LeBron James already made it eminently clear on Friday night that he does not care about preseason basketball. But for anyone that IS worried about the Lakers starting preseason play 0-3 after their 121-114 loss to the Golden State Warriors, he offered some important context for why this team looks a little clunky right now.
“We pretty much have got a whole new offensive system this year that we’ve been working through over our practices since training camp started,” James said. “It’s an adjustment for us offensively, just having guys in different positions, having guys in different places on the floor with our new look and what we’re trying to do.”
For now, he’s preaching patience as the team gets used to their new sets, actions and schemes. He thinks the results will be worth it.
“It’s going to be a process for us, but I think it will be better off for us in the long run. It keeps the ball moving from one side to another,” James said. “Not much with a dribble but more with a pass. And obviously we’ve got downhill attackers with Russ, K(endrick) Nunn, myself and Talen.”
And despite James saying he can’t learn anything from preseason basketball at this point in his career, that doesn’t mean we can’t. Because when watching last night’s game — and the team as a whole this preseason — it’s clear they have been emphasizing a few new things.
After the loss to the Warriors, friend of the site and near-sentient artificial intelligence Tim (aka “Cranjis McBasketball”) of the Lakers Exceptionalism Podcast broke down some of the Lakers’ new actions on his Twitter account. The one below in particular stood out:
The very first of many Russ ball screens to come this year for Bron yielded an open 3 pic.twitter.com/X8BjeDx8ql— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) October 9, 2021
The Lakers missed the shots they got out of it on this specific play, but Westbrook being a willing and active screen-setter was one of the big question marks for the Lakers this year as they try to make him and James fit as co-playmakers. That he is already doing so in his very first preseason game is a notable sign, especially when considering that he has never set more than 68 screens in a season and set less than 20 total with the Washington Wizards last year, according to Zach Lowe of ESPN ($$$).
But it’s not just Westbrook’s screening that’s worth getting excited about. The Lakers are also — like James said — keeping the ball moving from side-to-side, and taking advantage of the downhill creators he mentioned as well:
Here's some nice "Thunder" action from the Lakers to open the game tonight.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) October 9, 2021
They fake a split cut (with angles that make sense this time!) and the cutter down screens for DAJ to rise & catch at the top of the RA.
No bucket, but this is a smart play. pic.twitter.com/W1kVqf4pJL
A simple stack action here removes the rim protection for THT pic.twitter.com/zU3I2IJamI— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) October 9, 2021
Simultaneous action making it harder for the help defense to be on time +— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) October 9, 2021
THT attacking downhill +
Dwight rolling on an empty side of the court +
An awesome feed from Rondo leading THT into his drive = magic pic.twitter.com/CChH7llq8X
Here's a creative tweak (I don't think I've seen any team use) building off this action I'd love to see from LA.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) October 9, 2021
If overplayed on the veer pin by Dwight, Ellington looping underneath to set a back screen for Dwight to slip to the rim and then Ellington popping to the 3PT line. pic.twitter.com/gj1ElZs9Eb
THT WITH THE BEHIND THE BACK FEED— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) October 9, 2021
Also, shoutout to Dwight for not handing off on the 1st DHO attempt that would've been blown up + not trying to do too much and getting a moving screen to set up the THT drive. pic.twitter.com/e06LKYykKl
This set is a keeper. P&R simultaneously as the screen happens weak side puts Draymond in a lose-lose situation with how GS is defending on this play. pic.twitter.com/PZeV7oA71u— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) October 9, 2021
Great split variant from LA and a beautiful stroke from THT pic.twitter.com/4TUGhkLTZO— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) October 9, 2021
As James put it: “We want to make sure we keep everyone involved offensively, keep the ball moving from one side to another, keep the defense always at bay... We’re just working through it right now, which is a good thing. It’s all about the process.”
The process hasn’t yielded good results with great frequency yet, but with a bit more of the patience the Lakers are preaching, it very well might.