The Los Angeles concluded their shortened training camp on Friday, as they are set to open up their six-game preseason slate against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
For second-year head coach Luke Walton, he will face a tough challenge of coaching a new-look team that made some key additions this offseason, including drafting four rookies in Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Thomas Bryant, trading for former All-Star center Brook Lopez and adding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Andrew Bogut in free agency.
They will be without some of those players Saturday night though as both Lopez and Hart will miss the game due to injury and Bogut won’t be in action as he continues to work out his work visa.
With the Lakers being one of the worst defensive teams in the league last year much of Walton’s focus on training camp was on that end of the floor, as he hasn’t even installed any of the team’s half-court offense yet going into the first game. But with such a talented point guard like Ball who has an ability to get his teammates open looks, that may not be too much of an issue.
It will be interesting to see how the Lakers gel together though as Walton admitted that they have looked sloppy so far in scrimmages, although that is expected with a new team.
They face an immediate challenge in the new-look Timberwolves though, who added Jimmy Butler, Jamal Crawford, Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson this offseason to their already impressive young core led by Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
Both teams feature completely new starting backcourts from a season ago, with Ball and Caldwell-Pope squaring off against two former All-Stars in Butler and Teague.
Butler was one of the biggest stars to change teams this offseason, as Minnesota gave up three promising young players in Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen to get him. Butler averaged career-bests across the board last season at 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists with the Chicago Bulls.
For the Lakers, a lot of their offense will run through the rookie Ball, who will be seeing his first true NBA action. Ball was impressive for the Lakers in the Las Vegas Summer League though, taking home MVP honors and leading the Lakers to a championship.
Another interesting backcourt battle to keep an eye on will be between two of the better sixth men in the league in Jordan Clarkson and Crawford.
Crawford is a three-time Sixth Man of the Year award winner, which is a goal that Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson set for Clarkson this season.
Crawford is coming off one of his worst career seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers last year though so it will be interesting to see if he is able to bounce back in Minnesota or if at 37-years-old he is nearing the end of the line.
With Lopez out of Saturday’s contest, Larry Nance Jr. will likely get the start at center in his place. He will have the difficult matchup of facing off against one of the league’s bright young stars in Towns. Last season Towns averaged 25.1 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists, which were all improvements from his rookie season.
Another frontcourt matchup between young players with a lot of potential will be between Brandon Ingram and Wiggins. Expectations are sky-high for Ingram this season after he showed improvement in the second half of last season and then came out and scored 26 in his lone summer league game.
Ingram has been very impressive so far in training camp, developing into one of the team’s leaders. He said himself that he will look to be more aggressive this season, beginning Saturday night. Johnson said he expects Ingram to average 20 points per game this season, so the Lakers will look to him to get their offense going, especially in Lopez’s absence.
Wiggins has proven to be one of the best young scorers in the league, averaging 23.6 points per game in his third season. He also has the length and athleticism to bother Ingram defensively so he will present a good challenge for Ingram on both ends of the floor.
With both Lopez and Bogut out of Saturday’s contest, it should give some young Lakers players an opportunity to get some minutes and prove what they are capable of. Among the players that could see time are rookies Kyle Kuzma and Thomas Bryant, and second-year man Ivica Zubac.
Kuzma has been extremely impressive so far since being drafted with the 27th overall pick out of Utah, as he took home Summer League Championship Game MVP honors. He could end up being one of the biggest steals of this past draft.
Three Keys To Victory:
Defense Defense Defense: Most of the Lakers training camp focus was on the defensive end of the floor, and rightfully so as they ranked dead last in defensive efficiency last season. Facing a Timberwolves team that has a lot of talented scorers will be a tough challenge in the first preseason game, but the addition of Caldwell-Pope should help tremendously on that end of the floor.
Get the ball to Ball: Walton has instructed his big men early in camp that for now he wants them to get the ball to a point guard as quick as possible after getting rebounds as opposed to taking the ball up the floor themselves. Getting the ball in the rookie Ball’s hands will allow the Lakers to get out in transition, leading to easy buckets so if they are able to do that they will have immediate success offensively despite not working on a single half-court set yet.
Show what you can do: The Lakers made a lot of changes this offseason so there will be a lot of fresh faces in the purple and gold, so preseason is all about showing the coaching staff, front office and fans what you are capable of to earn a spot in the rotation. And for the returning guys, it has been reported all summer how hard they’ve worked this summer so they have a lot to prove in terms of their development as well.
Los Angeles Lakers (0-0) Vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (0-0)
7:00 P.M. PST, October, 1, 2017
Honda Center, Anaheim, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet, NBA TV
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/ 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Timberwolves Starting Lineup:
PG: Jeff Teague
SG: Jimmy Butler
SF: Andrew Wiggins
PF: Gorgui Dieng
C: Karl-Anthony Towns
Key Reserves: Jamal Crawford, Shabazz Muhammad, Taj Gibson, Justin Patton, Tyus Jones, Aaron Brooks
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Julius Randle
C: Larry Nance Jr.
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac, Corey Brewer, Luol Deng, Tyler Ennis