In case you somehow missed it, LeBron James played in his first game in a Lakers uniform on Sunday. It was a grand old time for everyone involved. The Lakers lost to the Denver Nuggets 124-107 but who cares? It’s preseason and LeBron didn’t decide to live in Denver this past July.
As little as preseason matters, we all know it still leads to plenty of hot takes from the NBA community. After nearly four months without basketball, you expect people to watch games and not offer completely unsolicited opinions about everything? Come on, now.
At Lakers Outsiders, we pride ourselves on being ahead of the game which is why we’re overreacting to game one of the preseason before anyone else can. Feel free to add your own spicy notes in the comments below or hit us up on @LakersOutsiders on Twitter!
JaVale McGee is the best Lakers center since Andrew Bynum
The cast of characters that the Lakers signed after James this summer got clowned on for mostly obvious reasons. But a lot of that is just reputation. Case in point: JaVale McGee of Shaqtin’ A Fool fame who almost no one knows is actually a damn good player.
McGee looked ready to go in his first game as a Laker. He finished the game with 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field and grabbed 7 rebounds to boot. McGee gives the Lakers a vertical threat they haven’t had in ages, which he put to use in the very first play of the game:
JaVale is going to feast on easy buckets off passes from James, Rajon Rondo and Lonzo Ball once they are all healthy and clicking. His low minute count due to his asthma will always limit the impact McGee can have on a basketball court but when he’s playing, the Lakers should have an incredible pick-and-roll threat, a transition weapon faster than anyone matching up with him and an ample rim protector.
Brandon Ingram is the Lakers’ second best player
We haven’t seen Lonzo Ball play yet this season so there’s no telling what his added strength and a reformed shot will do for his game. But Brandon Ingram already looks like a great sidekick to The King. Ingram finished the game with 16 points on 7-for-14 shooting so the efficiency can be better but he added four rebounds, an assist, three steals, and one block filling up the box score in only 26 minutes.
Ingram is going to benefit a lot from playing alongside James especially as a three-point shooter and a finisher at the rim. He put that chemistry with his new teammate to the test early in game one:
There’s a lot that can still improve in BI’s game (more on that later) but right now, it looks like all the oodles of potential is going to start coming together, this season.
One of Ball, Rondo and James has to be on the court at all times
The Lakers had a lot of fanfare over the number of playmakers they have on this team and how much that will keep LeBron fresh. But through one game, it’s becoming apparent that that might not be quite true.
When Rondo and James were not on the court, the offense became stagnant with isolations for Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson becoming the go-to plays in the half-court. None of those players are good enough to carry an offense right now and even Ingram’s playmaking chops are not enough as a primary initiator.
Fortunately, three heady ball-handlers and playmakers should be enough for the Lakers to carve out a good offense. But if one of them gets injured or Luke Walton’s rotations are a little shaky, we could be seeing some ugly offense this season.
Please stop shooting mid-range jumpers
Speaking of the offense, the Lakers put on points pretty well at parts of the game, mostly through their high pace (that is an interesting factor to keep an eye on; the Lakers and LeBron have said they want to run but James’ previous teams have never done that). But in the half-court, the team was not quite as efficient.
The Lakers attempted only 25 shots from behind the arc on Sunday, compared to the Nuggets 37. Denver also got to the free throw line more frequently. In fact, both teams shot 40-for-87 from the field but the Nuggets won decisively due to their more efficient attempts.
The Lakers have too many players whose first instinct is to take one dribble in from the arc and settle for a jumper. Ingram may be the most frustrating offender but Kuzma, Beasley, Stephenson and others all have the same habit. The Lakers are not as bad of a shooting team as most people think – they shot 8-of-25 for 32 percent on Sunday while two of their best shooters (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk) went a combined 1-for-9.
Here’s the Lakers’ game one shotchart:
And here is the Nuggets’:
Defense could be a problem
The Lakers’ relative success last season came on the back of their defense but through one preseason game, it seems to have become a liability. Julius Randle and Brook Lopez were both big (literally and figuratively) parts of the Lakers top-15 ranked defense last season and their loss could be a major factor.
Of course, the Lakers were without Lonzo Ball last night and his defense at the point of attack was a legitimate strong point for the team last season. But the Lakers’ new additions are not exactly brick walls on that side of the floor. Rondo isn’t the pest he used to be, Stephenson was always overrated in that regard and Beasley is Beasley. James doesn’t try much in the regular season. McGee is good but limited.
A lot of this will be affected by Walton’s rotations. For example, at one point Walton had Josh Hart, Stephenson, Beasley, Kuzma and Ingram all in at the same time. In the six minutes that they played together, the Lakers were outscored by 12 points.
Those type of lineups hopefully will not be common during the regular season which would do wonders for the defense as a whole. But with the Lakers playing without a rim protector for most of every game, there’s cause for concern about the lack of perimeter pests.
LeBron James is a Laker