Winners and Losers from Week 2 of LA Lakers' NBA Preaseason
While some players shined in the 100-95 loss in Beijing, China, potentially securing a roster spot or earning future playing time, others wilted beneath the pressure and struggled mightily.
Coach Mike D'Antoni, who will be on the hot seat this season, is going to have his hands full when assessing his roster.
Where will new acquisitions like Nick Young, Chris Kaman and Wesley Johnson fit in? When will Kobe Bryant return from his Achilles injury? How will D'Antoni maximize the team’s potential in his uptempo offense?
These are all questions that are going to need answers from the Lakers coach. But the winners and losers of Week 2 of the preseason will help him, at least to some extent, in answering them.
Winner: Nick Young
Nick Young has come to play.
Throughout the preseason, Swaggy P has made it clear that he’s ready to become a star in Los Angeles, leading the team in scoring through the first five preseason contests.
In the first of two games against Golden State in China, Young dropped 18 points while going 7-of-10 from the field and, even more importantly, 3-of-4 from beyond the three-point arc.
Hitting shots has never been a problem for Young. Hitting shots consistently, however, has given him some trouble.
After shooting just 36 percent from downtown a season ago, Young has connected on nearly 39 percent of his three-pointers in the preseason. His ability to stretch the floor with no hesitation will serve him well in D’Antoni’s shot-happy offensive scheme this season.
He’s been trash-talking Kobe, crashing toboggans and hitting jump shots ever since he arrived in Los Angeles. And through just over the first half of preseason games, Young has shown that he and his swag are going to take over L.A. in 2013-14.
Loser: Steve Blake
Although it’s just the preseason, Steve Blake has been awful.
With Steve Nash’s health in question, the Lakers are going to have to lean heavily on Blake’s ability to run the point this season.
And after watching him through over half the preseason, that doesn’t look like it’ll bode well for Los Angeles.
Blake shot 1-of-11 while playing 27 minutes during L.A.’s 100-95 defeat in the first game of the overseas adventure, totaling just five points on the night.
That performance brought Blake’s shooting percentage down to just under an abysmal 18 percent for the preseason, and his three-point efficiency also sunk below 20 percent. He isn’t going to start, let alone play, for the Lakers at any time if this kind of shooting continues.
Despite showing the ability to score last season and shooting over 42 percent from three-point land, Blake has put himself danger of losing his current spot as Nash’s backup to Jordan Farmar.
Winner: Chris Kaman
Against the Warriors on October 15, Kaman, who has started every game he’s played in this preseason, hit all of seven of his shot attempts for 14 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and even dished out three assists.
Even before L.A.’s new center had the impressive double-double against Golden State, D’Antoni was pleased by his chemistry with Gasol, according to the Los Angeles Times. "I've not traditionally loved two bigs together," said D'Antoni, "but they have nice chemistry and they both are skilled. We'll see going forward, but it looked good last night."
Loser: Jordan Hill
Jordan Hill, who was envisioned as the Lakers' starting power forward, has been outplayed by Chris Kaman this preseason and will likely begin 2013-14 coming off the bench.
D’Antoni told the four-year veteran to work on his outside game in the offseason so that he’d be able to play him as a stretch 4, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA.
"[D’Antoni] talked about what I need to work on for this coming summer," said Hill to ESPN. "My jump shot -- he definitely wanted me to work on my outside jumper."
Hill went on to say that he’s ready to "showcase" an improved offensive game with better outside range and the ability to hit three-pointers.
So far, that’s yet to be seen.
Through the first half of the preseason, Hill has averaged three points a night on just under 29 percent shooting, and he hasn’t taken a single three-point shot.
He was held scoreless in 12 minutes off the bench against Golden State. He grabbed only a single rebound while turning the ball over four times.
There will be room for him to capture a starting spot as the regular season unwinds, but as things currently stand, it will be Kaman—not Hill—starting alongside Gasol.
Winner: Ryan Kelly
Was there anything particularly striking about Ryan Kelly’s six-point, three-rebound performance in Los Angeles’ loss to the Warriors?
Not really. But he played.
The Lakers drafted Kelly with the 48th pick in the 2013 NBA draft after watching him put up nearly 13 points and five boards a night in his senior season at Duke. But the former Blue Devil was sidelined with a foot injury that kept him out of the summer league and the beginning of the preseason.
In his NBA preseason debut, Kelly showed why Los Angeles drafted him. He hit two of his three attempts from beyond the arc and looked fluid in L.A.’s offense.
Kelly’s role should grow as the season goes on, but the fact that he saw some game action in the second week of the preseason—and played well—is a good sign for the Lakers.
Loser: Kobe Bryant
The Mamba has been disrespected.
An ESPN panel of basketball analysts ranked Kobe Bryant as the 25th-best player in the NBA. The same Kobe Bryant who averaged 27.3 points and six assists per game last season, and the same one who's going to go down as one of the greatest to ever play the game.
In addition to the mind-blowing, utterly disrespectful ranking he received, D’Antoni said this week that “it’d be tough” for his star shooting guard play on opening night due to his healing Achilles.
Bryant had said all along that he wanted to play against the Los Angeles Clippers on October 29, but it’d be unwise to rush back and risk re-aggravating the injury.
Still, it’s a blow to the Lakers that the team will be without its superstar for the beginning of the season.
When he does come back, regardless of how late in the season that may be, it’ll be with a vengeance. Bryant will prove that there aren’t 24 players better than him in the NBA—despite coming off an Achilles injury at age 35.