It's high time for optimism surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers.
Preseason results don't matter, but the performances and lessons learned within each exhibition sure do. In other words, the Lakers continue to send off encouraging signs as the balancing act of veteran-young players continues to mesh on the hardwood.
As the Lakers iron out the kinks to dive into a Western Conference littered with sharks, there's news about how coach Byron Scott wants his team to play, positive signs about young players and good news about the latest Kobe Bryant injury.
Let's take a look.
Julius Randle's Progression and Role
Anyone familiar with the Lakers knows the plight of former Kentucky standout Julius Randle, who appeared in one game as a rookie before a season-ending injury.
Randle's back this year, though, and in a word, he looks, well, incredible. In a recent win against Maccabi Haifa, he went off for 14 points, nine boards and two assists in just over 20 minutes of action.
As a whole, his first three preseason games looked great, as the organization captured on Twitter:
Perhaps even more encouraging? Randle sounds hungry and isn't shy about pointing out where he can and wants to improve.
“I’ll keep making the simple plays and easier plays, and keep rebounding better,” Randle said, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. “I’ll take the open shot when it’s there just to keep it going. Once the season goes along, you’ll see more stuff you can work on.”
It might sound like an exaggeration now, but Randle might be the team's best all-around player by the halfway point of the season. What he's shown so far hints at taking pressure off Bryant while helping to raise the play of those around him. He's been the team's main force underneath the basket so far.
While maybe a year late, the old cliche "better late than never" certainly seems to apply.
Deep Attempts Part of the Strategy?
Thank teams such as the Golden State Warriors for this—now Scott wants to take a healthy amount of deep chances per game this season.
“We have guys that can shoot it,” he said, per Medina. “We have some guys who can knock it down.”
Scott used to be a coach against the league's increased reliance on attempts from behind the arc. It showed last year, too, as the Lakers attempted 18.9 shots per game from distance last season, hitting just 6.5.
The reason for the increase? It seems to be part keeping up with the rest of the Association and in part due to the retooling of the roster. Bryant's healthy. Lou Williams shot 34 percent from deep last year. Jordan Clarkson shot 31 percent. Nick Young, 37.
Call it the pursuit of a balanced attack. Defenses will have to account for Randle and Roy Hibbert in the paint, so if the Lakers can hit near those percentages from the outside, Scott will have his ideal offense running quite well.
It can't be comforting for observers and fans of the game in general to hear about a Bryant injury during the preseason.
Bryant's 37 years old and appeared in just 35 games a season ago, eventually shutting it down after questions about his usage. Earlier this week, he took a knee to the calf and left the team's exhibition against the Sacramento Kings.
Fortunately for the Lakers, Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times captured an encouraging bit of news from Scott:
Good news, but a harrowing development nonetheless as a reminder of Bryant's injury-riddled history over the past few seasons. The team needs his presence on the floor, especially during the preseason to develop chemistry, but the risk isn't hard to figure out.
Bryant and Scott have to figure out how to proceed. The usage disaster last year looms large over the situation already, so keep a close eye on how things develop the rest of the way before the contests that matter start to tip off soon.
All stats and info via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.