The Los Angeles Lakers are 0-4 in the preseason. Time to give up the championship hopes, everybody.
Now, of course, I’m joking. Although it’s been a rocky ride so far, there are still some positives to take from the Lakers’ first four games so far, even if they’re exhibition games. There are also some negatives (which is expected given their record so far) that can be reviewed and used for adjustments later on the practice floor or in the film room. This can be true for preseason games, even if Russell Westbrook says he doesn’t really care about his preseason turnovers while LeBron James said he has nothing to learn from these games at this point of his career.
This team is still unfamiliar with each other, and there’s still work to be done. That work may start tonight, as LeBron, Westbrook, and Anthony Davis will start in their first game together at the same time. With that being said, let’s examine the three things we can take away from the Lakers’ preseason so far.
This is sort of an obvious statement, but it’s one I must make nonetheless. That’s right, I’m team “Injuries suck”. Anyone that says otherwise is a liar.
I say this because of the way last season ended, while also saying it because of the way this preseason has gone. Trevor Ariza will now be sidelined for six-to-eight weeks at least after an arthroscopic procedure performed on his right ankle (he never played in the preseason). Malik Monk and Talen Horton-Tucker then sat out Sunday’s loss against the Suns only for us all to find out that Monk has a groin strain that will be re-evaluated next week and THT has a torn ligament in his right thumb. The Lakers are “hopeful” that Monk can return for the season opener on October 19th against the Warriors while THT reportedly had surgery on the thumb that will keep him out anywhere from four-to-eight weeks based on research from Dr. Rajpal Brar of Silver Screen & Roll.
— Dr. Rajpal Brar, DPT (@3cbPerformance) October 11, 2021
Adding insult to literal injury, it turns out that Kendrick Nunn will miss tonight’s preseason game against the Warriors. He was added to the injury report Monday night with a right ankle sprain (h/t Ryan Ward of Lakers Nation).
We’ll have to see if Nunn will miss extended time, something that is definitely a possibility depending on the severity of the sprain. It was an ankle sprain that kept LeBron out of last season for around two months.
The Lakers were already without two players in Ariza and THT for at least the first month of the season, with a likely possibility that we don’t see either of them for around the first two months. It would be a tough blow to the team’s rotations if Nunn joined them in their long absences, especially considering the fact that these players need time together to get on the same page (more on that later). Looking on the bright side, I did note in the past that the first month or so of the Lakers’ schedule is relatively easy. Hopefully, through the sheer power of their Big Three, they can stay afloat in the standings while some of their guys are on the mend.
I’d personally expect Carmelo Anthony to take most of Ariza’s minutes in his absence while undrafted rookie Austin Reaves may receive a significant bump in expected regular season playing time with THT out, with that nearing an almost certainty if Nunn is out for an extended time.
Carmelo Anthony, Malik Monk stand out offensively
Speaking of Carmelo Anthony, he might have already climbed his way up through Frank Vogel’s rotation before it was known Ariza would miss significant time. Per 36 minutes, Anthony is averaging 23.4 points per game while making five of his 12 three-point attempts so far (41.7%). As we all know, the Lakers were shopping for some three-point shooting this offseason, especially once they acquired Russell Westbrook, one of the worst three-point shooting point guards in today’s NBA. Anthony is a proven, 35.3% career three-point shooter who had a career year in Portland last season with a 40.9% clip on 4.7 attempts per game (best percentage since his 2013-14 season). He may only be average on the defensive end, but that shooting — in addition to his insanely lethal mid-range game — should cause him to be one of the top contributors this season.
Going back to Malik Monk, he was also having a great preseason before he sustained the injury. Anthony is third on the team in points per game per 36 minutes, while Monk is fifth with 21.7. His true points per game is 12.7, which he tallied on 51.7% field-goal shooting and a blistering 47.1% from deep on 5.7 attempts per game. The team has reportedly been calling him “Microwave”, a nickname he’s already lived up to.
Lakers offensive and defensive schemes will take time
We are all too familiar with this talking point, Lakers fans. There’s nearly nobody leftover from last season (only three have returned from last season – LeBron, Davis, and THT), which means it’s going to take time for everyone to get integrated with each other on the court. This not only leads to more precise passing and decision-making on the offensive end, but it also results in more efficient defensive rotations, the backbone of Frank Vogel’s top defense last year.
Carmelo Anthony spoke about this, with a surprising quote from him in regards to the defensive end as opposed to the offensive end, saying last week that it’s going to take time and patience for them to get it right.
“This is team defense,” Anthony said after Wednesday’s loss to the Suns, “This is knowing your space, knowing your spots, knowing your regions and that’s going to take some time to kind of just get in sync where we know where everybody’s going to be at, we know rotations before it’s going to happen, we’re in the right position. So, that’s going to take some time. Not too much time, but that’s guys coming back together, playing actual games, and us figuring that out.”
The offensive side would have taken time no matter what, but it may take even longer than expected given the fact that Frank Vogel said the coaching staff has started “doing some things differently” on offense. He mentioned tailoring it to the current team’s strengths and weaknesses, something that may have been forced upon Vogel given the addition of Westbrook and how much that changes how they operate despite the immense benefits that Russ will bring.
After the Lakers opened the preseason with a loss to the Nets, Anthony Davis spoke afterward saying “we’re way behind” while mentioning a lack of quality shots and getting their defensive schemes right. With The Big Three’s first game tonight together, hopefully, the team looks much more organized, with Davis having much more positive quotes afterward.