The preseason rolls on, but we are nearing the end of the ride. In more ways than one, too.
Today the Lakers face the Trailblazers in their 6th preseason game of the exhibition season. They will only play this game and one on Thursday before their first regular season game in a little more than a week. Monday also marks the last game before cuts are likely to be made. After Saturday’s win over the Warriors was cut short due to a slippery court, Byron Scott lamented that he didn’t get a chance to play a unit he wanted to see in the 4th quarter. Implying he wanted those minutes as a way to further evaluate bubble players.
For tonight’s game, Kobe Byrant has already been ruled out. And there are strong hints Kobe may not play in Thursday’s preseason finale either. Lou Williams may or not play tonight with a sore groin. Everyone else is available. I’d imagine everyone else will play, too. The cuts are coming and we need to see who’s going to stick. I have my guesses, but we’ll save those for another day.
As for the game itself, we are at the point where there’s actually little left to learn for the guys most likely to make the team. Jordan Clarkson has looked good. Randle has clearly taken a step forward from where he was a year ago. Hibbert is as advertised. So are Lou Williams and Brandon Bass. Nick Young looks more engaged this year than last, maybe because of the real threat that if he wasn’t he would not play. D’Angelo Russell has looked okay — his shooting has not been great, though his passing mostly has.
The next steps are, then, for this team to start to learn more about each other rather than what we can learn about them. The prospect of them doing anything meaningful this year will rely on them being better than the sum of their parts. That typically comes from a combination of chemistry, coaching, and some luck. I’m not sure about the second, while the first and the third will just need time to play out.
Back to tonight, it will be interesting to see how Byron handles the bubble guys. By my count, there are 7 players fighting for the final two to three spots on the final roster: Metta, Jonathan Holmes, Robert Upshaw, Robert Sacre, Jabari Brown, Tarik Black, and Michael Frazier. Within that group some likely have a slight leg up, but I’d imagine the all of these guys still have a chance. Tonight’s game will offer another data point in sorting some of this out.
With that in mind, I am especially interested in seeing how Upshaw and Frazier play. Those two have direct paths to making the roster by showing more potential than the incumbents ahead of them. They also offer what few other players on the bubble do — real potential as two-way players in the future. It could be argued the same is true of others (specifically Black and Holmes), but Frazier and Upshaw also offer good size for their positions and specific skills (shooting for Frazier, shot blocking for Upshaw) in their respective toolkits which aren’t so common among end of the roster guys.
As for the Blazers their tear-down of a playoff team who will build around youth and high upside young veterans is complete. They boast a reworked roster around Damian Lillard and promise to be more of a pace and space team than the years when now Spur LaMarcus Aldridge monopolized the mid-range. How many wins this translates to is up for debate (some see the Blazers falling to the bottom of the conference, others are high on their analytically friendly young players), but they’ll be fun if nothing else.
This can also be said about the Lakers. Hopefully, then, it translates to a game worth watching tonight.