Each week, we’ll take a look at the five biggest takeaways from the Los Angeles Lakers. Whether tracking the success of the rookies and young players, discussing the highs and lows of the season or simply pointing out a key statistic or trend that you otherwise may not have considered, we’ll try to provide an in-depth look at the team throughout the season.
1. Julius Randle is good and has the potential to be REALLY good. Whether you agree with Kobe Bryant’s assessment that he is essentially the equivalent of a ‘Dr. Frankenstein’ mixture of “Lamar Odom in Zach Randolph’s body,” the thing most evident about Randle is that he is a clearly a unique blend of power, agility and speed for someone of his size. We won’t get too far ahead of ourselves solely based off a few preseason performances, but we can certainly understand the excitement surrounding the 20-year-old given all the physical tools he’s already displaying.
Just as with rookie D’Angelo Russell, it will be important to have patience Randle throughout the early portion of the year as he continues to adjust to playing at this level, and as the rest of the league forces him to adapt to different types of defensive looks. The Lakers have a nice mix of veterans that should be able to offer guidance and support throughout the process; but most importantly, Randle and the other young players seem eager to learn all they can.
2. Kobe Bryant can still be effective on the offensive end, but his overall efficiency will depend upon how much he trusts Russell and Clarkson to act as the primary playmakers. The term “ball-dominant” and Bryant have been synonymous for years, but if these first preseason outings are any indication, it appears the 20th-year vet is at least open to the idea of allowing the offense to run through his young guards. Bryant is wise enough to know that even though he may still ‘have’ the ability to facilitate and create his own offense on a regular basis, life — especially at 37 and returning from another injury — is a lot easier when you can rely upon someone else to set you up.
We’ll still see plenty of Bryant operating with the ball in his hands, but you’d hope a majority of those touches where Bryant is looking to create come from inside the pinch post and preferably on the block. We’ve already seen several instances this preseason where Bryant was able to find a slashing Clarkson or rolling big man for easy buckets while operating out of the post. Hopefully, this trend is a sign of things to come.
3. Jordan Clarkson appears to be on a mission to prove his First Team All-Rookie selection was far from a fluke and had more to do with his desire to prove he belonged at this level than simply due to playing for an injury-riddled 21-win team down the stretch. Time will tell just how effective he can be, but you can already see his game reaping the benefits of what was reportedly a very active summer for Clarkson in terms of training.
While he looks far more comfortable on his outside shot, both in catch-and-shoot situations and off the dribble, he can really make a difference for a team that will need three-point shooting from its wing players if he can start knocking them down with regularity. Not coincidentally, that will also make him that much deadlier when he does decide to attack the rim; something we’ve seen more of from him thus far.
4. The Lakers have serious questions at the backup point guard position if veteran international player Marcelo Huertas doesn’t pan out. Now, chances are Huertas will make the roster, but the 32-year-old has been hampered by a sore hamstring (and visa issues) early on, the Lakers have shown they need a natural playmaker in the second unit in order to maintain offensive balance. Lou Williams is both capable and willing to generate offense, but is probably best served being paired with a natural distributor to shoulder a bulk of that load.
Three-point shooting combo guard Michael Frazier II is another option for reserve minutes at the point, but we have yet to see him act as a primary ball-handler in his limited time on the court. Much like Frazier, Jabari Brown’s status in terms of ultimately making the regular season roster is unknown at this point. Brown, to his credit, did fill in at the position down the stretch for last year’s depleted squad. As of now, aside from Williams’ willingness to serve in a hybrid role, none of the other reserve guards have done enough to set themselves apart from the group. The Lakers have to be hoping Huertas is able to do that once he’s able to return to action.
5. The backup center position remains a question for the coaching staff. After going with a combination of Tarik Black and Robert Sacre behind Roy Hibbert for the first couple preseason games, undrafted rookie Robert Upshaw finally got an opportunity to show what these past couple months of hard work have produced, and the 7’0″ project didn’t disappoint. Upshaw contested at the rim on the defensive end (two blocks, several shots adjusted) and managed to impress on the offensive end with a nice turnaround jumper that was actually defended well along the baseline and soft hands in receiving a pass in slight traffic before finishing on another basket.
If Upshaw continues to play well, it will be interesting to see if it ultimately comes down to a decision on Sacre or Black for a roster spot. Sacre has always been well-liked within the organization and is playing on the final year of a guaranteed contract while others like Black (non-guaranteed) and rookie roster hopeful Jonathan Holmes (partially guaranteed- $100,000) are likely in a position of really having to prove themselves over these next couple weeks of practice and five remaining preseason games in order to make this roster.