The Lakers returned to the court to play an actual…uh…preseason basketball game on Tuesday night and, what do you know, they won! Luke Walton for President! This team is a juggernaut! Break up the Lakers. BREAK UP THE LAKERS.
In all seriousness, it was nice to see these guys back on the floor and showing off some of the new things they have been working on in training camp. They were far from perfect and the overall flow of the game was shoddy for a lot of the night. The starters especially looked like they were having a hard time finding a rhythm and never quite found a good footing.
However, the team did pull away in the 2nd half. As we noted in our preview, I don’t think there are any real takeaways to latch onto after this contest — other than, maybe, the Lakers in spots 6-12 look to be better than the Kings in spots 6-12. That does not mean we do not have some thoughts from the game, however. In fact, here’s 10 of them:
- I am not quite sure how I felt about Lou Williams getting the start over Jordan Clarkson. Luke Walton explained his reasoning pre-game (he wanted another veteran in the starting group while also wanting more youth and athleticism with a specific reserve lineup), which was reasonable enough. Walton also said this isn’t a permanent thing and that he is using the preseason to learn his players, trying different combinations, and experimenting with lineups. Again, totally reasonable. However, even though I currently project Clarkson’s best long term fit on a good team to be a super 6th man, I think doing that in favor of Lou Williams doesn’t actually make your starting group much better even if it does have its benefits for the bench. We’ll see how this plays out over time.
- The starters, in general, were quite sloppy on both ends of the floor. On offense they had too many turnovers and on defense they fouled too much. Each guy showed some flashes which was nice to see. I appreciated Mozgov’s defensive presence in the paint. Luol Deng was as advertised as a “knows exactly where to be at all times” player. Still, though, as a group they looked rusty.
- Randle especially looked off. He wasn’t catching the ball cleanly and was loose with his dribble too often. He did show great confidence in his jumper, however, and that was great to see. His first basket came on a spot up jumper in early transition where he pulled the trigger without hesitating at all. It’s nice to see the work he’s putting in translate into his approach during games.
- Russell ended the game with 5 turnovers, but several of those game from him hunting fouls that did not come. Often times he barreled his way into the paint and drew some contact, but then lost the ball without a foul to show for his efforts. He’ll learn about balancing his game out when the whistle doesn’t favor him with continued experience, but last night was not that time. Russell’s jumper was also off. He missed several open long J’s that he knocked down during the summer and, even, last season.
- Brandon Ingram’s jumper was also off. He missed all 5 of his shots and 4 of those were from behind the arc. He impacted the game in other ways, however. He had a couple of blocked shots, moved the ball well offensively, and played good position defense. He also showed his trademark poise, though, if only a minor critique, I wish he would have kept his dribble longer when working in the P&R as a ball-handler. Too often he picked up the ball after the pick and made himself less a threat.
- Tarik Black can play in this league. Maybe he’s no more than a backup at this point, but his game just works. He hits the glass hard, attacks the rim with purpose offensively, and shows good feet and instincts defensively. I know we’re not making any long term decisions off one game, but he looks like the backup C right now.
- Yi Jianlian did not have a good night. Right when he came in the game to close the 1st half the Kings went on a run and the one jumper he got missed badly. His release on that jumper was also quite slow which was sort of odd to see. When he caught the ball he was wide open out of a pick-and-pop, but by the time he released the shot, the defense had rotated to him to get a good challenge. I should note I am not blaming Yi for the run the Kings made, but he didn’t help matters as a defensive presence while playing C.
- Larry Nance is good. He just knows how to play and has a high enough skill level where he can do a variety of things on the floor without becoming a liability. Against the Kings he defended well, hit the glass, ran the floor to get easy baskets, set good screens, moved the ball, and hit a three pointer. I really, really like his game.
- Lou Williams still knows how to draw fouls. I mean, he really knows how to draw fouls. It’s like he has a special mind control over defenders to get them to reach in and then he has another type of mind control to get the refs to see it every time.
- The battle at backup PG is going to be interesting. Marcelo Huertas is a such a good passer and has such a great feel for rewarding players who move well off the ball, he’s a fine candidate to get minutes nightly. However, when the Lakers made their 2nd half push, it was Jose Calderon who showed the value of his shooting and how his NBA experience can translate into getting guys organized offensively. Neither defended very well, but Calderon’s superior size seemed to help him more on that end against Ty Lawson.
Ultimately, I liked the energy the Lakers played with and saw some encouraging signs with regards to the systems they were using on both ends of the floor. Defensively their attention to detail and communication looked good, even though multiple players still got beat individually or too ball conscious when defending weak side and allowed back cuts.
Offensively, it looked like several of the young players were still very much trying to run the sets as scripted, which looked as though they were still “thinking” on the floor a lot. Over time, the general comfort level with what the coaches want will improve and guys will get a feel for the different cuts and find ways to improvise more (especially Russell).
For a first game, though, I thought things went relatively well. The caveats of it being the preseason and the Kings not playing some of their key guys in the 2nd half notwithstanding.