The Lakers’ preseason rolls on today with another match up against the Nuggets. The Lakers may have lost the last game against this team on Friday, but showed new tweaks on offense which allowed them to be in control for most of the contest. Defensively they also continued to look solid, though there were still breakdowns to work on.
Of course these types of growing pains are to be expected. The Lakers are relying on several young players while also integrating new veterans who will play meaningful roles. With a new coaching staff in place as well, all sides need to get familiar with each other and find ways to get on the same page. After this happens, the level of play will go up even if wins don’t always follow.
That said, I don’t want to undersell some of the real progress we have seen. As noted, the offense is taking a more modern approach and we are seeing the fruits of this improved focus. The team has also been drilling fundamentals on defense and, if watch closely, those things are showing up on tape and helping the team win possessions. Watch how D’Angelo Russell dips is inside shoulder when navigating on ball screens. Look at Jordan Clarkson’s hand placement when defending back door cuts. Look at how Larry Nance is passing off cutters and rotating early to stop dribble penetration.
These are small things, but small things help you win; small things are what good teams execute every possession because they have become second nature. The Lakers are not there yet, but seeing them starting to do them more often gives me hope that they will become habits which can be built upon.
Getting back to tonight, even though these teams just played, there are a few things I will be watching for:
- Can Jordan Clarkson keep up his defensive effectiveness? Luke Walton called Clarkson the team’s most consistent perimeter defender through two games. Watching the tape reveals this as truth. I’d love to see him continue this tonight.
- Can Randle find his game in the half court? Randle dazzled in the open court on Friday, but has been a mixed bag when the game has slowed. He has shown a penchant for getting to his spots, but those possessions are scattered and contrasted against ones where he’s out of control and/or where he’s forcing the action a bit too much. I know that’s something we might just have to live with as part of Randle’s game, but a few more ups and a few less downs would be nice.
- Can Russell come close to duplicating Friday’s effectiveness? When Russell is on offensively, he is a terror. His feel for scoring is fantastic and his ability to get buckets at all three levels of the floor stands out compared to some of his PG peers. On Friday he had his entire game working and I would love for the same thing to be the case today.
- More Larry Nance running the floor. While Randle uses his handle and quickness with the ball to be a terror in the open court, Nance is simply busting his tail up court and beating his man to get baskets in transition. This basket from Friday came after a make!
(h/t to @cjzero for the video)
- Can any of the down roster players show they can/should be part of the rotation? Anthony Brown has played well enough to garner some thought as an emergency wing and Thomas Robinson has flashed some ability as a rebounder and finisher in the paint. But no one else in the 15-20 spots on the roster has shown much of anything — including Yi. It would be good to see that change.
- Will Lou Williams start getting through picks? Part of that question is me exaggerating, but…I mean, he’s dying on a lot of picks. If he’s going to start games (and it looks like this may be a thing), he’s going to need to stop doing that.
- I’ve no clue what is going to happen with Nick Young. That isn’t something I’m “watching” for tonight per se, but he played okay in the last game and the longer he can be that, the more I think he might stick on the roster.
I’m not super concerned about wins and losses during the preseason, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wanted to see the Lakers get back on track with a W this game. The last contest saw them play well enough to win, but unable to close it out with their makeshift reserve group at the end. Tonight, I’d like to see them continue to play well, but for them to also do enough at the end to hold on if it comes to that.