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    Analysis: 3 takeaways from Lakers’ 2023-24 preseason
    • October 21, 2023

    The Lakers’ 2023-24 preseason is now behind them after Thursday’s loss to the Phoenix Suns, with the focus now turning toward Tuesday’s regular-season opener against the Denver Nuggets in Colorado.

    While experimentation and varying player availability makes it difficult to learn too many lessons, the exhibition games aren’t meaningless and observations can be made.

    Here are three takeaways from the Lakers’ preseason:

    Fifth starter

    Going into training camp, the competition for the fifth and final starting spot – alongside LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves and D’Angelo Russell – was expected to be between Rui Hachimura, Taurean Prince and Jarred Vanderbilt.

    It appears the competition came down to Prince and Vanderbilt.

    Prince started all three of the exhibition games when the other four known starters were available. But Vanderbilt, a starter during the team’s run to the Western Conference finals last year, missed five consecutive games because of left heel soreness.

    Before the loss to the Suns, Ham wouldn’t confirm whether Russell, Reaves, Prince, James and Davis would be the starting unit against the Nuggets, mentioning that forward Vanderbilt wasn’t available Thursday.

    Prince and Vanderbilt bring different skill sets to the group. Prince is the better shooter and scorer. Vanderbilt has the edge as the better overall defender and rebounder.

    But the Lakers appear to be confident in either option.

    “They’re two totally different players and bring totally different things,” Reaves said. “What’s similar about them is they both play the game the right way, know how to fit in with any group and I think it all stays the same. Play the right way, make the extra pass.

    “We’ve got a lot of talent on the court. Whoever it is or whatever lineup we have on the court in any given moment, we feel comfortable with what we got.”

    Jaxson Hayes’ play

    There might not have been a Lakers player who benefited more from the preseason than Jaxson Hayes, the 6-foot-11 big man they signed as a free agent during the offseason.

    Hayes wasn’t the only player who had standout moments or games during the exhibitions.

    Russell’s scoring and playmaking shined, as did his increased commitment to the defensive end. Davis, James, Reaves and Prince were among the players who had strong moments.

    But most of the other players’ roles were either defined or seemed to be clear before training camp even started.

    Before camp, there were questions about how Hayes would get consistent playing time in light of the team’s other frontcourt options.

    But his interior activity and efficiency on both ends of the court might make it difficult for Ham not to reward Hayes with consistent playing time. Hayes also flashed good passing skills for a player of his size.

    “He was phenomenal,” Davis said. “Catching in the pocket and making the right plays, finishing, protecting the rim, everything that we want out of him and more. Hustling. Things that can [be] better. But for the most part, he was phenomenal.”

    Transition defense

    Transition defense was a notable deficiency for the Lakers last season, and they still feel that’s one of the team’s biggest areas of concern heading into the regular season.

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    “We’ve struggled a little bit [with] transition defense throughout these [preseason] games,” Reaves said. “That comes with energy, effort and also playing alongside each other longer. Having that unspoken chemistry of kind of just knowing where someone’s going to be, rotations and stuff like that.”

    To Davis, the solution for their transition defensive woes is simple.

    “That’s all it really is: effort and communication,” Davis said. “Those are the two biggest things. Hustling back, running back and realizing that you don’t have a man in transition. You’re not going to your man, you have to find a man and just match up from there. Getting back, not running alongside your man and then communicating.”

    ​ Orange County Register