How his absence kept them from seeing how good they could really be.
How he was integral to their shift towards a small-ball identity.
Ariza had to listen to it all from the sidelines, patiently waiting to make the level of impact he knew he could. Fast forward a few months, and Ariza’s effectiveness has come in fits and starts, and his process of getting up to speed wasn’t helped by being shelved in the health and safety protocols just two games into his return.
After missing four more games on top of the 30 he missed to start the year, Ariza has now played in six games so far, and head coach Frank Vogel feels like Ariza is “coming along” while he tries to get his legs back under him, but says that process is something the team knew would take time.
“But I’ve seen some real positive things from him just in how he’s moving and the comfort level he’s getting on both sides of the ball,” Vogel said at practice on Tuesday.
Perhaps indicative of Ariza still having a ways to go, however, is that he is still coming off the bench behind Stanley Johnson — who is on a 10-day contract — even as the Lakers go increasingly small. Some of that is likely due to him looking a little slower defensively than perhaps the team expected.
Offensively, however, Ariza has actually looked great in a small sample size (and small role). He’s shot 8-14 from the field so far, and 7-13 from three, which (hilariously), means he has only taken just one shot that wasn’t a three all year. He’s putting the emphasis on the three in three-and-D.
But floor spacing is pretty much what the Lakers were counting on him for on offense, and Vogel likes what he’s seeing from the 17-year veteran there.
“I really like what he’s doing offensively from the standpoint of bringing that 3-point line spacing, being aggressive in catch-and-shoot situations,” Vogel said. “He’s created a lot of good offense for us.”
Vogel additionally praised Ariza as being “really efficient” when he puts the ball on the floor and tries to create opportunities for teammates when opponents close out on him too hard, something he will likely continue to improve at as he starts to fully get back into NBA conditioning. As he continues to do so and closes the gap between the rusty-looking 36-year-old he is right now, and the player the team is hoping he can be, then the Lakers’ new, increasingly small identity could start to get even more efficient and effective.