The Lakers opened their 2018 preseason with a 124-107 loss against the Denver Nuggets in San Diego. I’ve never been a fan of preseasons in any sports and hardly put any stock into the results, but I do understand why they have it. It’s to shake off the rust, slowly get up to game speed, and adapt to playing with new teammates. The results hardly, if ever, translate to the regular season, but you can always take some positives and negatives away from the teams that may translate. Here are the biggest ones from Sunday evening for the Lakers.
The ‘MUD’ Impressed
LeBron James titled the free agent group of Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley, and Lance Stephenson ‘MUD,’ which stands for ‘misunderstood, under-appreciated, determined.’ And it’s a fitting one because outside people scoffed at, or were confused, by the signings. The quartet is viewed as misfits for various reasons- hot-headed (Rondo), off-court distraction (Beasley), or just clowns (McGee and Stephenson). But maybe they have become a bit misunderstood: McGee and Beasley were really good last year, Rondo is a championship-caliber player, and Stephenson has some talent.
And in their first audition, ‘MUD’ looked great. Beasley only played in six minutes because he had to leave due to a head laceration. But in that limited time, the lefty quickly scored four points, including making his only three-point attempt. Stephenson scored twelve points on four of five shooting, including making his only three-pointer. And the veteran had some nice individual plays, creating a few off-the-dribble jumpers.
JaVale McGee looked really good in his first game in purple and gold. In just 20 minutes, the center scored 17 points and collected seven rebounds, and provided a lob threat inside for the team. And Rondo had a Rajon Rondo game, scoring just two points but dishing out 11 assists to only two turnovers, and collecting seven rebounds in 23 minutes of play. Included in his night was a nice play where he was camped out near the baseline on the left side of the basket, took a pass from Lebron James at the top of the key behind the three-point line, and played hot potato with it, quickly dishing it to JaVale McGee on the other side of the paint for the easy basket. That is the type of unselfishness, vision, and IQ that Rondo will bring to the team.
Brandon Ingram Continued to Impress
Brandon Ingram took a significant step forward in his sophomore, and in doing so, started to validate his status as the 2016 second overall pick and became the Lakers’ most attractive young asset. His continued development will be crucial to how Los Angeles’ season pans out because he will be expected to be the team’s second-best player. And the 21-year-old started off strong, scoring 14 points in 27 minutes on 50% shooting, and collecting four rebounds.
He showed off his tremendous length and improved body control on a fastbreak drive to the rim. Ingram played mainly off the ball, and that is where most of his baskets came from, and his impressive play caught the eye of his teammate LeBron James.
“I find rhythm with anybody that is very energetic offensively, and that’s a guy who moves without the ball, and my first assist was to him,” James said of Ingram. “They just move it on the weak side, and I was able to deliver a pass to him.”
And Ingram will need to continue to learn to play more off-the-ball as long as Rondo and James are on the court. If Sunday evening was a sign, he will do just fine.
Lakers Need a Backup Center
JaVale McGee will assume starting duties as the Lakers’ center, and he looked like he will fit in just fine. The veteran brings an entirely different aspect to the game than Brook Lopez. He can’t shoot or score like Lopez, but he is more athletic, a much better rebounder, and is a presence inside the paint, both on offense and defense.
But after him, the team is shallow. Rookie Mo Wagner is out for the rest of the preseason and Ivica Zubac was disappointing. Because of the lack of depth, Kyle Kuzma was learning to play center. 6’9 Kyle Kuzma. That just shows the position the Lakers are in, and the Achilles heel showed, as Nikola Jokic took everyone who guarded him, to task.
You don’t always want to rely on a late first-round pick rookie (Wagner) to be such a significant role player, so if the more experienced Zubac does not take a step forward and become a dependable backup, the front office may have to look outside the organization to address the problem.