The Lakers lost to the Mavericks in their first scrimmage action in Orlando, a seemingly inevitable fate after Frank Vogel elected to rest LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Danny Green for the entirety of the second half. But it was a thrill to see the Lakers on the court again, especially for the competitive portion of the game.
Here is what stood out from the team’s first sanctioned live action in four months.
Is Anthony Davis’ jump shot for real?
Davis opened up the game with two midrange jump shots, comfortably posting up and then dribbling into a fadeaway over Dorian Finney-Smith to score the Lakers’ first four points. It was a welcome sight. If there has been any weakness in Davis’ game this season, it has been his inefficiency on midrange jumpers. He has shot 34.8% on 2-point jumpers outside of 14 feet, well below his career average of 38.8%.
While Davis’ 3-point percentage has improved as the season has gone on (he was shooting 28.7% in 2019 and has bumped up to 40.5% in 2020), his midrange efficiency has had a more modest rise from 33.6% to 36.6% in the same time frame.
It would be preferable for Davis to take more of his shots from beyond the arc, or simply bully smaller defenders to get closer to the goal on post-ups, but Davis is comfortable from the midrange, and those looks will be available for him. If he starts cashing in between 14-23 feet — especially if he can create those jumpers for himself — Davis will become near unguardable.
LeBron James really seemed to enjoy the layoff
When the Lakers’ starters, or at least their normal pre-hiatus rotation, were on the court, the team looked great, sharper than would be expected for a layoff that lasted over four months. The credit for that starts with James, who was absolutely in his element and looked to be in fantastic shape, despite the unusual circumstances of the team’s first game back.
James dictated the pace for the Lakers, taking advantage of opportunities to push the team in transition, while also easily controlling the offense in the half court and getting into the paint at ease (no doubt aided by the dearth of quality wing defenders on the Mavericks, but still).
James’ breakaway dunk to end the half drew the most fanfare, as did his lobs to Dwight Howard and Kyle Kuzma, but my personal favorite play was when Jared Dudley set him a screen at halfcourt, and James glided through the lane as if it were an open runway.
About the only time James looked uncomfortable was when he was forced to contend with the size of Boban Marjanovic, whether that was attempting to box him out or trying to throw a lob past Marjanovic’s 9’7 standing reach, but that’s a challenge that only the Mavericks present. Otherwise, James was ready to go, leading the Lakers to an 11-point advantage in the first half and setting a dominant tone for the team’s return to play.
Dion Waiters is exactly as advertised
It is worth noting that the first guard off the bench with Alex Caruso out was Quinn Cook, not either of the two newest Lakers. Cook has by all accounts had an outstanding camp in Orlando, and he was rewarded as such with early minutes. However, every Laker fan — and most neutral observers — was waiting to see Dion Waiters, and the man did not disappoint.
Because Waiters has been injured or suspended more often than he has played over the last three seasons, it was easy to wonder if his game had changed or potentially even devolved since the last time he played regularly. If his debut is any indication, Waiters is exactly the same player he has always been.
He showed no hesitation calling his own number, including hilariously jacking up a contested 3-pointer at the exact moment that the Spectrum broadcast was praising the team’s ball movement. He went 3-7 from the field, and he created the majority of those looks himself. Waiters was able to capably handle the ball, and his two turnovers were not the result of ball pressure, but rather over-eagerness on the offensive end.
There is a role for this version for this version of Waiters on the Lakers, even if he never tones down his single-minded pursuit of buckets.
It will be torture every time a Lakers backcourt player gets nicked up
The scariest moment of the contest was when Kentavious Caldwell-Pope came up limping early in the first quarter. With the team already down Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo, and missing Caruso on top of that with a back contusion, the Lakers don’t have the depth to sustain any more injuries, and it was nervy awaiting updates on Caldwell-Pope’s status.
Fortunately, despite whatever issues Lakers fans have with KCP, durability has never been one of them. He has only missed eight games during his entire tenure in Los Angeles, something of a small miracle considering all of the injuries that have taken place around him. The best thing KCP, — along with Caruso, Cook, and Waiters — can do right now is stay available. Hopefully, there aren’t too many tense moments like this one over the next 10 games before the playoffs.
Subsequent games should give the Lakers a chance to evaluate other elements of their roster, including what J.R. Smith looks like next to real rotation players. But for now, the Lakers should be satisfied with a successful debut for their starting lineup, particularly their two superstars. For one meaningless scrimmage, this was a good start.