Rookies in Preseason

There are two rookies in the Western conference who are already making the draft critics question every decision maker in charge of an NBA team; Donovan Mitchell and Kyle Kuzma.  Luckily, their teams matched up this past week and they played some decent minutes.  Let’s analyze some of their actions in the 1st half to see what the fuss is all about.  In this exposure, we are pointing out plays that showcase why they will succeed in the NBA and what they’ll have to work on.  It’s good practice to watch game film closely and scrutinize what the young guys are doing on both sides of the ball.  That being said, we didn’t watch the entire game with Hawkeyes and this analysis is incomplete as a full report.


DM doesn’t start this game, nor will he in the regular season if UTA is healthy (a challenge last year).  He’s the first guard off the bench, coming in to play the SG slot.


Eager to deny KCP on the wing and gets pushed away on the catch, allowing KCP to operate in tons of space on the right side of the court.  With Gobert patrolling the paint behind him, this gamble doesn’t look as bad on the surface but it’s a bad habit and poor decision.  Since Nance entered the ball to KCP, DM should know that his side of the floor is empty and the best course of action is to play solid.  Instead, he gambled 30’ from the hoop.


DM ends up creating an advantage as the ball handler in a high p/r action and gets into the paint before finding Ingles for a wide-open look in the corner.  High level play for a rookie.  Ingles doesn’t shoot with a strong closeout, this happens from time to time.  Since the shot wasn’t taken, DM correctly spaces out to the weakside wing.  Ingles drives and fires a baseline pass to Johnson who swings to DM, open on the wing because of proper spacing.  DM misses the 3PT attempt, but it was the right shot to take.

What happened after the shot will look like DM’s fault, but it’s not.  On the contest, Nance continues his leak out and gets behind the defense.  Both Gobert and Rubio were situated at the top of the key when DM took the shot and neither retreated with Nance.  DM hustles to get back into the play, but a superb pass floats over his extended fingers and Nance ends up with an easy layup.  Didn’t get a chance to see how the team reacted in the huddle during the ensuing timeout, but DM didn’t look like he blamed his teammates, a good move by a rookie.


With Rubio on the bench, DM gets the nod to bring the ball up and run the point.  Caruso forces DM to make 2 dribble moves in the backcourt, not exactly what you want out of a primary ball handler…better to be safe than sorry in that moment though.  Primary action by Ingles doesn’t get separation, DM doesn’t panic and keeps the offense flowing by hitting Johnson as the secondary read.  A slight pet peeve on the pass, standing on the right side of the court, DM throws a right-handed pass from his left shoulder, a little awkward and more susceptible to flight path disturbance.  Attention to detail is huge, he’ll want to work on throwing it with his left hand in future situations.  The timing of the pass was great, hit Johnson coming off a curl which created a scoring advantage for Utah.  On the pass, DM spaces to his right, away from Johnson and sets up on the right wing.  DM receives a pass from Johnson after his man helps on the drive and DM correctly assumes KCP is on a stunt from the corner and DM takes the 3PT shot from the wing.  Missed it this time, but the ball hit the back center of the rim, which the guys at NOAH Basketball will tell you is very close to the optimal entry point.


With the ball on the wing, DM rushes a little bit.  Gobert is coming from the middle of the floor to set a screen, LAL gets into position to “ice” the p/r and DM reacts before his teammate is ready.  The spacing on this play went to shit, but DM managed to get a decent pass out to Ingles and relocated to the opposite wing to clear space.  Ball gets back to DM and he settles for a contested 3PT shot after a weak jab step that didn’t create any separation.  Not a great possession.


Rubio is back in, allowing DM to get off the ball where he is comfortable attacking.  The initial action on the play doesn’t yield any open looks and DM ends up in a split-cut action with Burks around the foul line area.  DM pops to the top key, receives the pass and immediately goes at Clarkson’s outside hip to get downhill.  DM penetrates all the way to the right block using his strength and a good shoulder level to force a retreat.  Once DM gets deep, he unleashes a fantastic old-man post move to finish with a foul.  Decisive action to attack the correct area of the court.  Good sign of DM’s awareness and ability to finish plays.


DM beats the entire LAL team down the court after they made a basket.  Great hustle.  Even better BBIQ as he knows Rubio likes to push the ball ahead with the pass.  DM draws a foul at the rim to finish a good effort.


DM is defending KK on this possession and has another rookie moment.  Action started with KK in the corner before walking up to the right wing.  This starting position gives DM a scope of the entire floor, so there is no excuse for not knowing where his teammates are during the next few moments of the possession.  Randle enters the pass (same as Nance did before) and on the catch DM goes to “ice” an impending ball screen.  Two problems here; Randle’s man, to “ice,” would have to sprint to the block area immediately (unlikely to succeed) since DM is inviting KK to drive that way and that’s not reading the situation correctly.  The other issue, is that the weakside action has pulled the only other big to the opposite side of the lane, another location that does not help the team in this “ice” that DM went for.  DM’s body technique was good, but it didn’t matter as KK had a free path to the lane because DM didn’t play straight until his team could bend its shape properly.


DM takes the outlet on a defensive rebound and effectively engages a 3-on-3 scenario in the front court.  Randle is the defender in the middle for LAL, tasked with stopping the ball, so DM accelerates into attack mode.  Both wing defenders have to crash and help Randle, DM hits Rubio spotting up on the right wing.  The closest defender upon the release was over 9’ away, a significantly open shot created out of a marginal fast break situation.  As the shot goes up, DM rotates back into a safety position so the team won’t give up an easy basket on a leak out (quick learner!).  Utah secures an offensive rebound and the ball ends up back in DM’s hands in the right slot.  Caruso is defending with Randle and KK in help on either side and Zubac at the rim.  DM is able to drive past Caruso, but doesn’t get far outside of his attack line, so the help defenders can’t extend to get in the way.  DM gets to the rim and knifes in between Zubac and the retreating Caruso to finish in traffic.  This is an A+ possession out of DM that came immediately after a blown defensive coverage.  The mentality to get on to the next play is extremely important in the NBA.


Spacing is terrible as the action gets jumbled on the side.  Sefolosha curls off the split action and DM has to come back towards the ball.  Gobert comes to DM with a DHO and Randle drops deep in the p/r coverage.  DM reads it correctly and strides smoothly into a 17’ pull up with 4.1 on the shot clock.  No panic, a very polished play to put points on the board.


Caruso is able to cut DM off just over the half court line, making DM escape with a mediocre spin move.  Luckily, DM creates just enough space to accelerate successfully away from Caruso.  The threat of DM getting to the rim sinks the defense as Zubac and Hart rotate to cover the basket, leaving Sefolosha open on the right wing.  DM keeps his shoulders square to the basket as he makes an accurate pass to Sefolosha, facing the hoop freezes the defense as he is still capable of making a shot.


DM has a bright future.  Very comfortable playing off the ball in an attacking role.  Handle needs some work, but his physical tools will allow him to create options to score.  Good conceptual understanding of spacing, knows where to be when he doesn’t have the ball and allows teammates lanes to operate.  3PT shooting isn’t far off and will be a viable weapon for DM.  Can get to the rim and finish as well as make shots in mid-range.  Coaches/scouts call that a player who can score at all 3 levels.

DM can defend a few positions on the other end, adding to his overall value on a roster.  He’s strong enough that when he must switch, he can handle bigger opponents in late-clock situations.  He’s accustomed to battling and doesn’t shy from contact.

Expect a trajectory similar to Gary Harris.


KK comes into the game averaging 19ppg in the preseason!  Doesn’t start, but is in the rotation as he subs in with 2:55 left.  Starts off at the SF slot with Randle and Zubac on the floor with him.  Quick note that KK moves to the PF at the beginning of 2Q with Randle as the 5.  This versatility is what was garnered heavy interest in the draft process.


KK is matched up with Mitchell on the weakside while Johnson has the ball in the post.  Utah’s perimeter players are continuously moving and KK is in good position until Mitchell moves towards the ball.  Favors is at the elbow, setting a de facto screen for Mitchell.  KK tries to go under the screen and beat Mitchell to the spot, this is a mistake.  KK is in a trail situation considering Mitchell can’t curl around the screen as Johnson has the ball off the block on the same side.  Furthermore, Favors’ man can hedge on any tight curl that Mitchell may try.  Instead, KK makes a tactical error and leaves Mitchell wide open for a 3PT as he tried to cut a corner.  Cutting corners on defense rarely works in the NBA.


KK receives the ball on the right wing with Mitchell shading towards the middle.  KK rips through on the catch towards the baseline side where there is ample room to work.  KK gets all the way to the block and shoots a floater, would have rather seen a strong finish as the bigs coming to help were out of position.  A stronger finish most likely ends up as a fouled layup attempt, a great outcome.  Instead it’s a missed shot, not a great outcome.


KK is defending Udoh at the elbow on a set piece from the sideline.  Udoh and Sefolosha have an option on the screen, either one can cut off the other.  KK is on the basket side of this action, needs to make sure there isn’t a direct cut to the rim and he fails miserably.  KK hugs Udoh and lets Sefolosha catch a direct pass for a layup on a SOB.  Rookie mistake.


KK has a little bit of a panic moment early on.  He isn’t able to continue the strong side action, and picks up his dribble.  Unable to immediately reverse, LAL is forced to improvise after the mental error.  KK makes up for it, eventually gets the ball to Clarkson and follows the pass with a ball screen.  First p/r action is a false-screen to get Clarkson onto the other side of the midline and KK comes back with a good screen for Clarkson going to his left.  The action off the screen is towards the side with more congestion leaving the lone weakside defender to choose between tagging the roller (KK) or staying with the perimeter threat.  KK sprints to the rim, makes a tough catch and gets a shot off while drawing a foul at the rim.  Very good recovery in a broken situation and shows KK knows how to “play basketball.”  A skill all coaches love when their called plays don’t work.


KK picks up a perimeter player in transition and is on the weak side help for the entire possession.  This is a tricky situation for young players as the defensive rules and schemes are very different than in college.  KK is alert of all actions on the court and never loses sight of his man.  As Randle confronts dribble penetration, KK drops to weak side block to cover the dump off pass to Randle’s man.  KK’s physical tools deter a lob attempt and his technique allows him a quicker closeout to his man as he keeps his body square to the court.  When LAL gets the ball, KK runs hard in transition to the deep corner.  Very good team play by KK.


Picks up Ingles coming off a screen from Favors and a DHO from Udoh.  Complex action, saw that Ingles would be able to get into the paint with his man trailing behind the 2 exchanges and takes the ball head on.  Udoh slips to rim, KK gets his hands high in the passing lane so Ingles can’t thread the needle for a layup.  Subtle play, shows advanced grasp of defensive game plan.


KK hedges on Burks coming off a ball screen and waits for KCP to get over the it (he doesn’t), KK concedes a long-2PT shot.  On the rebound, KK gets out quickly and receives a pass at half court with a potential 2-on-2 attack with all 4 players on the left side of the midline.  KK attacks the right side of his defender to get away from the help, Sefolosha lunges for the ball and KK has a marvelous spin move back to his left and finishes at the rim.  Highlight finish to end a solid defensive possession and a reward to running hard.


KK will see rotation minutes as the young Lakers figure out who they want to develop.  His ability to defend SF and PF give good value.  Shooting ability from 3PT range get him on the floor, but he’s not just a shooting threat.  He’s not as powerful as Randle or Nance, but complements both well.  Needs to get a little tougher if he wants to play serious minutes at the PF spot.  Not a superstar, but potential as a great role player on very good teams.

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