ANAHEIM- The Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Phoenix Suns 98-94 on Friday night in their final game of the preseason, and while one preseason defeat isn’t something to worry over, Lakers head coach Luke Walton knows the team has a few problems that still need to be addressed.
The main thing in need of fixing? Getting off to slow starts.
“We’ve got to figure something out with the starting group still. Until we get that under control, those lineups are probably going to change,” Walton said. “We can’t afford to go down by the six-minute timeout each time we step on the floor.”
The Lakers head coach said the team will look to scrimmage on Saturday as part of their continuing quest to find the best five man units.
“I think we have a good evaluation of the players, and who plays well together, but it’ll be an ongoing process,” Walton said.
Whereas the Lakers’ second unit seems to be comfortable getting out and running in the open floor, with multiple ball-handlers pushing the pace, the starting unit has looked much more stilted. The team is running better sets than last season, but it’s easy to see the wheels still turning in the starters’ heads as they debate when to cut, screen, and pass.
While NBA.com doesn’t have lineup data for the preseason, the team’s net ratings make it pretty obvious that the starting unit hasn’t worked:
Ignore the two guys the Lakers have already cut, and Yi Jianlian, who has been awful. The next five names are the players to spend the most time in the starting lineup (and weirdly Nick Young, who has looked pretty good).
Net Rating isn’t a perfect stat, but the majority of the starters being outscored by double-digits per 100 possessions is not a super positive sign, even in the preseason.
The Lakers have a weird dilemma on their hands. The Jordan Clarkson-D’Angelo Russell backcourt hasn’t totally worked, but neither has the Russell-Lou Williams one. Clarkson’s defensive improvement would seem to give him the edge with the starters, but he’s also looked incredibly potent as a scorer coming off of the bench in a more ball dominant role.
There are no easy solutions here, but one option could be to start Young, a sentence that would’ve looked insane just a few weeks ago. The veteran has been one of the Lakers’ better defenders during the preseason however, and certainly better on that end than Williams.
Sweet Lou’s foul-drawing brand of efficient gunning is useful in a certain context, but bigger guards can either shoot over him or post him to death. On the other end, he’s shown a far bigger predilection for ball-stopping than Young has thus far (again, insane as that sounds).
What answer Walton and the Lakers will ultimately come up with is a mystery, but the decision is the biggest issue the team faces heading in to the regular season.
A few more takeaways from the Lakers’ final preseason game in Anaheim
- Luke Walton, on whether he’s watching other teams positioning in the standings:
“I’m looking at it from an individual standpoint of how I feel we played. I’m not looking at ‘are we going to jump them? are we going to jump them?’ Just straight win, lose, or draw — I guess you can’t really draw in the NBA — but just more of how we did. Did we execute our game plan? Did we do our defensive rotations? And if we lose then I’m fine with that.
“Vice versa, if we win a game, where we didn’t do anything, we just happened to get hot, I’m not as happy about that.
“I’m not going to lie and say I’m not going to look at the standings, but I’m not going to be judging our success on where those standings are.”
- Luke Walton, deftly handling the most bizarre press conference exchange I’ve ever personally witnessed:
Reporter: Tom Herman, the Houston coach, said you can motivate by fear or motivate by love. Obviously he kisses his players, he motivates by love. What do you think of that?
Walton: “Ummmmm.... I’m not going to kiss any of our guys. I like leading by love, but I had hippie parents so that’s to be expected, I mean that’s the way I was raised.”
- Mark Madsen: Yoga Aficionado
Fun nugget from tonight: Mark Madsen was practicing yoga before the game on the sideline— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 22, 2016
Would we call that pose "Downward facing Mad Dog?"
- D’Angelo Russell certainly has a unique fashion sense:
D'Angelo Russell actually wore this outfit and carried this box of Nilla Wafers to his press scrum tonight pic.twitter.com/fwmueZ15MT— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 22, 2016
- Walton likes Ingram’s versatility:
Walton says he can see Ingram playing four positions during his career— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 22, 2016
Julius Randle is working on his roll game:
Randle working on rolling with Mermuys for the last few minutes pic.twitter.com/AtdqxpAQh8— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 21, 2016
Updates on Zubac’s development:
Zubac is hitting three hook shots from each spot around the restricted area with Madsen pic.twitter.com/rghDeYvazq— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 21, 2016
For more on Zubac, check out my feature on his goals for this year, thought’s on the D-League, and playing FIFA against Larry Nance, Jr. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.