For the Lakers, the start of training camp is a time of great joy. The newly acquired #2 pick joins the roster that was already looking promising with D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and Jordan Clarkson providing the youth movement a rebuilding franchise needs.
The meshing of all these pieces under the new head coach Luke Walton is what makes this team so exciting. From training camps to Snapchat videos to D-League staff hiring, everything is being monitored closely to see how the historic Lakers franchise will rebound and make LA great again.
That brings us all to now. On Tuesday, September 27, 2016, the Lakers officially had their first practice together. I’m here to recap the biggest things from the first 5 days and give some thoughts.
1. It’s just training camp
Lakers basketball is back. It is truly exciting for those that closely follow the team. With that in mind, it is important to not make much out of the practices and drills that the players go through. Watching Julius stroke 3 point shots in shoot around and seeing him play some pretty good defense and getting on players shouldn’t be what sets expectations. It is how all of this translates to results on the court. As Lakers fans, some of us get too ahead of ourselves so it is good to take a step back and realize that we still have to watch them in game. “So what’s the point of watching?” one might ask and the answer is quite simple. It is important to take note of things to watch for in games. It’s not like they are fighting for playing time and roster spots. The players are going 100% to impress the new coaching staff and that’s really exciting to see. It is important to manage expectations as this is still a new team. Moz and Deng were added along with a couple other camp invites, combine that with a new coaching staff and system, and you get a pretty new team and environment. So just remember, this is just training camp.
2. New environment, less problems?
With the pessimistic, apathetic ghost of a Lakers legend Byron Scott gone, the young guys are having fun. They are goofing off and listening to music. Actual current music. Not just the sound of someone crossing and uncrossing their arms. It is a lighthearted, modern way of coaching and relating to players that just wasn’t there for the Lakers last year. Especially for D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle. I mean look:
And if that didn’t have you smiling:
Yeah those are smiles and actual bonding. Building chemistry more from being with each other and enjoying every day they step on that court instead of bonding because their coach is an asshole. That doesn’t mean Luke doesn’t rip them a new one when they need it. Seeing the positive vibes coming from Luke is great to see after the endless amount of shade that Byron threw at the team. A whole new vibe is coming from the team which is great to see. Things get done, but in a much more effective way. I mean they had a freaking TALENT SHOW. Byron much be passing out from all of the softness.
3. Is this Broadway?
Yeah, the Luke Walton Lakers come with a talent show. A poodle onesie, voices cracking, and pure laughter from the vets watching. It was a sight to see for Lakers fans. Brandon Ingram sang “Diamonds” by Rihanna, Julian Jacob sang “Roar” by Katy Perry, Zubac sang “Single Ladies” by Beyonce, and Zach Auguste sang “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton. It is fun to see the goofy side of players and to hear them sing classics. It is just a preview of what is in store for this team as far as shenanigans go.
4. Defensive focus
It is no mystery that the Lakers were a horrible defensive team. They were last in defensive rating and even though they had a “defensive coach,” the team just could not stop anyone. This year the focus is clear: Offense will come, but defense needs to be a focus. Most of the drills have been defensive oriented and it is good to see in the few clips we have seen that the team looks focused. The addition of Ingram and Deng on the perimeter should help and hopefully Randle and Russell have taken steps on the defensive side of the ball. Last time we saw D’Lo, he was getting blown by T.J. McConnel in Summer League. A healthy and ready Mozgov would also go a long way to help the rim protections.
Defensive details are a HUGE focus of Lakers training camp right now (i.e. closeouts, bumping, tagging cutters, trapping, rotations, etc.)
— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) September 28, 2016
Just something to keep in mind for the the preseason. It is clear what Luke wants to have ready before the first game. He is even setting aside offense in order to prioritize defense so much:
Walton called ast night’s scrimmage “really sloppy.” But expected w/ new + young new system + not devoting much to offense yet
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) September 29, 2016
5. Shade at D’Angelo continues
First it was Byron then Nick Young, now it appears another Lakers legend is dissing the 20 year old guard. D’Angelo took the high road and played it off the way only kids with swagger could (via Grant Goldberg):
D’Angelo was used to being left hanging by B-Scott https://t.co/BVfl8Fbn6G
— Grant Goldberg (@GrantGoldberg) September 30, 2016
6. Man I hate high school bullies
Yeah, I get bullied a lot. Probably the worst part of high school. Bullies attack people who don’t defend themselves or are easy to pick on. It’s not the best thing when it happens constantly, day in day out. This probably what the current Lakers have to go through when facing Randle on 1 v 1 drills. He might as well be insulting them too because he is playing the definition of “bully ball.”
Heck, Julius was even putting in work on defense:
Randle v nance pic.twitter.com/GcDHTEpT2x
— Cuts Diagonally (@Dbishop1987) September 30, 2016
In all seriousness, it seems as if Julius is about to be unleashed this season and it will lead to everyone discovering who and what he exactly is as a basketball player, because he remains the biggest unknown on the team. His jumpshot looks much improved, but there still needs to be caution because it has not been seen in live action. Anyone can hit them at shootaround but the need to see them stroke it in a game is very important. Another thing that went rather under the radar was the fact that Randle had success bringing the ball up. He did this on some occasions last year, but this year he expects to do it far more often as Luke hops to tap into the playmaking aspect of Randle’s game that is raw, but has potential. The NBA is about to be bullied. Question is: Are they ready?
7. Russell the dictator
Leadership. Maturity. These are 2 things that some Lakers fans wanted to see out of Russell and they got some of that at camp. He was vocal. Leading his teammates to all the right spots and helping those that didn’t get it. It seems as if he has gotten the trust of his teammates 100% back and he is now ready to start the season. Everyone knows how talented Russell is as a player so it is great to see the intangibles he had in college are still there. The offseason and Summer League were kind on him as they gave him time to work out the kinks to his game. It is just practice, but getting more and more positive glimpse are equating to seeing the bright path THE Ohio State Buckeye is on.
8. In Gram we trust
Brandon Ingram has really impressed during camp and has caught my eye. Most of it is stuff that has already been seen and noted, but its great to see that it has translated well into his first camp. His length is really showing off on both sides of the ball as he impressed Luke with his defense. It should come as no surprise, as Ingram has the length to contest shots and disrupt passes, while also moving his feet. On offense, he can practically shoot and score over any defender. His step back shot has improved since we last saw it and he does seem to throw around his weight better than when he was in college. The ceiling for Ingram is so high. It is a shame that Luke is going to hold him back and start him on the bench. Hopefully, he continues to impress during the preseason. It could give him a shot to start, but in all likelihood, Deng will get the nod. Time to put your kids to bed early folks. Slenderman is coming.
9. Ben Simmons to miss at least 3 months will a foot fracture
Man this just sucks. I didn’t want to end the article without at least giving my thoughts on this because it deserves attention. Ben Simmons was supposed to be the lock for ROY this year and put up some really good numbers to increase the Sixers win total. He was supposed to help clear up the log jam as the team was going to be built around him. Embiid and Simmons were going to run for president. This all goes down the drain with the Simmons injury. At least for this year. The Sixers SHOULD NOT, under any circumstances, rush Simmons back. He should take as much time as they see fit. A Jones Fracture was the worst case scenario and it just sucks that the Australian PF has to go through all this his rookie year. He won’t get to live out his dream until much later. All that can be said is that we pray he has a speedy and successful recovery.