Finally, basketball time has arrived with the first preseason game of the Los Angeles Lakers versus the Golden State Warriors. I missed the first quarter, but had plenty of time to see what the system looks like and what the players roles are within the system. Here are a few things to note for the upcoming season.
As a team, the Lakers lacked scoring in the paint and rebounding prowess. They do have some size in the paint with Kaman at center, but the team has been fortunate to have league leading rebounders such as Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal dominate the boards. While Pau Gasol sat out this game, he was never at the caliber of O’Neal or Howard in terms of rebounding prowess.
The team also lacked points in the paint. This isn’t a traditional post-up Laker team that we’re used to. The system is based on guard movement and rhythm within set player movement as the plays evolve. That may include a dribble hand off at the top of the key, striking pick-and-roll situations from multiple angles, down screens to free up shooters, and hard off-the-ball cuts to the basket. However, because the system is predicated on guard-play instead of unit-play with set movements by all five players within the triangle, lots of perimeter shots were taken off-the-dribble.
Now, here are some standout observations from tonight’s game.
Nick Young is a player who has always had the physical tools. He’s solid 6’6″ with a 7’1″ wingspan and tested very well athletically during his rookie camp. That hasn’t translated to efficient play. He’s a microwave. He loves 2-3 dribble plays to set up a pull up jumpshot. He’s an opportunistic 3-point shooter, but is reluctant to attack the basket with aggression for higher percentage shots. Throughout his career, he has fallen in love with the midrange jumper. This will bode well for the Laker team, considering how loose the team plays. He fits within that mold and can really get a few wins by shooting lights out. However, if he’s able to develop any kind of high-post game or attack the basket with the positioning that Kobe Bryant does so well, his offensive repertoire would expand that much more. I don’t mind that he focuses on shooting so much. He is one of the Lakers best isolation players from the perimeter.
Jordan Farmar demonstrates the attitude I’d love the Laker team to see. He ripped the ball from DeWayne Dedmon, pushed on the break, and missed a layup. He went for a rebound against Marreese Speights and won. He added a couple of subtle shoulder fakes and hand-position off the dribble that allows him just enough room to attack the basket. It’s difficult to put into words, but this is something he developed overseas, not as an NBA player. He is an aggressive shooter and loves to pull up off-the-dribble as well, not conscious of the clock. He is a bonafide rhythm shooter, not afraid to attack the paint. This Laker team needs that kind of energy and spunk to create a new identity. It had been missing from veteran teams from years past.
Xavier Henry showed what he was able to do successfully at the NCAA level. What was great about tonight’s game is that he was able to be an effective player in multiple facets of offensive play. He scored from offensive rebounds, spot up 3-pointer behind a screen, relentlessly attacking the basket off-the-dribble, and attacked strong ball pressure in the backcourt. He lacked the polish to handle the ball under high press situations, but he’s a player that didn’t back down from a challenge and showed how varied he is as a scorer. More importantly, he played defense with length, intensity, and feet pointed towards the Laker basket. He deflected passes going into the high-post and was able to push tempo. This is the kind of play that Mike D’Antoni loves out of a stretch power forward. If there’s a talent the Lakers have lacked the past decade, it’s the ability to force turnovers and get out in transition. Henry is that guy.
Wesley Johnson is a player looking to jumpstart his career early on. He’s expected to defend well and knock down shots from the perimeter. A few times tonight, he played outside the context of his game trying to create a play off-the-dribble. He wasn’t loose out there. He had trouble letting the game come to him. He forced some challenged 20′ jumpshots and tried to get going with a layup off of cuts, but nothing was going. His shot looked a bit flat and he wasn’t able to prove his abilities on defense, often guarding larger players. Strength is not Wesley’s best asset. Quickness and length are. Wesley would look more comfortable in a 2/3 slot while Henry can handle the power forward slot similarly to Thaddeus Young, with energy, quickness, length, and surprising base. Tonight wasn’t his game, but he definitely has the talent to play a key role for the Lakers this upcoming season.
Elias Harris was a signing from the Summer Pro League roster. He had two huge baskets for the team, well within the context of his game. The first was a dunk from an out-of-bounds play. The second was a layup, set up by Dan Gadzuric. His pass lofted over the defense and hit Harris in perfect position. This helped maintain offensive momentum and extend the Laker lead late in the 4th quarter. Those are winning plays that Harris contributed to. It’s a positive sign for him to stick with the team and develop down the line as well.
Overall, it was an entertaining game. The leads never grew to large and there were spurts of points being scored by both teams. Turnovers, rebounding, and interior defense were issues for the Laker team. I expect to see that all season, but it’s refreshing to see a team so eager to leak out and push out in transition.
One more thing. If Gadzuric and Harris can get playing time, can Darius Johnson-Odom get some playing time too? Pretty please?