Basketball, even if only preseason, is back. After nearly a week of dealing with a certain type of hell in paradise — Byron Scott has certainly lived up to his reputation of running a hard training camp, but at least it’s in Hawaii! — the Lakers finally get to take the court in game action when the Jazz join them in Oahu.
I’ve often said that preseason basketball has little meaning. I truly do believe this, but as with anything else, speaking in absolutes rarely tells the full story. The Lakers are a team in transition and have nearly a roster full of players who have something to prove individually. As a group, too, they are hoping to make more of a push than pundits believe they are capable. This all brings more meaning to this season in general, some of which transfers to the preseason simply because you have to start this path somewhere.
That doesn’t necessarily mean tonight, but it would help, right? With that in mind, the Lakers take the floor not entirely healthy nor whole:
Lakers list D'Angelo Russell as probable (bruised right foot) for Sunday – Larry Nance (back) questionable and Huertas is out (hammy)
— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) October 4, 2015
My guess is Russell plays and that Nance may see a few minutes as well. It’s also been widely reported Kobe will play, though I’d be surprised if he reaches 20 minutes. After recovering enough from a sore calf to return to practice Saturday, I also expect Metta World Peace to see some action today. Everyone else should be available, though as we noted Saturday, it will be interesting to see how minutes are deployed and whether some of the end of the bench guys see minutes or if Scott goes a different route.
Regarding schemes, X’s and O’s, and opponent specific analysis, I am most interested in seeing how much the team tries to get out and run as well as how much pick and roll the team runs and what type of actions the team incorporates into their half court sets. On the latter, I imagine it will be similar to what we saw in Las Vegas for summer league, with a variety of pin downs, dribble pitches, and mid-post ups.
Within that, my focus will also shift towards where on the floor players are positioned throughout the execution of these actions. Will there be a wing posted in the weakside corner (which is a staple of nearly every modern offense)? Will the Lakers still use their bigs primarily at the elbows or might their SF’s (Kobe and Metta, specifically) find themselves in those spots since they’re both good post up options and can initiate the offense well via passes to cutters and spot up options?
In terms of the Jazz and match ups, the three I am looking at most closely are the Gobert/Hibbert battle in the middle, Hayward/Kobe on the wing, and how Randle/Favors deal with each other’s contrasting strengths. The latter is probably most intriguing to me simply because I really want to see Randle go full bore in a game without limitations while also going up against real NBA competition in a young veteran of Favors’ quality. Randle’s ability to deal with Favors (who is a big man) on the glass, how he manages Favors’ strength in the paint on both ends, and whether he can utilize his quickness to take advantage of Favors in the open court are all things I’m very interested in.
Of course, Kobe’s return is also a big deal and should not be minimized. This will be his first real game action since January and he’ll be going up against an excellent player in Hayward. How Kobe deals, on both ends of the floor, with Hayward’s size + skill combination will be interesting to watch. Hayward really is one of the better all around players in the league and has few (if any) weaknesses in his game. Kobe will have to be fully aware defensively, not getting caught watching off the ball as Hayward will make smart cuts and move into open space well to take advantage.
Lastly, I’m of course interested in the two Lakers’ young players not yet mentioned. Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell have both earned rave reviews in camp — with Clarkson drawing universal praise from everyone. Seeing the team’s backcourt of the future start their building process now will be fun to watch and I’m interested in seeing how they play off each other and how their duties are split on any given possession.
Again, though, while all these things carry a certain level of import, we must still remember this is preseason. Yes, we’d all like to see the Lakers win this game, but the process matters more. This is a team trying to grow together with a lot of new pieces after only practicing a week together. There will be sloppiness and miscommunications just as their will be flashes of strong play and some exciting moments. None of it will mean more than anything else, ultimately. Really, it’s just great to have it to watch at all.