The Lakers had what was almost the exact kind of win you want in their preseason opener against the Kings. They got the W on a strong second half performance which saw them pull away, but also had enough of a struggle in various parts of the game to provide multiple teaching moments and offer lots to improve on.
So, when the team takes the court on Friday night against the Nuggets, there will be plenty to look forward to in seeing what adjustments are made and whether some of the general sloppiness can be cleaned up — especially by the starting group.
Speaking of the starters, it remains to be seen who will actually be in that first five. Loul Deng is listed as doubtful with a bruised knee after running into Anthony Brown at practice. There is also the question of whether Lou Williams will be swapped out for Jordan Clarkson after the latter was moved the bench vs. the Kings.
If I were making the call, I’d probably start Ingram and Clarkson, getting the “young” group that Walton highlighted as wanting to see as reserve unit into the game right away. Then my first subs would be Nance and Black for Randle and Mozgov. Of course, we’ll see if that’s how Walton plays it, but with Deng out, why not see if the young guys can find an early flow like they did in Summer League.
Beyond the lineup and the general flow of the game, here are a handful of things I will be watching for:
- Can Brandon Ingram find his footing offensively? The rookie was good defensively, but missed all 5 of his field goal attempts last game. The looks he got were good ones, but they simply did not fall. I’d like to see him be a bit more aggressive off the dribble this game and, of course, to keep shooting when open.
- Similar to Ingram, I’d like to see Russell play better. I’m not as concerned about his turnover count, but would like to see some of his jumpers start to fall. If that can happen, it should open up his off the dribble game too — especially when turning the corner out of the P&R.
- In reviewing the tape, despite some sloppiness with his ball-handling and too much fouling, Randle was a bit better than I gave him credit for last game. He made some good passes out of isolation and was still pretty good on the glass. That said, I would like to see him tighten up his handle, make cleaner catches, and continue to operate within the offense. Randle’s in an interesting spot with this team because his mindset and the nature of his game is much more of an alpha/creator type than the other PF options. So finding a way to maximize his skill set when sharing the floor with other ball-dominant players is going to take more time to sort out than, say, it does for Larry Nance who is much more of a natural role player. Nance, of course, has the skill level to do a lot of things on the floor and he’s showing an expanded game through the summer and into camp. But his nature is more of a support role than a leading actor. Randle and the coaches must find a way for him to find his niche while on the floor with guys like Russell, Clarkson, or Lou.
- What will Yi do? His short stint against the Kings went poorly. But, by all accounts, he’s done well in practice as a floor spacer by knocking down shots. Can he do the same in the games? And can he rebound and defend well enough to be a real alternative to Tarik Black as a backup C?
- Of all the fringe players, Thomas Robinson intrigues me the most. His game is quite redundant with Black’s, but I’d be lying if I did not admit to enjoy watching his tenacity in going to the backboards on both ends and in how hard he plays in general. He’s too good for a D-League assignment and the structure of the roster makes it hard to keep him, but again, he intrigues me.
- Will Metta or Nick Young get any minutes? They were the only two guys who did not see any time last game, but with Deng unlikely to play that might change.
- Let’s see if Anthony Brown can continue to hit shots. I’ve said this about him a lot, but his college profile is of a guy who projects to be able to shoot at this level. And he has tools on defense. He’s just not put it together to this point. It would be nice if his last game became more of the norm for him.
- Calderon vs. Huertas. Can either separate from the other and take the lead in the race for backup PG? It did not happen last game, but maybe it will vs. the Nuggs.
It is only the second game in the preseason, so I still don’t expect things to go smoothly. This team faces a learning curve and has a lot of young players, which means patience is required. That said, incremental growth and starting to see what’s possible from all these guys is what I think we are all looking for. I’d very much like to see more positive steps tonight.