I’m not sure how many of you are parents, but there’s a moment of both excitement and real fear when your baby starts to crawl. You’re so thrilled at the prospect of this incremental step in their development, only to also have a fear set in when you realize that your baby can now move around on their own and all the little dangers that now need to be accounted for because of that fact. And while that specific analogy isn’t perfect for capturing the exact blend of excitement and fear I’m feeling as the Lakers take on the Bucks tonight, it’s sort of like that.
You see, tonight, Andre Drummond will make his debut for the Lakers. Drummond isn’t exactly an elite difference maker, but he’s a super talented player in his prime who will certainly help the Lakers on the floor. I’m super excited to watch him play and see exactly how his specific skills help this team on the floor — particularly the depleted version of the team that can really use a boost right now. That said, I’d probably feel better if he were making his debut against a different team than the one that employs the reigning league MVP and a team that’s 3rd in the East and is looking to get back to its winning ways after dropping 3 straight games (which comes directly after winning 8 in a row).
So, yeah, excited fear. That’s me right now.
In any event, how this game plays out will be interesting in a lot of ways and while I’m not anticipating this game going in the Lakers favor, there are some things that I’m hoping to get some data and information on that will inform my thinking moving forward — particularly in the short term.
For one, we know that Drummond is going to start at C tonight. That means that Marc Gasol will be in a bench role, which brings me to the first thing I’ll be looking for: how much will Gasol play? With AD still out, and even with Trez surely getting a healthy amount of minutes, I’d imagine Gasol will still see some minutes. That said, with both Bobby Portis and PJ Tucker out for the Bucks, the potential of getting more minutes with Giannis at C and other makeshift lineups may translate to Marc not playing at all. So, that’s one thing.
The next thing I’ll be watching for is, of course, Drummond’s impact on both ends of the floor. Milwaukee is a team that spaces the floor with Brook Lopez to start games and then leverages that spacing to free up Giannis, Middleton, and Jrue to generate their offense. Drummond is going to be in the middle of a lot of defensive decisions in the halfcourt and his need to help in transition to wall off Giannis in early offense situations will be important. That said, because Drummond is such a factor on the offensive glass, balancing these two things appropriately where he can still make an impact chasing misses while not working himself out of an important aspect how to slow this specific opponent’s offense will be something to watch for.
The other part of this game that intrigues me is who exactly defends Giannis and how much help that person gets. I’d guess that Keef gets the assignment to start the game, but who else sees time? Kuz? Trez? Drummond? It’s true every night right now, but not having Bron and AD for this game hurts more than usual considering they’re two of the better options in the entire league to defend this particular player. So…I’m worried here and as much as I can try to make it seem like there’s ways to make this work (and there are some things schematically), the potential for things to get rough aren’t just there, it seems pretty likely.
From a more team wide perspective, if the Lakers are going to compete this game offensively they need to do better taking care of the ball and making their outside shots. This is obvious, I know, but the Bucks allow the 4th most 3 point field goal attempts a game, the 4th most makes per game, and are in the bottom 10 in 3-point field goal percentage allowed. These shots are going to be there for the Lakers and making them will be pretty important.
On the turnovers front, because the Bucks are so good in transition (Giannis, especially) ball security is paramount. The Lakers have been brutal in giving the ball away, especially the live ball variety that fuel opponent transition chances. If they do that tonight, the Bucks will feast. So, Dennis, take care of the ball. You too, THT and AC and Trez. You’re the high usage guys and it starts with you all.
Lastly, because I do not expect to win this game, I’m going to try to be patient with how things go. I get there’s a certain excitement about getting Drummond and seeing what he can do. But there’s context to be remembered and and kept at the front of our heads. It’s been over a month since he’s played in a game and it’s his first game with the team. There’s going to be some rust and there’s going to be some mistakes. There’s a learning curve here that he’s going to go through. So, just keep that in mind.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and ESPN.