The Los Angeles Lakers' projected starting lineup of D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Kobe Bryant, Julius Randle and Roy Hibbert played just under 10 minutes together in their first preseason game. What we saw was a breath of fresh air, looking completely unlike the team that's dragged on over the last two seasons.
This Lakers season is ultimately more about that development than the result at the end of the day -- even moreso in preseason -- and their first test as a group came in the shape of the Utah Jazz. It was a competitive game until the fourth quarter once things got out of hand while Byron Scott evaluated the deeper bench players.
How the new starting lineup plays together, though, is far and away the most interesting aspect of this Lakers season. Those 10 minutes were our first window into what may be in store for this group, and here are just a few observations on what played out in preseason Game 1.
Roy's presence will patch up leaks in the defense
Hibbert's made it clear his top priority is cleaning up the Lakers' defense, and the idea to protect a young team with a defensive anchor makes sense. It's not hard to imagine many of the elite guards in the league attack Russell like Trey Burke does here:
These kinds of small things are where Roy's presence is going to be felt immediately. Hibbert's a mountain to score around even with space to work with, and his specialty is protecting the rim. It'll be put to use often.
Kobe's passing to Russell
Don't look now, but I spy Kobe pushing the ball in transition, pulling defenders in, and kicking out to Russell:
And on that same note, it doesn't hurt to have a passer as talented as Kobe hitting Russell when he's moving off-ball:
That's a Hibbert-finish away from being an amazing sequence. It's easy to see how these two can mesh, especially since ...
Russell's passing to Kobe, too
Kobe's made it clear he's completely in with playing off the ball and allowing Russell a chance to run the offense. This opens up simple and effective actions, like this pick-and-pop they seem to be working on:
If Kobe can extend out to the corner-three in these situations, it'd make for a deadly action the Lakers can incorporate into their offense:
Expect plenty of off-ball action for D'Angelo
D'Angelo's decision-making and passing ability are what set him apart, which means putting him in action to manipulate the defense is a great use of his talents. The Lakers ran plenty of off-ball looks for Russell, and he looked crisp and comfortable in that role.
What the team can create out of Russell's next move once he gets the ball in his hands -- whether that's him looking to score or picking apart the defense -- is where things will be a work in progress. Here are a few looks of him playing off-ball with the starters:
This deserves its own bullet point, but Randle's effectiveness from the elbow in half-court sets looks like a major factor in how smoothly things run. That means creating, passing, driving and shooting once the ball is swung to him. That last point didn't go well for him in his first game back:
It's very early in the process, and the anticipation to see this group get more time together is high. These are just a few initial impressions of watching them play for the first time, so it's worth keeping things in perspective. What we saw were promising signs, which already makes this team infinitely more enjoyable to watch as they feel things out.