AD in China

Lakers Experiment With Differing Lineups

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

On the first day of Lakers practice, Frank Vogel promised to experiment with his lineups throughout the preseason.

Well, after three games, we know Vogel meant what he said, as he used a different groups of starters in the first three games, with only foundational stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis a constant.

Since the players and coaches did not do media sessions while the Lakers and Nets were in China, we’ve yet to hear Vogel’s reflections upon the various units, but he’ll surely talk on Monday in advance of that evening’s game against GSW at Staples.

However, we did get to watch how the units played together. Below are a series of observations of each group in respective first quarters:

Game 1
(123-101 W at GSW): Avery Bradley, Danny Green, LeBron, AD and JaVale McGee

  • This group shot out of an offseason cannon with some real gusto, immediately jumping all over the Warriors, and leading by as many as 18 points in the period. Davis was completely dominant (Vogel called him a “monster” after the game) right from the tip. He had 17 of LAL’s 33 points, on 7 of 11 FG’s, including three dunks, and he added seven boards.

  • Bradley appeared a good fit in this group, able to focus on defending Stephen Curry, and tracking the star guard all over the court. With the presence of LeBron, you don’t need playmaking from the “PG” spot, and LeBron initiated much of the offense, totaling five dimes.

  • McGee was active and effective on both ends, going for six points and six points, his three buckets (predictably) at the rim. It’s a luxury to have his length and explosiveness on the floor next to AD and LeBron, both of whom attract so much attention on offense that there’s always a lob opportunity on the weak side.
    Green had three FGA’s, all from 3, which is what LAL want. He made one, and was effective defensively chasing D’Angelo Russell (1 of 4 FG’s in the 1st) around.

  • LAL held the Warriors to 9 of 27 FG’s (33.3%), while hitting 48.3% on the other end. With their big line up, they controlled the glass 18-11.

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Game 2
(111- 114 L at BKN in Shanghai): Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, LeBron, AD and Dwight Howard

  • LAL started strong, reaching an 8-2 edge with Rondo’s triple off AD’s kick out, and they led up until Brooklyn tied it up at 21 on two Spencer Dinwiddie FT’s. Rondo had some trouble containing the slippery Dinwiddie, who scored 10 points in the period to pace BKN.

  • LeBron and AD both had 10 points, LeBron behind a pair of 3’s, and Davis almost exclusively at the FT line (8 of 9). Both were sharp and got whatever they wanted on O.

  • Howard had three boards and a block, and ably filled the role required as a paint presence. At this stage of his career, he doesn’t quite have the same pop and athleticism, of course, and McGee later provided that off the bench in totaling five blocks and three steals plus 10 boards in 18 minutes.

  • KCP was solid defensively and hit 1 of 2 FG’s on the other end. He’d been playing well in practice throughout the week. Most around the team assume Green will get the nod over KCP in the regular season, but he’ll be a key part of the rotation.

  • LeBron left at the 8-minute mark, leaving the final four for Davis, then returned to start the 2nd Q as Davis rested. Gotta like the idea of staggering the stars minutes at times, as the presence of either puts so much pressure on the defense.
The Lakers again controlled the glass, 11-6, though they had seven turnovers to BKN’s five.

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Game 3
(77-91 vs BKN in Shenzhen): Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Danny Green, LeBron and AD

  • The fact that Vogel started the third preseason game with Davis at the 5 says something about all the offseason chatter. While Davis himself confirmed that he prefers the 4, he also acknowledged that he’ll definitely play the 5 at times. We likely won’t see him start that many games at center, but he’ll probably close quite a few games in that spot.

  • This unit started slowly, in part due to two early turnovers from Rondo and ensuing transition opportunities from the Nets, but quickly responded with a 9-0 run to lead 9-7 at the 6:30 mark. Davis got things going with two blocks on defense, then a layup and his first 3 of the preseason on the other end.

  • Danny Green was excellent defensively both on and off the ball, highlighted by a pair of blocks at the rim when he crashed over from the weak side, though he missed all three triples he attempted. He wasn’t alone there, as L.A. hit just 5 of 32 3’s on the evening. International fatigue, perhaps?

  • Brooklyn managed a 5-0 run to take a 20-15 lead in the final minute, until LAL scored four points in the final 10 seconds, on a defensive 3-second FT from Davis, and a buzzer-beating corner 3 from Alex Caruso that made it a 1-point game.

  • LeBron and AD played the entire 12 minutes, both going just 2 for 7 from the field amidst a bunch of easy misses that won’t happen often. James had four assists, and Davis the two blocks, while each grabbed three boards.
The defense was solid: BKN managed just 8 of 21 FG’s (3 of 10 from 3) and got to the line only once, and also were turned over eight times by the Lakers.

In sum, each of the units had their moments, but the original starting five at Golden State was the best.

Yet, how much of that was because of the energy and excitement to get things going in the opener after a long offseason, vs. the challenge of playing in China after a long trip, one’s body expected to go full speed during typical sleeping hours (It’s 7:30 p.m. in China when it’s 4:30 a.m. in Los Angeles)?

Vogel has three more games to tinker with his starters, not to mention his reserves, who’ve been without Kyle Kuzma (stress reaction, left ankle), Quinn Cook (sore left calf) and Jared Dudley (sore right quad).

We’ll see how much more experimenting the new head coach does, and when he decides to pick a group ahead of the Oct. 22 season opener.

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