If you’ve watched any Los Angeles Lakers basketball this preseason, you’ve noticed just how adamant they are about playing small. They’ve pushed a breakneck pace; they’re switching everything; LeBron James and his teammates are doing whatever they can to revive Showtime.
For that to work, though, there’s one thing the Lakers absolutely have to be able to do, and that’s defend consistently. And you aren’t defending if you aren’t finishing possessions with the basketball.
“It’s all about group rebounding,” James told reporters after practice Monday. “It all depends on the small-ball unit you got out there, we’ve got some guys that are more physical than others, but you know at the end of the day we all have to help each other, especially on the glass. If we do that, we can get out and run.”
Thus far, this is probably the most concerning aspect of what we’ve seen from the Lakers. Here’s a fun stat. Per NBA.com, of all the teams that have participated in preseason NBA basketball, the Lakers rank 29th in total rebounds per game. That’s not great in and of itself, until you realize the Sydney Kings and Adelaide 36ers rank ahead of them. Oh, and they’re averaging only .2 rebounds more per game than the New Zealand Breakers.
Those numbers also don’t take into account the pace at which the Lakers have played.
The Lakers are averaging 38.1 rebounds per 36 minutes, landing them at 33rd of the 39 teams listed — ahead of only the Flamengo Flamengo, Memphis Grizzlies, Perth Wildcats, Shanghai Sharks, Beijing Ducks and Maccabi Haifa.
Please, never, ever get hurt, JaVale McGee.
These numbers will improve as we get into the regular season and LeBron starts playing in second halves. Lonzo Ball’s return will also help in this regard. But the main lesson to learn here is how badly the Lakers need another traditional center.
Another reason a move might be in order: Thus far, Michael Beasley and Kyle Kuzma, who’ve been playing center in these extremely small lineups, haven’t been taking advantage of their quickness advantage. Maybe that comes around as they get more used to playing this way. Maybe Ivica Zubac all-of-a-sudden lives up to the promise he showed in parts of his rookie season.
If not, well... Please, never get hurt, JaVale.