Coming into their opening night matchup with the Clippers, the general consensus was that the Lakers’ big men would have a leg up on the Clippers’ unit consisting of Montrezl Harrell and Ivica Zubac. Given that JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard are both bigger and more athletic than the Clippers’ pairing, the thought was that at the very least, the Lakers would be able to effectively protect the rim and control the glass.
However, that wouldn’t be the case as the Clippers routinely outworked the Laker big men on the glass and did an excellent job as a team to collectively make life difficult – leading to McGee finishing the game with only two rebounds.
JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard Need to be Better for the Lakers
With Ivica Zubac as the only Clipper rotational player standing 7 feet tall – and only seeing 10 minutes of action – McGee and Howard should have been able to have their way with undersized big men like Harrell and Patrick Patterson who played the bulk of the evening.
The big men were a key factor in each of the Lakers’ preseason games and look to be a major factor in the success of the season. Against the Warriors and their depleted unit, the Lakers were able to feast and routinely got high percentage looks near the rim while dominating the rebounding department – limiting second chances and controlling the flow of the game.
That said, the unit had some trouble in each of the Lakers’ preseason losses to the Nets. Forced to match up with a much stronger duo in DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen, the Lakers big men still put up some decent numbers, yet struggled to control the flow of the game in the same way they did against the Warriors.
A lot of this boils down to how opposing defenses handle McGee and Howard. Both bigs are dependent on ballhandlers putting them in ideal situations to score – usually through pick and roll sets. Against the Warriors, McGee and Howard were routinely free to roll to the rim and as a result, scored a number of easy baskets and were in position to make an impact on the offensive glass. Compare that to the Nets preseason games as well as last night and those same roll lanes were locked down – rendering McGee and Howard nearly useless on the offensive end.
Lakers Big Men Outlook Moving Forward
Despite the struggles we’ve seen at times on the offensive end from the big men, there is plenty of reason for optimism. First and foremost, the Lakers are breaking in a brand new roster and still learning to play alongside one another. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility to think that as the unit gets more comfortable playing alongside one another, they will inevitably become more adept at getting the big men involved as opposed to them simply clogging up the paint for LeBron-AD pick and roll sets.
Furthermore, they didn’t necessarily play an uninspired game – they were simply just outworked by one of the grittiest squads in the NBA. On most nights in the regular season, the level of effort displayed likely would have been more than enough to help establish a stronger presence on the glass.
While a loss to the Clippers is never fun, there are still 81 games to go. The big men are certainly a unit worth monitoring closely but there isn’t any reason to write them off for the season just yet.