Los Angeles Lakers Preseason Takeaways
Hoops fans can rejoice, as the NBA’s Dog Days are officially coming to an end. The Los Angeles Lakers preseason contests have provided us with a glimpse into one of the league’s most intriguing teams. They’ve played four games so far. Two were wins against the Golden State Warriors and two were defeats at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets in China. Even though the stakes of these games were nonexistent, the world has seen enough to form early impressions. Frank Vogel, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and crew are all mired in figuring out how their skills mesh as they work towards the ultimate goal.
Lakers Preseason Takeaways
The First Starting Lineup Was The Best
Head coach Frank Vogel is trying every conceivable starting lineup combination during these contests. Some lineups featured Avery Bradley at point guard and Danny Green at shooting guard while others featured Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in their respective roles. He also tried to pair Rondo and Bradley in the guard slots in the second contest against the Nets with Green at small forward. Additionally, Vogel alternated starts at center between Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee to see which one performed better out of the gate.
The first preseason lineup of Bradley, Green, James, Davis, and McGee looked poised to give the most headaches on both ends of the floor. Unsurprisingly, it led to the Laker’s greatest showing in the preseason yet. McGee was very mobile on the floor, while Bradley put up a hell of a defensive display against Stephen Curry. He stayed glued to him throughout the contest, even picking him up full court multiple times. He did a superb job of filling his role as a defensive pest, especially against a star like Curry. His three-point shooting has been horrid this preseason (0/7), but if he can get hot then manage to play great, consistent defense, he deserves the starting job.
Frank Vogel Should Stagger Rondo and James
Rondo has shown great chemistry with Davis dating back to their time on the New Orleans Pelicans two years ago. They rode that chemistry to a shocking first-round sweep against Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers during the 2017-18 NBA playoffs. While playoff Rondo could certainly still be a thing, regular season Rondo should be the primary facilitator off the bench when James comes off the floor.
Rondo’s defense has been okay, but he can easily slip into patterns of apathy. More importantly, when he’s in the starting lineup, he takes facilitation opportunities away from James. The former Celtic would be best served as the primary creator in bench units surrounded by shooters and one lob threat. Quinn Cook, Jared Dudley, Troy Daniels, and hopefully Kyle Kuzma could surround Rondo with the shooting he needs while either McGee or Howard could fill the lob-catcher role.
James and Davis Will Make Each Other’s Lives Easier
It’s hard not to get excited about the potential of the Lakers duo even though it’s just the preseason. Offensively, James and Davis played amazingly off of each other’s ability to absorb defensive attention. It’s going to lead to a plethora of easy shots that each player hasn’t seen in a long time, if ever. Whenever James would drive hard to the rim and miss his shot, Davis was shockingly wide-open for the putback.
The Lakers will absolutely feast on drives to the hoop. If the defense splits resources to evenly cover James and Davis, then they’re giving advantages to two of the most dominant offensive forces in this generation. They can try to put more resources into one, but then the other has a criminally easy look at the rim. If defense somehow manages to adequately cover James and Davis, then an athletic big like McGee could easily sweep in and clean up any missed attempts. It’ll come down to whether the ancillary players can provide enough of a perimeter threat to keep the lane open for James and Davis.
Dwight Howard Can Be Contributor
Howard got the start alongside the Lakers C-Team in Monday night’s preseason game against the Warriors at Staples Center. He was one of the most impressive players that night, pouring in 12 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, four steals, and one block in 22 minutes of play. He also shot a promising eight of ten from the free-throw line.
Although he doesn’t have the same speed or athleticism as he did before, he made up for it with high IQ plays that he would’ve surely passed up in his superstar days. On one particular play, Howard had a clear lane to try out one of his patented clumsy running hook shots from the post. He started running middle to make it look like that was his move, but then he flipped a nice pass to the cutting dunker at the very last second.
Howard knows that this may be his last shot at being on an NBA team. It’s in his best interest to fall in line and make the smart basketball plays over seeking individual glory. Howard won’t be able to defend three-point heavy lineups that require him to contest often on the perimeter, but if the team gets a handle on how to defend the arc, Howard can hang back and profit in the paint where he naturally excels.
Zachary Norvell Jr. Can Provide Real Scoring If Needed
Zachary Norvell Jr. is a standout guard on the Lakers G-League affiliate South Bay Lakers. Norvell Jr. has been hailed as possibly another diamond in the rough courtesy of the Laker’s strong scouting department. Monday night’s exhibition against the Warriors added weight to that claim.
The 6’5 gunner from Gonzaga led the Lakers in scoring with 22 points (3/8 from three, 7/8 on free throws). Norvell Jr. also supplied the highlight of the night with his ankle breaker on Warriors rookie Jordan Poole.
The Lakers still need to solidify a guard rotation, but it may take longer than the preseason to figure out. Outside of Green, shooting guard minutes will be divvied out between Caldwell-Pope, Daniels, and Bradley. If one of them gets hurt or underperforms, Norvill Jr. could provide a boost. The Lakers are going to need people who can just make shots as well as create their own outside of James, Davis, and Kuzma. Norvill Jr. just solidified the case that he should be worthy of consideration.
One Lakers Preseason Problem
The Defense Can Protect The Paint, But Will Struggle On The Perimeter
On paper, Davis, McGee, and Howard could become one of the most intimidating, basket-protection forces we’ve ever seen. But, the frequency of the three-point shot grows exponentially every year. Davis is capable of contesting a three-point shot off the pick and roll while still being a threat to cutters on the inside. Unfortunately, McGee and Howard aren’t as mobile. The big men outside of Davis will struggle overall with defending teams that jack up a lot of triples.
Bradley’s defensive showing against the Nets proved he still hasn’t obtained that consistency yet. The Nets as a team went his 20 of 41 shots from deep in their first face-off, which might bode for future troubles. The Laker’s best threats to guard the perimeter are Bradley and Caldwell Pope. James is capable of guarding bigger wings on the perimeter, but his regular-season defensive effort has waned as he ages. Alex Caruso has shown flashes of developing into a competent perimeter defender, but the biggest thing he needs now is reps – and he has a lot of catching up to do.
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