Lakers Pre-season Keys
As the Lakers being their pre-season schedule leading up to opening night, here are a few things I’m going to be looking out for during the early portion of the pre-season.
Julius Randall is the incumbent and expected to being the season as the starting power forward for the Lakers. It is an important year for Randall as he is in a contract year, and will be looking to play his way into a big money contract next year, either with the Lakers, or with another team through free agency. This might be a big motivating factor when it comes to Randall playing with a lot of inspiration. Randall has also been one of the main players taking advantage of the Lakers new focus on nutrition and physical conditioning. He has transformed his body over the off season and he recently commented on his off-season program:
“I feel great, just light on my feet, trying to play with energy and pace, being active, feel like I can be active for long stretches of time without getting tired […] Cover more ground, in better shape so I see things before they happen. Fatigue makes a coward of us all, so I’m able to just move around and do it without thinking.”
Julius is a highly talented player, but sometimes his game does not always seem to fit within the framework of what the Lakers want to do. His jumper can be a bit clunky and unreliable. When going to the rim, he has a tendency to head to the left every time, although last year, he did show a little more ability when driving to the rim using his right hand. He will have to continue to expand upon that skill to keep defenses honest, and overplaying him on his left. One thing that will also help Julius is if he is able to consistently hit jump shots from mid range out to the 3 piont line. There has been a lot of talk about Randall’s commitment to becoming a better shooter with more range. This could totally change the way Randall looks in the Lakers offense and lead to him becoming a highly productive, and highly paid player come next summer.
If Randall can’t get the job done, then the Lakers can fall back on the services of Larry Nance Jr. Nance has been a consistently player with a blue collar work ethic and athleticism to spare. He has also been hampered by an inconsistent jump shot, but he also possesses a ton of skills that are valuable to any team. He is also an intelligent player he won’t do anything on the court to hurt you. He is very versatile, capable of playing the 4 as well as being able to play above average defense on the wing. You might not notice him making a big impact on the floor, until he is rising to the rafters, and throwing down a dunk with ruthless aggression on some poor unsuspecting defender. But he definitely is player you like to have on your team, who probably won’t command an astronomical salary moving forward. I can definitely see Larry Nance as the type of player who could be a Laker for life. A mainstay role player that is a fan favorite, and always looking to make the right play to help you win a game. If Randall becomes an inconsistent player at the 4, Luke could look to increase the amount of time he gives Larry Nance on the floor playing with the Lonzo Ball and the starters.
Can the rookies continue their progression:
After a shaky start to his preseason, Lonzo Ball really picked up the pace and justified his position as a top pick in the past NBA draft. He lit up the summer league with a dazzling array of passes and creative ways to score baskets. His jumper wasn’t really falling at a rate that you would hope for, but that is something that can come around as most rookies struggle a bit with their jumper as they transition the NBA. The future is looking bright with Lonzo Ball running the show as the Lakers point guard.
Not to be forgotten, is Kyle Kuzma, whom the Lakers obtained with the 27th pick of the draft. He was largely an unknown commodity and considered an after thought after the Lakers picked him up in the draft. However, Kuzma definitely made a name for himself with high level play during the summer league that earned him MVP honors of the Las Vegas summer league in spite of the electric performance put on by his teammate Lonzo Ball. He showed a deft touch from the outside, as well as the ability to get to the rim out of half court sets, and his ability to fill the lane on the break has Laker fans everywhere clamoring for Kuzma to get some time on the court this year for the Lakers. Kuzma can play both forward positions and showed the ability to defend both spots as well. I am absolutely looking forward to seeing Kuzma develop over the course of the season as he finds his niche’ in the NBA.
Since training camp started there has been an emphasis on getting better defensively for the Lakers. The Lakers have finished towards the bottom of the league in defense the past 4 years, and it has been truly sad to watch as teams would regularly rack up 120+ points against the Lakers. The additions of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Andrew Bogut should help bolster the defense, but they are really going to have to make strides as a team, in order to improve upon their past numbers. They have at least got to be serviceable and not let it be so easy for opposing teams to take high percentage shots around the room, and get wide open looks along the perimeter. This is where Julius Randall will really need to step up because the Lakers also signed Brooke Lopez, and as talented as he is on offense, he has pretty much been considered a defensive liability his entire career. Lonzo Ball, while having the tools to become a decent defensive player, just is not at that point in his career, where he will be able to defend high level NBA players one on one very effectively. However he is tall, rangy, and very smart, and should figure out how to play defense well enough to not be a liability. But I think D’Aaron Fox, proved that Lonzo is nowhere near a premier one on on defender yet. The Lakers ability to play a modicum of passable defense will be crucial to their success this season.