Los Angeles Lakers pre season: First Impressions
The Los Angeles Lakers took to the court at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu, Hawaii in front of 10,300 fans for their pre season opener versus the Utah Jazz. The Jazz went on to win 90-71, but there were a lot of positives for the young, new look Lakers, along with some issues they need to address. But that’s all fine. Its pre season and that’s exactly what this time is for: to work on the kinks.
Kobe Bryant returned to the court after having been out since January recovering from a rotator cuff injury that required surgery. Bryant started at small forward for the Lakers, who had rookie D’Angelo Russell at the point guard spot and second year guard Jordan Clarkson at the two spot. Bryant was joined up front by Julius Randle (power forward) and Roy Hibbert (center) anchoring the middle.
The first two offensive possessions for the Lakers in this game were likely to be things we will see a lot of this season. First play, the Lakers go into Bryant in the pinch post. He surveys the court and after a few off ball screens, he finds Clarkson wide open for a three pointer on the opposite baseline. The very next play Russell runs screen and roll with Randle, which led to a Randle two hand dunk.
Now Clarkson missed the three but both scenarios make sense in that Coach Bryon Scott and Lakers staff want to keep Bryant as healthy as they can this season and one of the best ways to achieve this is by letting the young guards handle the ball and run the offense. This gives opportunity for the young backcourt to develop while also allowing Bryant to do something he hasn’t done much over his career- catch and shoot. It also frees up Bryant to post up, and we expect many touches for him on the block. As defenses converge, Bryant then has the luxury of surveying the floor and making the right decision. Speculation about how much Bryant will shoot this year and how his shot selection will affect the growth of the young Lakers players ran rampant in the off season but I think this will give the team some balance and at least right now on paper, it doesn’t look like Bryant will need to have the dominate the ball during possessions.
Bryant was 1-5 from the field (his first shot hit the top corner of the backboard), his lone make was a semi baseline three where he was spotted up all alone on the weak side after some pick and roll action. Despite missing most of his looks, they were good looks. And Bryant will need a little time adjusting to the catch and shoot but it will come around.
Bryant played twelve minutes in the first quarter and did not return. This was planned by Coach Scott- he wanted Bryant to get a quick run in, to get the sweat going and test the body and get a feel for on the court action again. Bryant’s minutes in pre season will definitely be monitored but no set amount was given. The Lakers/Bryant will take it day by day. Bryant stated after the game that he “felt pretty good”.
Defensively, the Lakers at times played well in stretches in the half court set. Clarkson and Russell, who are not known for their defense, have a chance to be decent on that side of the ball over time. Active hands by Clarkson led to a steal and dunk in the first quarter. Both Russell and Clarkson will need to use their quickness, speed and agility to make it tough on opposing backcourts but they have the tools to do so. Although Roy Hibbert is responsible for protecting the rim, the young backcourt will have to work to do their part on the perimeter.
The acquisition of Hibbert is expected to give the team help it so desperately needed in protecting the paint and we saw his skills on display in half court settings, contesting shots with his long arms while staying vertical. But the problem wasn’t Hibbert’s half court defense. The problem was, at times, his transition defense. The Lakers also struggled when Hibbert was on the bench. Transition defense was the Achilles heel (no pun intended) last season for this team. Utah scored 17 fast break points, many of them uncontested dunks by Jazz big men. Robert Sacre played back up to Hibbert and although Coach Scott is experimenting with different line ups, the second unit with Sacre as the anchor, had very little resistance.
Russell, who is dealing with a bone bruise in his right foot, shot only 2-8 from the field and 1-4 from three-point land. Randle was even worse (2-10 from the field). I’m not going to jump on the youngsters about this. I know Russell’s range will improve and his shooting will come around. Randle is a bit over eager. That’s fine and that is to be expected. The Lakers led the NBA last season in 2-pt field goal attempts. But they were almost dead last in makes and a big part of that had to do with the inconsistency of the Jeremy Lin’s and Wesley Johnson’s of the world. I believe in my heart that Russell is a better shooter than Lin will ever be and the looks Lin missed last season will certainly be makes for Russell as he learns when to pick and choose his spots.
When the Lakers signed reigning Sixth Man of the Year in Lou Williams, many thought it meant the end of Nick Young’s time in L.A. How would they co-exist together? Would there be enough basketballs to go around? What would the offense look like with both shooters on the court? Coach Scott has said that he will experiment with different line up combinations, to see what works, what doesn’t work, who plays well together and who doesn’t. He also mentioned Williams specifically, the role he played in Atlanta two seasons ago (averaged 4 assists per game), and how Williams skill set will “keep things from getting weird on the court” if he is out there along side ‘Swaggy P’.
Well things got really weird when the second unit came on. Williams played back up point guard to Russell, with Jabari Brown at the two guard spot, Swaggy at the three, Brandon Bass at power forward, next to Sacre at the five.
Williams did lead the Lakers in points (14), free throws made (5), and assists (4) but it was his ball handling that was most odd. At times he left his feet in mid dribble to pass (and even shoot), something they teach you not to do at the earliest stages of learning basketball. Williams was fouled the first two times he did it as he drew contact with the defender and drew the whistle. But at least three other times I counted where he attempted this and did not get the call. He had two turnovers and looked very uncomfortable at times.
New addition Brandon Bass also struggled from the field (2-9). I must note here that as a Lakers fan through and through, I have to say that one thing that has always plagued us is signing players who are total beasts AGAINST us but who play terrible once they dawn the Purple and Gold. But Bass’s two field goals were strong, effective moves- one lay up and one dunk- which were plays he would do against the Lakers in the past. So its good to see his activity. The negative side though was his seven missed field goals. He took uncharacteristic shots and if you had just tuned into the game as he was making his moves to the basket, you would have thought he was Randle, as his movements looked almost identical.
Overall Grade: B
All in all, for a first pre season game with so much change between seasons, the Lakers looked good at times. They held the lead for a good portion of the game. Their half court defense was solid in spurts. The young backcourt is developing chemistry and the mix of veterans are fulfilling their leadership roles in hopes of getting the youngsters to learn the game properly. The rotations will come. The shots will start to fall. I have no worry there. But the defense will need continued improvement and as the pre season goes on and minutes increase for the starters, I think this team will have something it hasn’t had in three season- an identity.
What do you think of the Lakers first pre season performance? What would you grade the team? Who impressed you the most? Please comment below as I would love to hear your thoughts.
Tayrance Allen covers the Los Angeles Lakers/ NBA for MFST, you can follow him on Twitter (@Twigganomics) and FaceBook/Instagram (@TwiggNATION)
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