The first leg of the preseason for the Los Angeles Lakers has resembled a fever dream. LeBron James is assisting on Anthony Davis dunks. Dwight Howard is shredded, and is indeed wearing purple and gold again. The team has had consecutive 4:30 a.m. start times. And their opposition has hoisted up a staggering 76 threes against them in their last two contests.
But beside that, things have mostly been par for the course for the new-look Lakers. Through three games, the team has looked like a squad still very much learning to play with one another, which is often the case for teams at this stage.
On the floor, guys frustratingly point out where screens should be set, players awkwardly scramble to their assigned corner and there have been a whole lot of midrange clanks at the end of the shot-clock as a result. The product has not been very aesthetically pleasing.
Ultimately, there is very little that can credibly be taken from preseason play in terms of regular season project-ability. Players miss shots, they forget the play call and a lot of time the effort level is simply a far cry from that of actual games.
With that said, there have been a few things shown thus far that are worth feeling excited about, concerned over and that may need further clarification as the new season approaches for Lakers fans.
The Good: The LeBron James and Anthony Davis partnership is as good as advertised
After a summer of hypothesizing and dreamily envisioning the prospects of a James-Davis team-up, it did not take long to see it manifest on the floor in a positive and real way.
On the Lakers’ first basket of the preseason, James’ drove the length of the floor, passed his initial defender with a high-ball screen from Davis, got to the rim and missed. Without missing a beat, the team’s new 26-year-old star stormed in for the follow — and in the process, demonstrated the frightening task facing defenses this season. When the defense does manage to force a rare miss from James or Davis, they still have to deal with the other’s efforts to clean things up.
It is not entirely surprising that James and Davis have clicked given their complementary skill-sets, but it is impressive how quickly the two have gelled. James has already assisted on six of the big man’s 15 makes thus far, and in return, Davis has effortlessly cleaned up his new running mate’s missed bunnies (four of his 15 buckets have been put-backs).
While the Lakers’ offense has looked like a work-in-process during non-James and Davis lineups, it is encouraging to see how effective the duo have already been in their short time together. Considering how much of the offense will weigh on their shoulders, that’s a great sign.
There is a chance, however, that fans may not get to see the pair on the floor anymore this preseason due to Davis’ sprained thumb, but what has been shown already should serve as a satisfying appetizer ahead of the main course.
The Bad: Miscast Roles
As good as James and Davis have been in the Lakers’ first three games, the rest of the team is still noticeably navigating shaky ground. With an overall offensive rating of 97.6 (meaning they’re scoring 97.6 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 22nd in the league so far), the growing pains that come with a mostly new roster acclimating itself with two star players have already transpired.
And although this is likely explainable through the caveat of preseason basketball, a more concerning issue may be the coaching staff’s utilization of some of their players, specifically Danny Green and Alex Caruso.
Green, who was signed primarily for his superb shooting ability, has shot just 18 percent from three thus far, seemingly due in part to the way he’s being used off of motion as opposed to getting set up for stand-still looks.
Last season Green was in the 98th percentile of the league in terms of efficiency on spot-up attempts, and ranked in the mere 33rd percentile on off-ball attempts. So far, Green has had nearly equal numbers of each play type according to Synergy. That will be something that needs to change in order to help Green and the team alike space the floor more effectively.
Caruso has equally been put in a non-ideal spot. By getting minuscule run beside James and Davis, Caruso has been tasked with running primarily pick and roll during his time on the floor. That’s been a notable weak point in his game up until this point.
Through three games, a whopping 40 percent of his offensive possessions have come as the pick and roll ball-handler, and he has shot just 1-11 during these possessions, and has posted a 25 percent turnover rate.
Of his three next most-frequently used play types this preseason, all have been off-ball actions, and all three have yielded a higher points per possession compared to his on-ball struggles. That should further emphasize the likely benefit Caruso would receive by playing next to James and Davis, and also the importance of not trying to force a square into a circle. Both are something the coaching staff needs to remember.
The Confusing: The Point Guard Rotation
Speaking of Caruso, what’s the deal with the Lakers’ point guard rotation?
Caruso leads all other lead guards on the team (second overall) in terms of minutes played this preseason (71), but it still doesn’t feel like he’s any closer to being the primary or even secondary option in that role come opening night.
Rajon Rondo has received the lion’s share of the minutes at that spot when James and Davis have been on the floor, and has also started in both of the team’s last two contests, further hinting the veteran may be in the lead for that role.
Los Angeles has also experimented with starting two nontraditional “point guard” options in the backcourt with two of the Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Green grouping, leaving James responsible for primary creation duties. To be fair, though, that decision has created some interesting and effective defensive lineups.
There is also the question of where Quinn Cook sorts in the team’s depth-chart. Inarguably the best shooter amongst the other options on the roster, Cook’s status is still up in the air as he is yet to play during the preseason as he continues to nurse a calf injury.
While this could all just be a moot point considering James will shoulder most of the usage in the half court regardless of who starts beside him anyways, the point guard competition remains and will continue to be one of the most prominent question marks heading into the new season.
As noted above, none of this is worth getting too high or too low about, because woe to the person who takes too much away from preseason games, which often feature weird rotations and teams just trying things out and experimenting. Still, how these trends progress is still worth keeping tabs on to see what they can tell us as we get closer to the regular season. With three preseason games remaining until things kick off for real, we’ll get a few more glimpses of how things go on these fronts before things kick off for real.
All stats per NBA.com unless otherwise noted. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts.