fast forward to today and the same is likely true for the Bulls with a “Coach of the Year” coach. Easy for us to criticize coaches for not saving timeouts in games but would that team be in the position to be close had the coach not taken those timeouts in the first place?
As far as Rivers coaching…I’m not sure who in the NBA is a great X’s and O’s coach besides maybe a D’Antoni, Adelman, and Spoelstra (yes spo)…most are managers using and recycling each others plays and sets and customizing it to their teams. There was an in play commentary made about how Woodson “stole” D’Antoni’s play they had used where the high post flashes to free throw line and the two guards cut in an “X” towards the basket. Basically a split action. Rivers has however, been regarded as a key motivator and coach for a long time, I mean the guy was coach of the year in Orlando with a .500 team.
Clippers with the exception of a dynamic wing have all the pieces to compete for a championship…as a Laker fan I root for the Lakers but I can respect what the Clips have and are doing. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were in the Finals anymore than if they are another early exit again. Clips have a lot of firepower and can matchup with any team. And D. Collison comes in they really don’t miss a beat offensively.
Lakers need to make a couple moves to get some frontcourt depth…we basically have 3 players that are capable of playin 4 and 5. They will have to find a free agent at that spot and maybe even at the 3 to compete although I do like Henry and I’d be surprised if Wesley survives the season on the team or is even in the rotation if still on the team.
xKingx: Your post has truly made my day
My cigar smoking friend is Scott’s agrnt. They were hours away from signing him with the Clippers before Doc deal. He signed him for a year with Time Warnet but seems to be an issue with Lakers management. He is in town and might be first man up if MD falters .
Awesome that Jay Leno posts here.
Re the Clips.
They need a scoring wing who can get his own shot in the starting lineup pretty bad.
Blake is too unreliable in half-court sets and CP3 will break down if he has to constantly carry the scoring load.
As for the Lakers,I have the feeling they’re gonna be a frustrating team to watch as you’ll never know what you’re going to get game to game.
I believe we’re going to see 2-3 game stretches where they look unbeatable followed by 2-3 games where they look like they’d lose to High School teams.
Whoa, Whoa, Whoa… Revisionist history over here
“the only recent coachs who have won without a good PG are Phil Jackson and Lebron James.”
Lebron is a coach? Bulls, Lakers, Celtics, Spurs all had a PG that was their best player?
NOPE. Except for the 07 Spurs and the 04 Pistons, teams that win the championship do not have their best player at PG! (that’s 21+ seasons people… 2 out of 21) (i’d argue that Ben and Rasheed had just as much to do with the 04 pistons than Chauncy)
You would have to go back to the No defense 80’s with inferior athleticism to find that (Magic/Thomas) (and don’t get me started on the players surrounding those guys.
Kenny T says
Time for the Clippers to find new digs.