Another preseason has come and gone, and it is time to look back and reflect on what we’ve seen from our young team.
The headline of this preseason was obviously the return of our young center, Andrew Bynum. He came into this preseason looking like a man-child — I could hardly recognize him at first. It made me so eager to see him take the floor for the first time since January, that when he actually did, it gave me the chills. You can tell he’s not quite 100%, as he does not have the explosiveness to go up for dunks and blocking shots that he once had, but he’s showing he’s getting back to “pre-injury form” each game.
If there were any doubt whether he and Pau Gasol, or “Bryant’s Giants” (my choice for the new nickname) would work, it should be put to rest. The two have gelled nicely and faster than I expected. They have been active in looking for each other on the court, and we have seen Bynum be on the receiving end of some great passes in the post, most made by Gasol. Having them in the lineup together has taken pressure off of Gasol, and he’s been hitting mid-range jumpers throughout the preseason consistently.
Going into this preseason, there were questions of how Lamar would fit into the mix and whether he would be in the starting lineup or not. I, for one, was one who felt he should. However, after watching him play as if he were lost in a lineup consisting of Bynum, Gasol, Kobe Bryant, and Derek Fisher, I can admit I was wrong, and that he fits better coming off the bench. Contrary to what he stated weeks ago, he appears to have accepted that role, and has played more comfortable with the second unit than he did with the starters. Also, although he came into preseason out of shape, he began to pull it together in the Barcelona game.
Vladimir Radmanovic, who has replaced Odom in the starting lineup, has played excellent basketball throughout the preseason. Surprisingly, his defense has improved. He’s no defensive stopper, but he’s made an effort and has played solid team defense.
As impressive as our stars were, the second unit impressed me the most. They are aggressive, quick, unselfish, and their up-tempo style of play continues to make the Lakers that much more dangerous. Without a question, a bench consisting of Lamar, Jordan Farmar, Trevor Ariza, and Sasha Vujacic makes our bench one of the best defensive and best overall bench in the league. Right now, if you look at it, almost every player has been a starter at some point in their career, or can be one right now. Very intimidating, to say the least.
Of our “bench mob,” Farmar and Ariza stood out from the rest of the pack. Jordan had a phenomenal preseason. He continued to shine as our best playmaker, and the work he’s put in to improve his defense is noticeable. Ariza has been equally impressive. He needs to improve his shot, but his defense and his ability to drive the lane has been superb.
We were able to see the much-anticipated debut of Sun Yue in a Lakers uniform, but it was a disappointment. He averaged only a few minutes a game, but every time he was in the game, things seemed to fall apart. He couldn’t handle the ball, and he lacked the quickness and athleticism needed to keep up with the quicker guards in the league. However, it took Sasha and Farmar some time to bloom into the players they are today, and it’s only his first preseason, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, for now. With that said, he must improve if he wants to see any minutes this season. Sending him to the D-League would be the best thing for him because, as deep as our roster is, he’s not going to get any playing time, and letting him sit at the end of the bench won’t help his development.
Our team, as a whole, played fairly well. Our defense was ragged, we weren’t getting back in transition, and the help defense was non-existent in the first half of the preseason. Thankfully, they were able to turn it around, having one of our better games against the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, one other thing we continue to have issues with are turnovers. Even though it was the preseason, I get annoyed with how much we turn the ball over. We throw the ball away trying to make plays that are not there, and it has contributed to too many losses in the past.
Overall, I felt this preseason was what we hoped for and expected. We have a healthy team, minus the minor injuries to Kobe and Sasha, and for the most part, we were able to see who best fits where. Unlike coming out of last year’s preseason, we also have a focused team, who is hungry and no longer weighing on one individual’s shoulders, but on a team with one goal: to win an NBA Championship.