The Los Angeles Lakers debuted their new-look squad on Saturday in a demolishment of the Golden State Warriors in the first exhibition game played at the defending Western Conference champions’ new arena in San Francisco. While preseason caveats are always necessary, there was still plenty to take away from an exciting display in the Lakers preseason opener.
1. Anthony Davis is good
If you had any doubts at all about the Lakers giving up too much in their pursuit of former Pelicans star Anthony Davis, he probably put those to rest pretty quickly.
In his debut in the new threads, Davis completely outclassed the Warriors and took advantage of the injuries to their big men. The new Lakers superstar dominated the glass and slammed home five dunks in the first quarter alone en route to a 22-point, 10-rebound performance in just 18 minutes.
Perhaps more importantly, Davis’ chemistry with LeBron James stood out immediately, with the two partners connecting on multiple plays that left the Warriors confused by who to guard. Despite all the talk about the depth on the team, it’s that partnership that will determine the course of the Lakers’ season and so far, it’s off to a rocking start.
LeBron to AD. ALL DAY. pic.twitter.com/53W8I2IwQZ
— Ali B (@ali_behpoornia) October 6, 2019
2. Rajon Rondo is bad
On what was a fantastic showing by the Lakers, Rondo (and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) stood out as a disappointment. It’s easy to pile on with Rondo but it’s clear that his deficiencies impact the team much more than his strengths.
Rondo routinely got lost on defense and put the Lakers in disadvantaged situations at the point of attack. Offensively, the Warriors continued to play off him and give him all the space in the world behind the arc, leaving the Lakers with no room to operate around the paint.
The lone positive from Rondo’s night was his chemistry with Davis – a product of their time together in New Orleans – showed on a few nice assists. Other than that, he was mostly outshined by his competitors for the point guard spot: Avery Bradley and Alex Caruso. (Quinn Cook did not play due to injury).
3. The center position might be a strength
In what may be the most hot-takey portion of this piece due to the Warriors’ limitations (Kevon Looney and Willie Cauley-Stein did not play), we are getting really excited about the Lakers’ frontcourt.
JaVale McGee looked like the player he was to start the season last year before a bout with pneumonia brought his play down to earth. Notably, his play alongside Davis was a huge advantage as the Nevada product could either draw a defender deep into the paint for fear of allowing an open dunk or take advantage of Davis’ high-low passing to finish at the rim. McGee finished the game with 10 points and 13 rebounds in just 17 minutes.
Dwight Howard had a solid if unremarkable performance of his own. The reunited former Laker looked limited in his athletic ability but still produced with nine points and nine boards in 18 minutes off the bench. His hustle and body language even as he dealt with some struggles were encouraging signs.
While there’s been a lot of talk about the Lakers being at their best with Davis playing the center position (and that’s true), playing AD next to a true center has an added benefit that may have slipped under the radar to this point. Having McGee or Howard in the paint to gobble up defensive rebounds allowed Davis the opportunity to leak out in transition for point-scoring opportunities. Davis’ athleticism could make this strategy a very viable threat in the regular season as well.
Caruso did not play in the first half but was tremendous in the second half, albeit against lesser competition. Continuous play like that will pressure Frank Vogel to insert him into the rotation – and perhaps the starting lineup – sooner rather than later.
Troy Daniels also had a great showing in the second half, showing that vaunted shooting ability and having some nice defensive sequences as well. Caruso and Daniels were the primary backcourt in the second half and had plus-minus ratings of +17 and +18, respectively.
Bradley contributed nothing offensively but showed some tenacious D against Stephen Curry, guarding him the length of the floor from the get-go. Whether he has anything left in the tank to be a consistently positive performer remains to be seen but he showed why there has been so much praise thrown his way in training camp, thus far.