Friday’s Lakers’ LVSL opener offered glimpses of what is and, maybe more important, what might be when it comes to the prospects of some key players. And even though the Lakers lost the game, there were some good takeaways to be had.
Heading into Saturday’s game, we already know that Julius Randle will not play as the coaches prefer to ease him back into the action after not playing any meaningful basketball in nearly 10 months. Even without Randle, though, there will be plenty to evaluate and more add to our knowledge base about the young guys on the team.
With that, here are five thoughts and things I’ll be watching closely in this match up against the 76ers:
1. Will the team look any more comfortable non-pick and roll sets? Whenever the team tried to run any of the pure Princeton actions, they looked like they just learned the stuff last week. That, of course, is true. So, in a way, we shouldn’t have high expectations for how well they execute these actions. That said, the hope is that with more reps, the comfort level will increase and the players can start to find good looks within the structure of these sets. In order to make this happen, the off-ball screens must be better and the players must move with more certainty and tempo. We’ll see how it goes.
2. I’m interested in seeing if Russell tries to create any looks for himself in isolation. On Friday, nearly every one of his shots came out of the P&R or in semi transition. I’m not complaining about the lack of iso’s, but considering one of the knocks on Russell coming out of college was his lack of athleticism, I’m interested in seeing if he can create separation using his handle and craft to either get into the paint or to find his mid-range jumper. He did this fine in college, of course. But this is no longer college.
3. Well hello there, Jahlil Okafor. I don’t need to remind folks that when it was time for the Lakers to make their draft pick, many thought Okafor would be the guy instead of Russell. Well, Okafor gets his first shot at revenge today and it will be interesting to see how he manages. Okafor’s already had games this summer and he’s looked pretty good in all the ways you’d expect. Will he do the same against Tarik Black and Robert Upshaw? How will he manage when the Lakers put him in P&R’s defensively? Russell and Clarkson are sure to find ways to pick on him in this action and I’m interested in seeing how he does.
4. Speaking of Upshaw, he will no longer be a free agent after the Lakers will reportedly sign him to a two-year contract after he made his pro debut Friday’s game. The deal, reportedly, carries a partial guarantee for this upcoming season and is fully non-guaranteed for the second year. He will make the league minimum for both years. This is a good gamble for the Lakers and offers little risk. Upshaw is clearly not yet ready to be contributor, but you can see the tools he possesses and he has an on-court demeanor I can appreciate. He plays with passion, but is under control and is clearly competitive as you could see his desire to go toe-to-toe with #1 overall pick Karl Towns. I imagine he’ll have a similar approach when battling Okafor in this game.
5. Tony Mitchell is a guy who intrigues me. He has good size for a wing, is clearly athletic, and has reasonable skill with the ball in his hands. Of the guys who are looking to catch on, he impressed me much more than Dwight Buycks who, once again, seemed to be a guy who did a lot of dribbling to not really get anywhere with the ball. If Mitchell could play some SG as well as some SF for this summer team, his utility goes up a ton with Jabari Brown out until at least Monday. I’d like to see Mitchell more today, especially in lineups with Anthony Brown and Russell to see how he takes advantage of the extra space on the wing.