Anthony Davis makes the pass in practice

Training Camp Roundup

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

With four Lakers practices in the books, here’s a roundup of what you need to know:

Trevor Ariza has been dealing with a sore ankle throughout the week, which has kept him from participating fully in every practice. He won’t play on Sunday against Brooklyn as a precaution, but Frank Vogel said this is not an issue they’re worried about moving forward.

“Right now he’s still out with the sore ankle,” said Vogel. “We’re in the process of evaluating that day-to-day.”

The Lakers have six preseason games this season, and Frank Vogel said they’re going to try and be smart with some of their veterans in terms of game action. As such, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony will watch the Nets game in street clothes, alongside Ariza. Vogel will address their availability for the next game in the coming days, but all have looked good physically in camp thus far.

“Those guys are still playing at a super-high level because of how they take care of their bodies,” he said, including his other vets like Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan and Rajon Rondo. “I think that’s shown up with the first three days of really good practices where they have their legs under them. They came into camp in shape. It’s (a credit) to all those guys. Nobody showed up to try and use camp to get in shape. They’ve done their work.”

Having four months instead of the two the Lakers had between their Oct. 11, 2020 title and Dec. 11, 2020 start of the next preseason has made a big difference.

“I've understood and I've said it numerous times, that the season came too fast for everyone - not only us and the Heat that played in the Finals but everyone that was a part of the bubble and things of that nature,” explained LeBron. “But the four months that we've had to kind of just recalibrate, just get back to obviously some rest but also just getting your mind back fresh. Able to spend a lot of time with your family and friends and things of that nature, but also put a lot of work in. Get healthy, that you weren't able to do in that short period of time from the bubble to the start of last season. I think everybody's going to benefit from that.”

Vogel said that a starting lineup has yet to be ironed out, and we may not have a good idea about opening night starters until the fifth preseason game … outside of his three stars, of course. And yet, we’ve had a few hints as to how things might look, even if the rotation could be fluid throughout the season. The biggest question is how often Davis will start at the 5 instead of the 4. He’ll play both positions throughout the season, but will close most games at the 5 regardless of how LAL start.

Vogel and VP of Basketball Ops Rob Pelinka have both mentioned that with DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard, the Lakers can simulate their center rotation from that title season, adding that Davis will play more 5 than he did in 2020-21.

A traditional starting lineup could look like this: Westbrook, Kent Bazemore, LeBron, Davis and DeAndre. Jordan mentioned after Saturday’s practice that he’s played in lineups alongside Davis in practice. In that alignment, Jordan said his job is to work the dunker spot and look for passes and lobs at the rim, as well as trying to space out all the way to the corner three spot, trying to keep defenses from clogging the paint.

A bench rotation when L.A. go big could be composed of Kendrick Nunn, Wayne Ellington, Talen Horton-Tucker, ‘Melo and Howard. Ellington, the team’s best shooter, could certainly claim the starting two guard spot as well, though Bazemore has the edge defensively.

“K Nunn, Baze and DJ have picked up some things,” said LeBron. “They’ve been playing really good ball for us. Just learning our system pretty fast.”

Now, Ariza could certainly break into either the starting lineup or the bench rotation, as could Malik Monk. Rajon Rondo is always there to run a unit on a rainy day, as well, with undrafted signee Austin Reaves occupying the 14th roster spot.

In lineups where Davis starts at the five, either Jordan or Howard would likely sit that night, leaving more minutes for an extra perimeter player. Ellington could pair with Bazemore, or a healthy Ariza could provide some more size and rebounding from the three spot with one of the two SG’s.

Regardless, it’ll be the three stars with whoever best complements them, and that night’s game plan, on the floor when it matters.

Since the moment he took over as head coach, Frank Vogel has emphasized the importance on protecting the rim on one end, and putting pressure on the rim on the other. He’s never taken for granted the presence of LeBron and AD towards that end, as they’re two of the few superstars in the league that can truly impact the rim on both ends. Bigs like Jordan and Howard provide vertical spacing on offense and certainly block shots on defense. But the biggest addition to the rim angle this season will come on offense, courtesy of Westbrook.

“Russell Westbrook is just dynamic,” said Vogel. “He continues to impress every practice with what he’s able to generate with his downhill engine, and that’s really exciting.”

Westbrook ranked 8th amongst guards with his 6.0 FGA’s per game within 5 feet, just below LeBron’s 6.7. Westbrook also ranked 6th in the NBA in made layups, with 236, a number that doesn’t include dunks.

The Lakers finished second in the NBA in fastbreak points during their championship season (17.6), and want to get back to it after a down year (13.2, ranking 11th in 2020-21). LeBron’s certainly on board.

“We definitely want to get back to running,” he said. “I think that’s the best thing we can do this year, our ability to get out and run. Obviously, Russ is always Top 5 in pace in our league, so being able to use that to our advantage is going to be beneficial to our overall offense.”

The Lakers managed to lead the NBA in defensive efficiency last year despite all of the games missed by LeBron and AD, and Vogel rightfully got a lot of the credit. This offseason, he lost some strong defensive players on the perimeter (Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma), and said this when asked about the defense so far:

“Not good enough, but plenty of positives,” he offered. “The effort has been really off the charts, for practice sessions. The care factor, all the ingredients that you need (are there). Obviously, it’s going to be a bit sloppy, there have been some missed coverages and things you need to tighten up. But the effort and focus on that side of the ball has been off the charts, and as long as you have that, we can clean up all the details.”

Carmelo Anthony transitioned to a bench role last year in Portland after starting for nearly his entire career, and he confirmed after Friday’s practice that he’s not worried about that whole conversation.

Indeed, Anthony’s most likely role is as the backup power forward, where he can stretch the floor on offense, and punish smaller defenders on switches. Regardless, Vogel said he wants ‘Melo highly involved.

“All still to be determined, but I told him I envision a big role on this team,” said Vogel. “He’s gonna be a factor for us. We lost shooting in the trade with KCP and Kuz going out, and I feel like this is the time for him to have a significant role.”

Generally speaking, Anthony said he’s been very impressed with the amount of work that’s being put in, and how focused his new teammates are.

When asked what he’s noticed most about Frank Vogel so far, Anthony said that his new coach has been “very clear on the offensive end, very clear on the defensive end, very clear with roles, and I think when you can establish that early, (things) will be fine.”

Vogel said that’s what he’s there for.

“That to me is my job, to bring clarity to in particular our coverages on the defensive end,” he said. “The more decisiveness they have, the less indecision they have about what is supposed to happen, the more aggressive they are going to be. I have seen that – some of the guys that are more known as offensive guys are really understanding what we’re trying to do on the defensive end.”

The most famous Chicago product on the Lakers roster is, of course, Anthony Davis. But L.A.’s roster has a pair of young guys from Chi-Town, two guys that happened to go to the same high school: Simeon Career Academy. Kendrick Nunn helped the basketball powerhouse with alums like Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker to four straight state titles from 2009-12. A couple years later, it was Talen Horton-Tucker’s turn at Simeon, and he led the Wolverines to three straight city championships.

“I think when Talen was in high school I was in college and didn’t go back much, but all my friends and my circle was still connected there, and I used to go back sometimes and that’s where we connected a little bit,” said Nunn. “It’s a DNA. It’s in your blood, man. Kind of a Midwest thing.”


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