Preseason is when teams want to work through mistakes and identify the most pressing issues. Camps have now given way to games, which offer a different level of looking at a team’s identity. It would be asking for the impossible to have every problem identified, let alone remedied, by the end of October; the best-case scenario is to simply not carry too many from the start into the season. What should every team be asking itself during the preseason? We’ve got you covered. Today, we look at the Western Conference.
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LOS ANGELES LAKERS: The Lakers are set just about everywhere with not just good talent, but upper-echelon, All-Star talent. It’s the same at center, too, though Dwight Howard‘s arrival came with a caveat: his back and its herniated disk. The question shifts to his backups Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre, the latter a second-round pick in June from Gonzaga. Hill was an energizing force last season off the bench after his trade from Houston to L.A., and he had 10 points against Golden State in the first preseason game. And then, just like Howard, he was diagnosed with a herniated disk. Some reports have his injury as worse than Howard’s. The Lakers could survive with Sacre, whose passing is fine if unspectacular in a Princeton offense, but for how long?
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: Lamar Odom is beyond the questioning of his talent. Now back in Los Angeles after a winter of discontent in Dallas, we’re probably past questioning his attitude, too (it should be sunny). So how does he fit into the lineup for the Clippers? With DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin holding the center and power forward spots, and Caron Butler and Grant Hill good bets (though hardly set in stone) to get a majority of minutes at small forward, Odom’s minutes are likely to be from a mix of the two positions. The Clips could venture at times to a smaller lineup, with Griffin at center and Odom a PF who can stretch a defense, or bump him up to spot duty even at shooting guard for mismatches. Will be able to become the multi-position weapon he was in a Lakers uniform again in his first basketball action since last February? This preseason will go a long way toward helping coach Vinny Del Negro decide how best to use him.
PHOENIX SUNS: At shooting guard, Jared Dudley and Shannon Brown are dueling for the one job that hasn’t been claimed outright in Suns camp so far. Brown started the final 17 games of last season and averaged 15.8 points as a starter, seven more than when he came off the bench, but an improvement on wing defense is needed from him. Dudley has the edge in being able to defend more than just his position and is also more flexible with where he could fit on offense, too; he could see time at small forward even with Michael Beasley as the determined starter. If Dudley continues to shoot his career averages (47 percent from the field, 41 percent from three) he could get the edge at the two spot.
GOLDEN STATE: Will Klay Thompson‘s game be more versatile? Thompson had a very rocky start to his NBA career as a rookie last January, but became a 12.5 PPG scorer on 44 percent shooting from the field, and 41 percent from three by April. What was so interesting about his first preseason game against the Lakers wasn’t that he shot 7-of-11 from the field, but that three straight possessions he drove on Kobe Bryant to the basket. Afterward he said that “Kobe can’t move his feet as much as he used to,” which saying that alone is a sign the guard from Washington State has much more confidence. Hopefully that translates into becoming less one-dimensional as a spot-up shooter, and harder to plan for by opponents.
SACRAMENTO: When Thomas Robinson went to the Kings last June in the NBA Draft, the thought of rebound-eating lineup with DeMarcus Cousins at center and Robinson at PF kept Kings fans going nearly by itself. What else did they have to cling to, with Tyreke Evans unhappy and the Maloofs uncommitted to keeping the team around? That plan has a wrinkle now: Robinson has been playing at small forward in preseason, with Chuck Hayes and Jason Thompson taking the fours spot. Keith Smart is doing what coaches should in the preseason, which is dabble with lineups, but this appears to be less an experiment than a more permanent way to give the Kings a larger lineup. Would it hurt the rebounding of Robinson, last year’s NCAA leader, to have him closer to the three-point line than the block? We shall see.