The Los Angeles Lakers will be one of the most under-the-microscope teams this season for a variety of reasons.
There's Kobe Bryant playing in possibly his final season, a host of promising young players trying to find chemistry together and then the dynamic between Kobe and the young guns—can the 37-year-old legend step back and let the kids play?
Los Angeles had a disappointing start to its season Wednesday night at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves, losing 112-111 despite being up 15 points in the third quarter. But there were some bright spots, like the performances of Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams and Roy Hibbert.
Let's look at a few of the storylines making news in the aftermath of Wednesday's contest and heading into Friday's game against the Sacramento Kings.
Russell Moving Back to Point Guard
D'Angelo Russell didn't have the greatest NBA debut Wednesday night, scoring just six points on 2-of-7 shooting in 26 minutes. He played more of an off-the-ball role with Clarkson as the lead guard, but Bryant said that will change, per the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina.
The point guard position is a more natural fit for the 19-year-old Russell, who excels at making plays off the bounce, especially in the pick-and-roll.
But will this change merely fix one problem to create another? Giving Russell some freedom to handle the ball will definitely help him be more productive on offense, but Clarkson isn't a natural spot-up player, either. The second-year guard out of the Missouri Tigers will likely see his comfort level decrease if he and Russell do indeed switch positions.
The dynamic between these two, along with Bryant, Williams and Nick Young, could end up defining Los Angeles' 2015-16 season. Each of the five perimeter players likes the ball in his hands a lot and prefers to create his own offense, but there's only one ball to go around.
If head coach Byron Scott can get two or three of those guys to alter their play style and concede some ball-handling responsibilities, the Lakers should be in pretty good shape. But, if not, it's going to be a long season in the City of Angels.
Scott Wants Fewer Threes for Kobe
Speaking of tough season openers, Bryant definitely wasn't at his best against the Timberwolves. He started the game a very solid 8-of-16 from the field but missed his final eight shots and didn't record his first assist until there were only 31 seconds left in the game.
What was especially concerning to Scott, however, was Kobe's 3-of-13 mark from three-point range. The Lakers head coach prefers his aging star to operate closer to the basket, per Medina.
"If he’s making [threes], he can take 13," Scott said. "That’ll be great. I don’t know if there’s an ideal number. What we talked about earlier is to get to those three spots — the post, mid post and elbow area — a little bit more. He can be more effective down there.”
Bryant shot just 29.3 percent from three last season, but a very high percentage of those were difficult, contested attempts. If he cuts down on those and follows Scott's directives, he can operate as a proficient playmaker and occasional shot-maker from the post.
Ideally, Kobe will cut down on his shots overall, not just from three. He's a gifted passer when he decides to dish the ball and even the threat of him scoring can create space for teammates, so he and the Lakers will need to take better advantage of that this season.
Lakers Are Impressed by Randle's Toughness
Not many rookies would be bold enough to talk back to Kevin Garnett after the 39-year-old trash-talking big man got in their face. But Randle did just that against the Wolves on Wednesday night.
In doing so, the 20-year-old forward gained the respect of his team, per Medina.
"I do like the fact that Julius doesn’t back down," Scott said. "He’ll keep that aggressive attitude on both ends of the floor. All these guys get a reputation the first couple of years. Hopefully he’ll be one of the guys that’s fearless, tough, competitive, physical type guys.”
"He’s laying the foundation," Kobe added. "He wants to build his reputation around the league. He’s certainly doing that. He’s not intimidated by anybody."
Unlike many of the league's tough guys, Randle (like Garnett) actually has quite a bit of skill. At 6'9" and 250 pounds, he possesses broad shoulders, plus the strength and ability to be a huge factor down low. He had 15 points and 11 boards in the contest against the Wolves.
If Randle achieves even close to as much as Garnett has achieved throughout his career, that would be huge for the Lakers' rebuild.