Training Camp: 10 Things to Watch
The 2015-16 season is finally upon us, as the Lakers begin training camp in Honolulu on Tuesday. With a completely different roster featuring young playmakers and an all-time legend, the Lakers have plenty of questions to figure out during the monthlong march to the season opener.
1: How much will Kobe play?
This is something that will be asked not only in the preseason, but throughout Kobe Bryant’s 20th season in the NBA. Including the playoffs, the 37-year-old has played just 47 of L.A.’s past 170 games due to season-ending injuries to his Achilles tendon, knee and rotator cuff.
Bryant, who says he will decide on potential retirement after the season, will certainly not push his minutes in preseason games that ultimately mean nothing record-wise. General Manager Mitch Kupchak already said at his preseason press conference that Bryant will likely not participate in both sessions of training-camp two-a-days.
Though the number of preseason games and minutes that Bryant plays will not be a reflection of what’s to come during the regular season, it does give an indication of Bryant’s progression back to in-season form.
2: What will the starting lineup look like?
The answer to this will likely fluctuate based on whether or not Bryant is given the night off. At point guard, the Lakers could go with second-overall pick D’Angelo Russell or opt to ease the rookie into the NBA by having him come off the bench in favor of Jordan Clarkson, who could also start at shooting guard. Meanwhile, at that two-guard spot, Bryant is the obvious candidate to fill the role, but he could shift to small forward depending on how head coach Byron Scott wants to order his troops.
Assuming that Bryant is indeed the starting shooting guard, the three position could be the Lakers’ most intriguing space. Nick Young might be the most likely candidate, but Scott has previously stated his preference to have “Swaggy P” come off the bench. That leaves second-round rookie Anthony Brown, who Scott may not want to rush into the limelight. A wildcard could be the recently signed Metta World Peace, though he last played in February 2014.
The power forward position will likely be a choice between Brandon Bass and Julius Randle. The 30-year-old Bass has a veteran advantage, which includes a decade of NBA experience, including two under Scott. Randle, meanwhile, has a higher ceiling, but Scott again may not want to rush a young player who sat out almost the entirety of last year.
The only near-certainty is that Roy Hibbert will be manning the center spot. Barring anything unforeseen, the 7-foot-2 defensive stalwart is expected to serve in this role from the get-go, while Tarik Black and Robert Sacre come in off the bench.
3: How Will the Guards be Ordered?
Heading into training camp, the Lakers have eight players vying for playing time in the guard rotation. Clarkson and Russell will surely see plenty of minutes as budding talents, while reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams will also get his time, likely off the bench.
Bryant and Young should remain among L.A.’s top weapons, but their ability to play small forward could mean shifting in order to free up guard minutes.
A former FC Barcelona standout, 32-year-old Marcelo Huertas is expected to challenge the young guys for playing time, while Jabari Brown — who averaged 19.8 points in five starts at the end of last season — is also looking to carve out a role. Meanwhile, sharpshooter Michael Frazier aims to impress coaches after three years at Florida.
The two guard spots might be the focal point of the Lakers’ offense. Currently, the purple and gold have five players — Bryant, Russell, Clarkson, Williams and Young — capable of fueling the attack, whether that be by scoring on their own or creating for others.
4: Will any departures be missed?
With so many new faces this season, that means there are plenty of others that have left from last year’s roster. While this makeover has, by most accounts, been seen as an upgrade, it is possible that the Lakers might miss some of the talent lost over the offseason.
Current Pacer Jordan Hill led the Lakers in scoring (12.0 ppg) and rebounds (7.9), while new Hornet Jeremy Lin paved the way in assists (4.6). Wesley Johnson is expected to play significant minutes for the Clippers, while Ed Davis has found a home in Portland after leading L.A. in blocks (1.2).
5: Which new veteran will make the quickest impact?
Between Hibbert, Williams and Bass, the Lakers have three incoming vets that have the opportunity to become a major part of the rotation. Hibbert's presence as a defensive deterrent has been well-documented, and he will likely have the biggest role from the outset.
Meanwhile, Williams was voted the league’s best bench player last season after sparking Toronto’s offense with 15.5 points per game. Bass rounds out the trio and could top the power forward depth chart to begin the season.
6: What will World Peace bring?
Just days before training camp, the Lakers brought back one of the key cogs from their run to the 2010 championship: Metta World Peace. Known as a formidable perimeter defender back in his prime, it is unclear exactly what the 35-year-old can provide on the court.
Nonetheless, the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year is expected to administer daily lessons to L.A.’s young core at practice. In particular, Randle has already gone head-to-head with World Peace during sessions in El Segundo over the last few months. More sparring allows World Peace to teach Randle — and others — some of the skills that earned him his defensive reputation, such as footwork and physicality.
7: How will Russell and Randle perform?
The Lakers’ last two lottery picks also double as the biggest unknowns heading toward a new era for the franchise. Both Russell and Randle — who played only 14 minutes last season before fracturing his tibia — are essentially rookies that have yet to show exactly what they’re capable of on the NBA level.
The reviews coming out of the Lakers’ practice facility have been encouraging, as the duo’s teammates have raved about Russell’s ability to thread passes and direct the offense, as well as Randle’s overall strength and athleticism.
Still, training camp and preseason action will provide a quick litmus test for how the pair stacks up against NBA competition and what their chemistry is like with the other members of the purple and gold.
8: How quickly can Nance and Brown contribute?
The Lakers’ other two picks from the 2015 Draft — Larry Nance, Jr. and Anthony Brown — figure to also jockey for playing time in an open rotation.
Nance brings high-flying athleticism and a defensive pedigree to the power forward spot. The 2015 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year opened eyes with his vertical jump at his Lakers predraft workout. At Summer League, he showed why those two attributes highlight his resume with a memorable swat of No. 3 overall pick Jahlil Okafor.
While Nance will have to battle an incoming veteran (Bass), a promising young talent (Randle) and a returning Laker (Ryan Kelly) for playing time, Brown has a similar crop of competition in a legendary shooting guard who plans to play some three (Bryant), an offensive jump starter (Young) and a former Defensive Player of the Year (World Peace).
But Brown, who was voted the draft class’ fourth-best shooter by his fellow rookies, also has a skill set that could promote his minutes. The Stanford product shot 44.1 percent from deep last season and was also given votes for the draft’s best defender in that offseason survey.
9: Which recent signee will stand out most?
Nineteen players will make the trip out to Honolulu, but the Lakers are only allowed to have 15 on the regular-season roster come tipoff on Oct. 28. The battles for the final roster spots promise to be heated, especially among the group of players that have signed over the last few weeks.
This crop includes fresh-out-of-college talents like Robert Upshaw, Jonathan Holmes and Frazier; an incoming Spanish Liga ACB vet, Huertas; and a former NBA champion, World Peace.
Each player brings at least one skill that could warrant an NBA roster spot. Upshaw is a 7-footer who broke Washington’s single-season blocks record in just 19 games, Holmes can space the floor with shooting and play solid defense, and Frazier has been a knockdown 3-point specialist. Meanwhile, Huertas has put his pick-and-roll prowess and court vision on display both in Europe and during international play, while World Peace’s resume speaks to the wealth of knowledge he offers L.A.’s young core.
Making a roster spot is obviously most difficult for those signed late in summer, but impressions in training camp lead to minutes in preseason, which could result in a spot with the purple and gold if taken advantage of.
10: Which preseason game is the one to watch?
Eight games lead up to the regular-season opener at the end of October, and each exhibition comes with a bit of a twist. Obviously the first two games against Utah (Oct. 4 and 6) are Lakers fans’ first glimpses at this year’s squad, while also serving as the cap to training camp in Honolulu.
A clash with Toronto follows immediately after saying aloha to Hawaii (Oct. 8), which then leads into the Lakers’ return to STAPLES Center when they welcome Maccabi Haifa from Israel (Oct. 11). Following that, L.A. heads to northern Lakers territory in Las Vegas for a bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena against Sacramento (Oct. 13).
The Lakers then head the opposite direction to take on the defending-champion Golden State Warriors in San Diego (Oct. 17). Next they return to STAPLES Center, as Davis and his new Portland squad pay a visit (Oct. 19) before L.A. concludes preseason in Anaheim with another look at the Warriors (Oct. 22).
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