The Lakers may not be a “good” team, but they’re at least as successful as last season and there are still 31 games to play. By beating the Denver Nuggets 120-116 on Tuesday night, the Lakers earned their 17th win of the year in game #51 — equal to last season’s disastrous 82 game total. If nothing else, then, this win symbolizes a bit of progress even if the dips and struggles since the team’s 10-10 start still weigh heavy.
A scan of the boxscore will tell you who the key players in the game were:
- D’Angelo Russell: 34 minutes, 22 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds, only 2 turnovers.
- Ivica Zubac: 21 minutes, 17 points, 8-9 shooting, 6 rebounds, 1 assist
- Nick Young: 29 minutes, 23 points (team high), 5-8 on 3’s, 3 rebounds, 3 assists
- Lou Williams: 24 minutes, 21 points, 4-5 on 3’s, 7 assists, 5 rebounds
So, if you’re doing the math at home, those four players combined for 83 of the team’s 120 points and 21 of the team’s 25 assists. Basically, these guys won the game and if that’s all you wanted to know, you can skip to the bottom for my extra notes on the game.
But those numbers don’t really tell the entire story. For me, at least, there was a rhythm, control, role to, and hierarchy about the way the game flowed which was significant. I mean, one might look at those scoring totals and say “here we go again, Lou and Nick were relied on too heavily; I’d much rather it be Clarkson or Ingram who put up those points.” For what it’s worth, I’d prefer it be Clarkson and Ingram too. But those guys played poorly (more on that later) and Young and Lou stepped up.
Anyways, just focusing on their numbers doesn’t fully capture how this game played out. For one, Russell was the most important player on the floor. In his return from a three game absence, Russell’s fingerprints were all over this game. He expertly organized the team’s offense, moved the ball well, and could have easily had 3-4 more assists than he did if guys would have finished a couple of bunnies near the rim off his setups. After the game Luke Walton even noted that Russell’s two turnovers were good passes and not the “high risk” variety which (based on that phrasing) they’ve been coaching him on.
Nick Young on tonight's performance: "D'Angelo Russell was moving the ball, making plays."
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 1, 2017
That quote is especially pertinent when you consider that of Young’s 9 made baskets, 7 were assisted by Russell. D’Angelo consistently found Young in the open court for open threes and easy shots at the rim.
As for Lou, he played his typical game, but did so in fewer minutes than what would be expected by his shooting performance. It should also be noted that down the stretch Lou played next to Russell and did a lot of work off the ball to start possessions in favor of Russell organizing the action. That last point isn’t minor. This season Lou has not only had a high usage rate — a reflection of how possessions end — but he’s done so by also dominating the ball throughout a possession either via initiating the set or by bringing the ball up and shooting without making a pass. Against the Nuggets, there was more deference to Russell and the 2nd year PG made the right choices to help the team win.
Lastly, I’ll say more about Zubac in a bit, but this kid really can play. He makes at least 2-3 plays a game offensively which no other C on the roster effectively makes — or at least can make looking as smooth and natural as he does. His soft hands and touch combined with his general headiness on where to be on the floor and what play to make once he has the ball in those spots. Oh, and he’s only 19.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 1, 2017
Now, on to the notes…
- After going scoreless in his two previous games, Brandon Ingram did get a couple of buckets but his overall play still wasn’t very good. In 20 minutes he went 2-8 from the field for 4 points while only grabbing 2 rebounds. At this point, I’d argue he has very much hit the rookie wall. Consider that at Duke last season Ingram played in 36 games for a total of 1,246 minutes. Tuesday’s contest was his 51st game and he’s now up to 1,414 minutes on the season (highest on the team).
- I have been hard on Jordan Clarkson this year, but he’s actually been playing well lately. Before the Nuggets’ game, he’d been scoring about 16 points a game on nearly 50% shooting over a stretch of 8 games. Yes, there are parts of his game which frustrate, but when he plays the way he had been before Tuesday — efficient scoring, some added playmaking (with Russell out) — I can live with those frustrations. Tuesday, however, was not one of those days. Clarkson did have a couple of nice passes which I was impressed with (including a whip pass out of a sideline P&R to hit the corner spot up shooter). But overall, he played with too much tunnel vision and had a couple of forced shots/drives which were difficult to stomach. His last one early in the 4th quarter found him on the bench for the remainder of the game and I don’t blame Walton one bit for making the decision he did.
- With all the love Zubac has (deservedly) been getting, it’s also worth noting that Mozgov had 12 points and 6 rebounds on 4-5 shooting in 22 minutes. After the game Walton offered praise to Timo, saying he not only played well but has also been instrumental in helping Zubac during practices and as a sounding board during games.
- With Julius Randle out, Tarik Black has been getting more minutes at PF and has done alright there. His work on the glass remains strong (8 rebounds in only 17 minutes vs. Denver) and I very much appreciate his communication and effort as a backline defender.
- Larry Nance was quite bad this game. There are times where raw plus/minus doesn’t tell the story of a player’s game, but Nance’s -19 in 18 minutes is right on the mark. He took bad angles defensively, over-passed offensively, and on a few possessions simply seemed out of it when he spectated off the ball instead of cutting/screening/etc. He doesn’t have games like this often and it might be just him still finding his stride after returning from injury a few games ago, so I think he deserves a pass. But it’s still worth noting he just didn’t have his typical game.
- Zubac sets good, wide screens. On the shot Russell hit with 43 seconds left to put the Lakers up 3, Zubac set a fantastic screen on Jameer Nelson to free up Russell.
- Moving to the Nuggets, I really like Gary Harris. Shoots the ball well, gets after it defensively, and doesn’t really ever force things. In a way, he reminds me of Rodney Hood playing the style he does.
- I also really like Jamal Murray. Another really good shooter who plays with confidence offensively. A better defender than I thought he’d be. I actually think Mike Malone should have turned to Murray late rather than sticking with Nelson at PG.