As I wrote before the game, the preseason doesn’t carry a lot of meaning, but the Lakers were going to come out with their best foot forward by starting out well. And while it may not be reflected in the final score, the game did offer some good glimpses of what the team is hoping to be while also being reflective of what they currently are.
Some notes from the contest:
* Byron Scott treated this game almost like a scrimmage in how he did not mix his lineups much, instead giving both his 1st and 2nd units long runs together to start each quarter. The starting group of Russell, Clarkson, Kobe, Randle, and Hibbert played almost entirely together — save for Kobe (more on him in a minute) — giving them almost the entire 1st quarter and about half of the 3rd to find a rhythm together. Similarly, the 2nd unit of Lou Williams, Jabari Brown, Nick Young, Brandon Bass, and either Robert Sacre or Tarik Black played most of the rest of the game.
*No one shot well on the night which is reflected in the team shooting a very rough 26-90(!!!) from the field. Nick Young’s 4-10 from the field was easily the best shooting performance on the night, which basically says it all. Kobe went 1-5, Randle shot 2-10, Russell 2-8, and Clarkson 4-13. Off the bench, Lou Williams went 4-12 and Bass went 2-9. Jabari Brown gunned his way to a sad 1-6. Again, just horrid shooting.
*Much of the poor shooting was due to, at least from my seat, tired legs. Many of the team’s jumpers clanged harmlessly off the front rim with others not even drawing iron at all. This isn’t to discredit the Jazz defense which did a good job of protecting the paint, especially when Rudy Gobert was anchoring the middle. HIs ability to challenge shots at the rim without fouling was key in forcing some misses inside that the team will, against softer defenses, surely convert. But, again, the team just couldn’t buy a bucket most of the night for reasons that go well beyond what the Jazz were doing.
*The Lakers’ defense showed spirit in the half court on several possessions and are clearly better protected by Hibbert this year than they were last year with Jordan Hill and Ed Davis anchoring the middle (nothing against Ed Davis, who I thought did a good job for the most part). The team’s perimeter defenders were active in the early going and had several possessions where they rotated well, covered for each other on the fly, and got their hands in passing lanes/up to contest and block shots. Jordan Clarkson looked especially frisky, fighting through screens well and lurking off the ball to get deflections and a nice blocked shot from behind when helping a teammate.
*Of course, there were defensive breakdowns as well. Hibbert was clearly frustrated on more than one occasion when no one slid over to help him when he put himself on an island to help another teammate. The other big problem defensively was in transition, where the Lakers were beat often by the Jazz leaking out. One thing which contributed to their poor showing in transition was their guards — especially Russell and Clarkson — sneaking into the paint in search of offensive rebounds, leaving the floor unbalanced and susceptible to the runouts the Jazz utilized. The tired legs also showed up here too as, several times, the Jazz just ran by several Lakers who just couldn’t seem to muster the extra gear.
*I was impressed with Russell’s court vision and flair for playmaking throughout the contest. Even though he only tallied 3 assists, he had several “wow” passes which weren’t converted into baskets. Three come to mind right off the top of my head: After a backdoor cut, Kobe hit Russell who, after being challenged by Gobert, dropped off a slick pass to Hibbert who was sliding baseline, but the ball caromed off Roy’s hands; In the open court, Russell threw a nifty no look bounce pass to Randle who got fouled (taking a hard spill to the ground in the process) and couldn’t finish; After a drive to his left hand, Russell drew help at the rim and executed a beautiful pass around the helping defender to a diving Randle who wasn’t able to catch the ball cleanly and had the ball stolen. All three were next level type reads, but they just didn’t lead to assists.
*Lou Williams is fun, man. Good passing instincts, better foul drawing instincts, and an all around feel for scoring. From bombing the long ball to floaters over big men, Lou showed off a very refined offensive arsenal.
*I’ve no clue how well Marcel Huertas will be as a backup PG, but he’ll certainly fit better next to Williams than Jabari Brown. Brown played a spirited first few minutes in his first stint, but the rest of the game was simply putting his head down trying to get his own shot, missing several open teammates in the process. When Brown’s game is on, he really can score, but he needs to find a better balance.
*As noted above, Kobe only shot 1-5 while scoring 5 points. He also only played 12 minutes, going the entire 1st quarter and then sitting on the bench the rest of the game. This was clearly part of the plan and it was noted afterwards he did not suffer any injuries nor was he dealing with any other physical issues. Kobe looked a bit rusty and also did a lot of spotting up off the ball when he wasn’t setting ball screens for Russell/Clarkson in side P&R actions designed to force a switch to get him in the post. There’s really not much to say about his night beyond he looked fine for the most part, though his jumper is clearly not there yet.
Overall, there were some good takeaways from the first game and also a lot to work on. It will be interesting to see if Scott starts to mix his lineups more in the next game or if he continues to work his guys in shifts like he did Sunday night. I’m hopeful, too, that since two-a-days are now over, the players will start to find their legs and we’ll see better shooting and less heaviness when transitioning from offense to defense.