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:
*One thing you will hear a lot this year is “these are not Mike D’Antoni’s Lakers”. Announcers will say it, folks on twitter will say it, and you will read it in the comments of every blog that posts something on the Lakers. This is meant to be a catch all phrase that can speak to a variety of things both positive and negative. Some will point it out when the team has a particularly strong defensive possession. Others might say it when they talk about the methodical type of offense that Scott is installing. And more will say it when they discuss the types of shots this team is taking. Namely, three pointers:
This is the shot chart from the Warriors game. Notice that the team only took 11 three pointers all night. Now notice the number of mid-range and long two point shots the team took. This shot chart is nearly the exact opposite of what one from last year would have looked like. That team emphasized the three point shot and trying to get to the rim. This team is doing the opposite so far. I will not say one way is right or that the other is wrong. There are many ways to be successful in this league and most of that will involve playing to the strengths of your individual players and building a scheme around those strengths. Time will tell if the scheme Byron is building is what is best for this particular group of players. In saying that, though, one thing to watch for will be whether a true de-emphasis of the three-point shot leads to the Lakers turning down good shots (like an open three) to take a bad one (a contested long two). If those things happen, I don’t care what principles you endorse, you are playing bad basketball.
*After the game Byron Scott said Julius Randle looked “lost” out there and didn’t have much to say about the rookie’s performance beyond that. I don’t mind Scott taking this approach with the rook — some tough love isn’t the worst thing ever and Randle didn’t look as decisive in his first stint against the Warriors as he did against the Nuggets two nights earlier. Randle did improve as the game went on and in garbage time was able to find his stride and put together several good possessions. At this point I do not have many concerns about Randle or how he’s being deployed by this coach. And Randle, to his credit, is saying all the right things (while sounding very sincere) and seems to want to soak in what he’s being taught with a genuine desire to improve. Over time we will see if this shifts — especially if Scott remains heavy handed while not necessarily calling out other players individually. As I said last night on twitter, accountability isn’t just a young player thing, it’s an every player thing and the coach must find ways to coach all the guys in a way that reinforces what he wants on the floor.
*Jordan Clarkson strained his calf against the Warriors and will miss at least a week. Add that to Xavier Henry’s injury, Nick Young’s injury, and trying to keep Kobe and Nash’s minutes reasonable and the Lakers are very thin on the perimeter/wing. We’re early in camp still and these guys will be back soon enough while roles are ramped up. That said, the Lakers can’t go too long with a wing rotation of Kobe, Wes Johnson, Wayne Ellinton, and….no one else and expect to create enough offense to stay in games.
*Carlos Boozer had 16 points and 3 rebounds against the Warriors but he honestly did not play very well to my eyes. He hit some jumpers, but was a non-factor in the paint, getting his shot thrown back 3 times when attempting to finish at the rim against the Warriors’ superior size.
*On the other hand, Ed Davis continues to impress. He is not super polished, but does things around the rim to get his shot off that you might not expect. Maybe it’s a spin move or a stutter step or a nifty up and under, but he has a couple of moves that seem to come unexpectedly that allows him to get a nice shot up at the basket. And defensively he continues to work hard, show off his mobility, and is a presence around the rim in contesting shots.
*Kobe continues to look good physically and that, in and of itself, is a major win so far this preseason. His jumper also looks good and he’s able to get it off with regularity against good defense. That said, I’ll be interested in seeing if/when he starts to expand his game into the other parts of the floor that he’s traditionally been a threat from in his career. Nearly every shot Kobe has taken from the post has been a turnaround jumper and not once has he used the triple threat to turn and face, and then use a dribble to get into the paint and attempt a shot at the rim. I’m not concerned at all, but as the preseason goes on, I hope to see an expansion of what he’s doing offensively.