D’Angelo Russell’s playmaking and other takeaways from Lakers’ preseason opener – Orange County Register
When it comes to making observations from preseason play – especially the first game – prudence is important to practice.
It’s the first basketball game teams have played in four-to-six months.
Rhythm needs to be reestablished. Rotations and lineups need to be sorted out. And oftentimes, teams’ best players either play limited minutes or don’t play at all. Both were the case for the Lakers in Saturday’s 125-108 loss to the Golden State Warriors: LeBron James and Austin Reaves were healthy scratches, while Anthony Davis and D’Angelo Russell didn’t play in the second half.
But that doesn’t make the games meaningless.
They offer the first insights into how a team is gelling after the offseason and training camp. Strengths, areas of improvements and players ready for breakout seasons can show themselves.
“Obviously, it’s the preseason, so kinda wanted to let guys get their beak wet a little bit,” coach Darvin Ham said. “But overall, there’s definitely some things we need to clean up. That’s usually the case after a first preseason game. It was good to play against some foreign competition, and a lot of guys get up and down in a game setting.
“Overall, I’m pleased. We definitely have some things we need to clean up a little bit. But I like the makeup of our group.”
Here are three takeaways from the Lakers’ preseason opener, with their next game coming against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday in Las Vegas:
If there were any doubts about what Russell could provide after his struggles in last season’s Western Conference finals, Saturday was a quick reminder of how he can help the Lakers – especially on the offensive end.
He finished with 15 points (6-of-10 shooting, 2 for 3 from 3-point range) and five assists in 15 first-half minutes.
But more impressive than Russell’s stat line was the way he toggled between setting up scoring opportunities for his teammates and creating his own looks as a ball handler.
“D-Lo did a great job of being methodical in our middle pick-and-roll,” Ham said.
Entering his ninth NBA season, Russell’s seen pretty much every defensive coverage and can operate in a myriad of ways – off and on the ball.
But Saturday was a reminder of the playmaking he can bring, especially when James and Reaves aren’t on the floor.
Second-year guard Max Christie’s play during summer league made it clear he may be ready for a larger role on the Lakers.
His play in the preseason opener only backed that up.
Christie (15 points on 6-of-10 shooting in 25 minutes) found his rhythm in the third quarter once Russell and Davis were no longer playing.
The muscle he’s added to his frame is evident and it’s helped him become more comfortable attacking off the dribble, either going to his pull-up in the midrange or getting all the way to the rim.
“His ability to score, toughness, defend – he does it all,” Davis said. “Ultimate confidence. There’s a lot of things you can say about Max. He’s putting it together. He knows where to pick his spots on the floor, where he’s going to score, where to make the right plays. And just being aggressive. We’re going to need that from him at some point this season.
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Davis’ jump shot has come into focus since his 3-point accuracy and 3-point attempts have regressed over the last few seasons.
Consider Saturday a step in the right direction.
Davis (15 points on 6-of-11 shooting to go with five rebounds in 13 minutes) knocked down two of his three 3-point attempts. But the accuracy wasn’t the only encouraging part.
There wasn’t any hesitation in letting it fly from beyond the arc when the Warriors sagged off of him defensively.
“It’s no different [from last season],” Davis said. “The way our spacing is, new plays that we implemented, and I was open. That’s really it. Our guards did a good job of penetrating the defense and finding the right guys. As long as they keep putting pressure on the defense and keep getting downhill, all them types of shots will be open and not just for me but for all our guys.”
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