After an extremely long and eventful off-season, the Los Angeles Lakers finally took the court as they began their 2015-16 preseason. The Lakers played three games in the first week, two against the Utah Jazz and one against the Toronto Raptors. Even though the team failed to get a win, there were still many things that have Lakers fans excited.
A number of players have looked good so far. Veterans such as Roy Hibbert and Lou Williams have impressed while some young prospects like Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle have given fans hope for both the present and the future. Kobe Bryant looking rejuvenated is always a good thing as well.
Many questions that fans had about the team have also begun to get answered as well. Everyone is now able to see how Kobe looks playing small forward, how the team will look on defense, and what roles all of the new additions will have.
With that said, we asked our experts who or what has impressed them the most so far during the preseason. This is what they had to say:
Ryan Ward (@Lakers_Examiner): There hasn’t been one player in particular that has stuck out to me during the first three games of the preseason. I’ve been more impressed by the ball movement and chemistry this team is building in such a short amount of time.
It would be easy to say Julius Randle has shown some promise and Kobe Bryant has played better than anticipated in a different kind of role, but I believe the team as a whole has been most impressive thus far. Unlike the last few seasons, the ball is moving and rarely sticks. The offensive possessions in the past were painfully predictable.
The ball would come up the court and end up in Kobe’s hands. Bryant would then hold the ball way too long and force up an ill-advised shot. The rest of the team would stand around the perimeter and watch as Kobe struggled to return to his dominant form on offense.
This year the team already taking a much different approach. Although there’s still a lot of work to be done, the Lakers are making progress with everyone on the floor getting involved and clearly motivated to make an impact heading into the 2015-16 NBA season.
Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane): It may be something of a no-brainer after the last two preseason games, but Julius Randle has been the most impressive Laker thus far. In Summer League and in the first preseason game against the Jazz we saw Randle struggle to finish at the rim and try to force the action too much. He was clearly trying to cram as much action as possible into his time on the court, and the results weren’t pretty.
However, in his next two games we saw an entirely different player. This Julius Randle carefully chose his moments to attack, and read the defense prior to acting. Consequently he found lanes opening up for him to drive, and was put in better spots to take advantage of his impressive athleticism. On a few plays we saw Randle use his extremely quick first step to leave defenders in the dust, yet he still maintains the brute strength needed to finish through contact.
When the shot wasn’t there he drew defenders and then dished to open teammates, including one incredible play that saw him go behind his back around a defender at mid court, and then hit Kobe Bryant in stride for a three.
It was sheer brilliance.
Meanwhile, he was engaged defensively, shifting onto guards seamlessly and pressuring in a manner that was eerily reminiscent of his mentor, Metta World Peace. It was this kind of two-way performance that Lakers fans have been praying for.
For months we have heard rave reviews of Randle coming out of Lakers practice, but not seen that translate on the court, until now. While he still needs to improve his jump shot, Julius Randle has given Lakers fans a lot to be excited about.
Corey Hansford (@TheeCoreyH): Maybe it is because my expectations for him were relatively low, but I have been extremely impressed with Roy Hibbert so far in the preseason. The great thing about Hibbert is that his impact stretches beyond just himself, but to the whole team.
Hibbert has been very energetic and engaged on both ends of the floor. He is a constant presence on the defensive end, challenging shots at the rim and making life more difficult for the opposition. He has also been better on the boards than I expected, especially on the offensive glass where his activity has been contagious.
The best thing about Hibbert is that his presence and communication on the backend of the defense has forced the rest of the team to really lock down on that end. Not that the Lakers are going to be shutting down teams regularly this season, but are really locking into guys and getting in the passing lanes. When players fail to make the rotation, Hibbert holds them accountable and the rest of the team doesn’t want to let him down.
Probably my favorite thing I have seen from any player so far was Hibbert jumping up to defend Julius Randle after Trevor Booker pushed him. The Lakers haven’t had a big man be a real enforcer in a long time and Hibbert being willing to step up and defend any of his teammates will bring everyone closer.
Hibbert is impressing me as much because of his play on the court, though that has been surprising as well, but because I truly believe he’s changing the mindset of the team. The results may not show themselves immediately, but the long-term impact he could have on the Lakers is outstanding.
Jabari Davis (@JabariDavisNBA): The most impressive player so far has to be the big man Julius Randle.
Fellow “sophomore” Jordan Clarkson looks stronger and even more poised by the day as he continues to answer questions about whether his second-half performance as a rookie was due to simply producing for a bad team. Veteran Roy Hibbert has also shown plenty of encouraging signs this preseason for those that wondered whether he could return to his All-Star form of just a couple seasons ago, but Randle is probably the player that came into the season with the most questions about just how effective he would be at this level?
The 20-year-old has already made a believer out of teammates that are able to compete against him on a daily basis, and now both his physical transformation and the continued evolution of his overall game have been on display for the rest of the world. From tracking and snatching rebounds in traffic to bullying his way through the lane for a powerful finish at the rim, Randle appears to be finding the more and more confidence in his body as he continues to round into form following last year’s injury.
His outside shot remains a work-in-progress, but he looks far more comfortable taking them and his willingness to do so will make a difference in the way opposing players are able to defend him. He may be a bit overly reliant upon finishing with and toward his left hand at this stage, but he’s already shown signs that he’s at least attempting to become comfortable with drives and finishes to his right.
There’s no mistaking his potential to be very good at this level if health permits, but what’s most impressive is the fact that it still appears that Randle has plenty of room for further improvement. That should actually be the scary thing for opposing teams over the next few years of his development.