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:
It wasn’t just how he looked when scoring the ball, however. Besides his 13 points, Kobe also had 5 assists, flashing some very good playmaking by penetrating the defense, drawing multiple defenders and then setting up a teammate for an easy shot:
All in all, this was a pretty reassuring night from Kobe. He moved well, looked to be in control in how he operated within the offense, got after it on several defensive possessions, and simply reminded you of Kobe Bryant in how he played the game. If the team’s first practices were the first test he aced, tonight’s game was the second straight passing grade from #24.
Kobe’s backcourt partner also looked pretty good tonight. Early on Nash did a lot of spectating off the ball, spotting up as a shooter and moving around to the weak side after receiving or setting a screen. As the game went on, however, Nash became more active, looking for his own shot more and testing the boundaries of his role within the offense by penetrating more and looking to set up teammates. There were a couple of times where he got caught in the air with no release valve, but that’s going to happen to Nash as more teams play him for the pass than for the shot. All in all, though, Nash — like Kobe — looked good physically and reminded folks that he could be a useful player when operating in the middle of the floor with the ball in his hands.
Moving from the old vets to the young players, how about that JULIUS RANDLE:
Not every play that Randle made was as exciting as that smash, but the rookie showed several flashes of his physical ability and it sure was fun to watch. Randle tallied 10 points (5-9 shooting) and 8 rebounds in his 27 minutes of action, proving active, skilled, and strong in the process. And while he was a bit wild on more than one possession and didn’t always channel his physicality in productive ways, it was hard not to notice him while he was on the floor. The way he moved around the floor, could grab a defensive rebound and ignite an open court chance, and use his strength and craftiness to create a scoring chance all stood out in this game. He still has a lot to learn, but he did nothing to dissuade me from thinking he needs to be on the floor a lot this season.
Ed Davis was also quite impressive in his Lakers’ debut. The big man showed off the skill set that had a lot of people wondering how Davis ended up on the Lakers and not a contending team looking to solidify their big man depth. Offensively Davis stayed within himself, slithering to the rim as the dive man in P&R’s and setting up on the weak side to cash in on dump offs for easy baskets via dribble penetration by guards. Defensively he showed off his ability contest shots at the rim, blocking 3 shots on the night and actively challenging several others. On one specific possession, Davis showed off his entire defensive tool kit by hedging on a P&R to help contain the ball handler, sliding back into the paint to recover to his man after a pass was made to him, and then timing his leap perfectly to block the shot at the cup.
It is only natural to transition from Davis to Jeremy Lin since the new PG showed an excellent chemistry with his big man partner off the bench. Lin didn’t have a very good shooting night (he didn’t make any of his six field goal attempts), but he did tally 10 assists to only one turnover in his 28 minutes of play. Lin was excellent in attacking the paint to draw defenders and set up teammates for open looks, finding Davis on more than one occasion (including a nice lob late in the 4th quarter) for an easy basket. In terms of Lin’s own shooting, he looked to over dribble at times and get too deep into the paint where he could not get a clean look at the basket without a big man contesting. The Lakers’ lack of spacing didn’t help him in this area as there almost always seemed to be at least one big defender lurking on his drives, but I anticipate over the course of the year Lin will adjust fine and find ways to get to the cup and score well once there.
All in all, this was a good night for the Lakers. They were very far from perfect, but they worked hard on both ends of the floor and seemed to take to what Coach Scott wants from them. Hopefully they can continue to build on this effort and find ways to continue to improve in the areas where they were not as good.
A few more notes on the game:
*Wes Johnson left the game with patella tendon strain. After the contest he said he was “fine” and here’s hoping that’s true. Johnson is only true SF on the roster who was healthy coming into tonight and losing him would be a big blow to the team’s rotation and their wing defense. Johnson wasn’t spectacular by any means tonight, but he did his job on D and played within himself on O. That’s really all you can ask from him.
*Jordan Clarkson likes to shoot. The rookie guard hoisted 13 shots (making only 3) and added six more FT attempts in his 27 minutes of action. The rookie did have a few good moments out there, but he lived up to the Monta Ellis comparison I’ve been talking about with the FGA’s in this game.
*If you’re looking for a single stat to tell the difference between the Lakers in this game under Scott and the Lakers last year under Mike D’Antoni, look no further than 3 point field goal attempts. The Lakers only fired off 10 shots from behind the arc against the Nuggets. Part of that is not having Nick Young or Ryan Kelly, but part of it was also the Lakers really working the post and mid-range with their offensive sets.
*Carlos Boozer wasn’t awful, but he didn’t inspire me to think he should be playing as many minutes as Randle, Hill, or Davis either. Again, it’s only one game, but even with a couple of nice hustle rebounds when battling Faried, he did not stand out nearly as much as Randle or Davis and was less memorable than Hill too.
*Speaking of Hill, he had a double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds) in only 19 minutes of action. He was his usual active self on the offensive glass (4 total) and did his typical nice work as a garbage man around the rim on both ends of the floor.
*It was nice to the Lakers run an offense with a two guard front again. In this offense it’s clear that either guard can bring the ball up the floor (on several possessions, Clarkson or Ellington brought the ball up even when sharing the floor with Lin) and it created nice floor balance when transitioning from offense to defense.
*Scott’s offense isn’t super creative, but there was some nice movement and the bigs were doing a good job of setting solid screens on the weak side. There was not a ton of P&R played, but you could see where there will be natural chances to run this action after ball reversals that flow naturally into a hand-off sequence or a quick sideline P&R between the opposite big and the guard who pops up off a pin-down screen.