Lakers preseason is over and the regular season is around the corner. But before we close the chapter on the exhibition season, it’s good to take a look back and think about what we learned and how those games can inform our expectations for the real games. So, without further ado, here are ten takeaways from the Lakers preseason.
1. Brandon Ingram needs to slow down and let the game come to him. It’s no coincidence that once Ingram admitted that he was putting pressure on himself to live up to the work he put in over the summer (as well as some of the expectations Magic Johnson shoveled onto him) and then stopped forcing the action, he started to play better. Ingram is not yet a go-to scorer and is much better served being a secondary scoring option who combines his natural affinity for being a ball mover with hunting his own shots. When he started to slow down, play with less urgency to get his own shot, and instead took what the defense gave him he looked much more like the player who closed last season on a surge. More of that once the real games start, please.
2. Brook Lopez is the team’s best half-court scoring weapon. The Lakers want to play fast, but that’s much harder when you’re taking the ball out of the bottom of the hoop to start offensive possessions. This is where Brook Lopez’s ability to be a fulcrum of half-court offense will really come in handy. Whether it’s direct post ups, duck-ins after setting screens/pin downs, running pick and rolls or pick and pops, operating as a catch and shoot player, or just plain isolating from the mid/high post, Lopez has a complete scoring arsenal. No other Laker has this much versatility in the halfcourt and coaches would be well served to feature him for the 25-30 minutes he’s on the floor each night.
3. The Lakers defense remains…a work in progress. Early in the preseason, a lack of effort combined with some simplistic schemes to ensure the team was not equipped to handle the likes of the Nuggets and Timberwolves. Those teams swung the ball, ran some 5-out action that pressured the Lakers Centers to defend the three point line, and they just weren’t prepared for it. As the preseason advanced, the team got better in their execution for longer stretches, but still had too many breakdowns — both mental and physical. They need to play harder and smarter for longer. As a young team, the latter is to be expected, but the coaches are surely going to harp making sure the former is done more often. And if players don’t comply, I’m going to bet they see their minutes cut.
5. There’s little, if anything, that tells me Tyler Ennis is a better backup PG for this team than Alex Caruso. Ennis is a fine enough reserve guard and is probably getting a bit more of a bad rap than he deserves after having to start the team’s final 4 preseason games due to Lonzo’s injury. That said, the things Ennis does well, Caruso can do too. The things that Caruso does well or the attributes he has, Ennis can’t replicate as easily. Caruso has more size, is better on both backboards as a rebounder, has better instincts as a throw-ahead player and passer generally, and does more things defensively. This shouldn’t excuse Caruso’s flaws as a player, but if you’re asking me to say which PG would be my choice to backup Ball, it would be Caruso.
6. Speaking of Caruso and Ennis, the Lakers probably need 3 point guards on this roster (including Lonzo). I’m not calling Ball injury prone (that’d be silly) and I’m sure the Lakers were being extra cautious with him considering the lowered stakes of preseason. That said, he missed over a week and 4 games with an ankle sprain that was originally diagnosed as “mild”. Again, I will give a certain amount of benefit of the doubt to the coaches and doctors here. But, with the shift in style this year, the point guard spot will be extra important to what the team wants to do offensively. If Ball were to miss any time during the season, having Caruso and Ennis around will be a necessity. It’s good that Caruso is on a two-way contract.
7. Larry Nance may not be the best PF on the roster, but he plays better when he starts. I’ll say more about this in the coming days, but the case for Nance being the starter at that spot may just be it’s how you get the most out of him as a player. Whether that’s the best strategy for the team is a different discussion…
8. Julius Randle hasn’t necessarily “improved” as a player, but being in better shape is going to help in a lot of little ways that will show up both in the boxscore and with the eye test. He’s able to run harder and change ends better, he’s able to rotate better defensively, and he’s able to challenge more shots when on the back line as a rim protector. He’s also playing with more confidence as a jumpshooter. Does this mean his right hand is better or that his jumpshot actually is better or that he’s going to finish over length inside better? No. And if you focus only on those things, you might think Randle hasn’t actually gotten better. But if you watch some of those other things — things that matter, by the way — you’ll see an improved guy. I’m looking forward to watching him this year.
9. There are too many bigs on this roster. Andrew Bogut didn’t play a minute this preseason, Brook Lopez missed several games, and there were still not enough minutes at C. I mean, Lopez is going to play 25-30 minutes a night. Julius Randle is going to see minutes at C. Zubac is good enough to play there. And Bogut wasn’t brought in to never play. That’s 4 players. When you add PF to the mix, you have Randle (again), Nance, Kuzma, and you can even throw in Deng to that mix of guys who can play that spot effectively. Swapping a big for another wing at some point should be a priority.
10. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can do some things as a secondary playmaker and he needs to be used as such. He shows nice passing acumen in the P&R and has already shown some chemistry with both Randle and Lopez when running that action. He doesn’t offer a bunch of shake at the point of attack and the rate at which his 3 point shot was falling might concern if it continues into the regular season, but for a team that needs as much playmaking on the floor as possible, KCP looks like someone who can fill in some gaps there.
11. (Bonus) The Lakers don’t have enough shooting. As it stands, the only players who project to be league average 3 point shooters at a reasonable volume are Lopez, Kuzma, and KCP. Ingram does not look like he’s there yet and Lonzo remains an unknown here. I think Ennis can hit the long ball, but I doubt he takes enough of these for it to matter. Clarkson looks like the same caliber shooter he’s been to this point in his career. Last year’s team wasn’t a great shooting team overall, but Nick Young and Lou Williams were really good. D’Angelo Russell was not at their level, but was a threat out there. None of those guys are on the team anymore and it’s going to be noticeable when we’re dissecting what challenges this team has offensively this year.