The only reasonable hope for the Lakers this preseason is seeing progress as the exhibitions transition to the actual season. From that respect, though the team lost 117-114 in overtime to Jazz on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, the team is on the right path.
As we discussed in the game preview, the hope was to see some better offensive execution, a shift in the rotations, and, in general, getting the players more on the same page on both sides of the ball. For the most part, these things all occurred. It wasn’t perfect — far from it — but it was better. I’ll take better over the alternative any day of the week.
And now, some notes on the game…
*The big news from the game was D’Angelo Russell leaving (and not returning) with a “bruised glute” after taking a hard fall when challenging a Rudy Gobert shot at the rim. The fall and its after effects was pretty scary as Russell lied motionless on floor for a couple of minutes before having to be helped off the court and to the lockerroom by teammates. During the game we were updated that the glute was “not firing” correctly and that he could have returned if needed, but the coaches decided to sit him out as a precaution. It’s good to hear he is, essentially, fine (though I’m betting he’s sore this morning) but it was scary nonetheless to see him on the ground and barely able to walk right after.
*After the team’s first game was marred by horrific shooting, this game was much better though still not great. The Lakers shot 43.4% on the evening, including a poor 7-26 from behind the arc. That said, most of the game showed off better flow offensively with more players shooting closer to the level we hope to see during the season. Kobe went 5-9, Clarkson went 5-10, Bass didn’t miss in his four FGA’s, and Julius Randle went 7-12.
*Speaking of Randle, there were moments where he looked truly fantastic. Yes, his 7-12 shooting (and resulting 16 points) was great, but his activity and all around game were most impressive. He stuffed the stat sheet with 5 rebounds (4 offensive), 4 assists, 3 steals, and a block. He was quick, strong, and athletic. He showed off a better finishing touch inside and the all court game which surely had the Lakers thrilled to still see him on the board when they drafted him 7th overall. The aspect of Randle’s game I think deserves extra was his work defensively. He’s still not as aware as he needs to be, his physical tools are allowing him to move around the floor well and make some plays which stand out.
On this play, for example, Randle got involved in a P&R as the hedge man and rather than just hedge and recover, he stepped out hard to make the ball handler give up ground, used his quickness to take away the space the ball handler wanted to create, and then overwhelmed him with some quick hands and his strength to just take the ball away. The ability to change ends and finish with ease as a guard tried to chase him down was just the cherry on top.
*Besides Randle, Roy Hibbert also impressed up front. His 16 points and 11 rebounds accurately capture his impact on the game, but his night was more than just numbers. After Randle and Trevor Booker got tangled up on a possession, Roy ran over to stick up for Randle by confronting Booker. Booker stupidly took a swing at Hibbert — connecting with a slap that earned the Jazz forward an ejection — but seeing Roy stand up for a teammate was a great look. That play further encapsulated the edge Hibbert played with all night. He was great on the glass, physical in the paint on both ends, and just looked angry out there for a lot of his minutes. These are all good signs.
*Saying on the Hibbert theme, on twitter Byron Scott was taking a beating for playing Hibbert 32 minutes a preseason game. Hibbert did look winded towards the end of his stint, laboring a few times defensively and lacking lift (which isn’t great already) in the paint offensively. While I understand this perspective, I also think it’s a bit overblown. Yes, playing Hibbert that many minutes, especially after a grueling first week of camp, could be seen as a poor use of resources. This is magnified by the fact that, to that point, none of the Tarik Black, Robert Sacre, Robert Upshaw trio had seen any minutes (more on this later). The flip side, though, is that Hibbert is a guy who the team will want to play in the 30-32 minute range during the season. He’s never once averaged that amount in his career, so this might be wishful thinking. But one way to find out is to push him towards that goal now and see how he does. This game provided that chance and Scott took it. This is not the worst thing in the world.
*Any lineup without a true point guard (come back soon Marcelo Huertas), but includes Nick Young and Lou Williams is going to be….something to watch. The Lakers used one such lineup in crunch time and it went pretty much as expected. Lou and Young hit a few shots, but also chucked up some stinkers (to be fair, this was mostly Nick Young) and that was that. Their performance in OT, however, did allow me to come up with a nickname for the pairing:
Going to call the Nick Young/Lou Williams tandem "My Turn/Your Turn".
— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) October 7, 2015
*On the lineup construction note, Scott deployed an interesting front court trio of Bass, Ryan Kelly, and Metta for long stretches. And it kind of worked! Bass and Metta’s ruggedness complimented Kelly’s more finesse game, while Kelly’s ability to stretch the floor and height complimented Bass/Metta’s more interior focused games. I don’t think this is a long term solution for anything, but the trio partnered well on both ends of the floor and seemed to hold their own on the glass.
*On the Jazz, Rodney Hood is a nice player, man. His jumper is smooth and his work of the dribble is solid. You could say the same about Alec Burks, though his work off the bounce and his attack game is better than Hood’s while his three point shooting is not to his teammate’s level yet. Combine these two with Hayward (who really is a fantastic player) and that’s a lot of versatile talent on the wing. And I haven’t even mentioned Exum (out for the year after an ACL tear) or Trey Burke (who is slowly making strides as a shooter, though not to a level which matches his draft status). There’s a reason so many analysts see this team as solidly in the hunt for a bottom playoff seed.
*Lastly, Kobe’s better offensive output will get good reviews and I agree it should. His jumper was falling at a nice clip, but beyond that, his passing was sharp as he set up several easy baskets for teammates. As he noted after Sunday’s game, the goal for him is to get back his timing back and he looked in a better rhythm on Tuesday night. However, it should also be noted that some of the shots Kobe made on Tuesday were the exact shots he got and missed on Sunday. This will just be the case with him as he becomes even more reliant on his jumper for his production. There will simply be nights where his shot is falling at a higher rate and it will lead to increased production. Other nights, the opposite will be true. I think a bigger key for him is to work more from 15 feet and in with a live dribble as that will give him more options while also putting him in better position to be a threat. Working behind the arc is also fine, but using his dribble with more purpose is even more important now that his burst has diminished. These are the little details that, as he’s come back from leg injuries, he’s still learning about himself and adjusting to, but I do think they will come.