The NBA Pre-Season is a short span of time that serves various purposes, such as getting players back in shape after a long summer layoff; a time to integrate new players into a team’s specific style and system of play; and a time for coaches to experiment with a myriad of line-ups. One purpose that pre-season does not serve is winning, and today’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves was proof.
The defending Champion Lakers lost by almost 20 points to a young team that won just 15 games last season, but there was much to glean from this first of eight pre-season previews nonetheless.
First point of attention – Lamar Odom. Odom has taken a lot of criticism for often playing too lackadaisically when he should be more intense, and for appearing too apathetic when he should be more active on the floor. He’d been called to lead the reserves but took much blame for the lack of bench production the last few seasons. After a summer spent leading a young Team USA at the World Championships, however, Odom (17 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and an assist), though still in the pre-season, is already in mid-season form. He was active and focused on both ends of the court, attacking the basket and driving baseline, often leaving defenders like Minnesota’s Kevin Love befuddled as he scored on layups and dunks.
Second point of attention – Oldies aka Veterans, Are Goodies. Theo Ratliff, 37 years old, is one of the leading rebounders in the NBA and though his age may cause snickers around the league, his play certainly does not justify it. Ratliff (4 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block) goes after rebounds like they are his to take. With Andrew Bynum set to be a bench warmer until right before the year ends, Ratliff may see some playing time behind Pau Gasol and it will indeed be quality time.
Derek Fisher will be lauded a Laker hero until he retires, but even at 35 years old, he doesn’t appear quite ready to call it quits. He is still a sharp shooter (12 points on 4-9) and a feisty defender.
Third point of attention – New and Improved Bench. Last season, three reserves were guaranteed playing time for each game – Lamar Odom, Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown, with the rest of the bench filling in time slots as needed. This season’s bench is a vast upgrade.
Steve Blake entered the game with four minutes left in the first quarter and his first duty was to guard opposing point guard, Luke Ridnour. Blake (5 points, 4 assists) stuck to Ridnour from half-court to the Minnesota basket, scarcely providing him room to operate. Blake followed that bout of feisty defense with a corner three. Throughout the game, Blake directed traffic on the floor, set up shots for teammates and scored when the opportunity was there. His veteran smarts will be a key factor to the success of the Laker reserves.
Matt Barnes, known to be an aggressive defender, rattled off 9 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. His turnovers (4 tonight) could use some refining, but his abilities and knowledge of his role are clear. On one play he received a behind the back pass from Blake, he faked a three, drove into the lane and bounced to Ratliff for a lay-up. Barnes is an effective defender, scorer and passer – all valuable qualities in the Laker offense.
Aside from Ratliff, the two new rookies, Devin Ebanks (5 points, 2 rebounds) and Derrick Caracter (2 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block), both 6’9” have added to the depth of this Lakers bench. Both are young big men who showed during Summer League and now in the pre-season, that they have more than just youth on their side. They’re skilled players.
Shannon Brown also showed a great amount of focus (zero turnovers) and improvement. With 13 points on 6-10 shooting, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal, Brown appears on his way to his most productive season yet.
Together the bench contributed 53 points, 27 rebounds, 17 assists, 6 steals and 4 blocks. They may not all get huge amounts of playing time when the real season begins, but rest assured, when they are called, they are more than capable of producing.
Kobe Bryant only played six minutes due to knee surgery from which he is still recovering, but from the approving smiles and laughter he showed his teammates from the bench, the excitement to defend their title was obvious.
Next on the schedule, Spain’s FC Barcelona.
Pre-Game Thoughts: Lakers pre-season basketball at last…and in London of all places. Should be interesting to see how all the new players fit into this defending championship team.
Half-Time Thoughts: Bench improvement from last season to now is glaringly obvious. I’m sure the Lakers miss their old friends - Farmar, Powell, Morrison and Mbenga, but honestly, what a difference an off-season makes!
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: It was the first game in the pre-season – come on.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Lamar Odom – the summer spent playing in the World Championships did LO a great amount of good. He not only looks ready physically for the new season, he looks focused and mentally prepared as well.