The Los Angeles Lakers are trying to push the tempo through training camp, hoping it translates to on-the-court success immediately. The focus of camp, as has been repeated time and time again by everyone in the organization, is defense.
Head coach Luke Walton wants, and needs, the team to improve defensively so they can get out in transition with Lonzo Ball. The quotes coming out of training camp have been dominated by defensive drills and conditioning, and that’s no surprise.
The Lakers want to play fast, and despite the pace being cranked up, Walton thinks Lonzo is adjusting tremendously.
“It's almost as if the game is moving a little bit slower to him than it is other players. We're asking everyone to play fast fast fast, and he's out there just making simple passes and when guys are open ahead he's putting it on their hands,” Walton said after Day 3 of camp.
One of the most frequent response coming out of rookie guards when asked what the biggest challenge is coming into the NBA is how much faster the game is at the pro level. Ball seems to be taking that in stride, and is more than confident he can handle however fast the team starts moving.
“I don't think that's a thing,” Ball said when asked if he feels the team could end up playing too fast. “I don't think too fast is a thing.”
Walton’s already made it clear that implementing the Lakers’ halfcourt offense is one of his lower priorities to start camp, and that he’s not trying to cram everything into the first days of practice before their preseason opener. Luke even warned media after practice on Thursday that the offense will look fairly basic when they play the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday.
Wanting his team to play fast doesn’t mean throwing away all sensibilities, though.
“We want to play fast as far as looking for transition opportunities. What's going to take time and cause some sleepless nights is that fine line of understanding when transition isn't open, and getting into a more flowing offense.
“We don't want to throw the ball ahead, and if they do a good job defensively getting back, then just shoot up a three real quick,” Coach Luke said.
It’s clear that Luke wants the Lakers’ transition offense to be the primary identity of his team, and that only comes if their defense allows for it. The Lakers have been one of the worst defensive teams in the league for years, and that’s a big turnaround to hope for. The team is saying, and doing, all the right things in camp though.
It is concerning that everyone, from Luke to Larry Nance, Jr., is commenting on how simple the offense is, and how dependent they will be on transition basketball. Walton saying he doesn’t want the team playing willy-nilly for the sake of being fast is an important distinction to make. As Walton said, that could make for some ugly halfcourt sets for the time being.
Saturday may be sloppy to start preseason, but Walton is focused on the team being the best it can be by the regular season opener on Oct. 19.
*All quotes transcribed via Lakers.com