With a week of scrimmages completed, the NBA bubble in Orlando has been quite successful so far. No players have tested positive for coronavirus since play has begun. Therefore, for the time being, the NBA is back and here to stay.
The Los Angeles Lakers finished their three games and will face their cross-town rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers, to tip off the 2019-20 NBA season for a second time.
In three games, there have been familiar signs of dominance from the championship-favorite Lakers. Their depth has been on clear display, their chemistry has jumped out the screen, and their play has been solid. What has been most impressive is the play of new acquisitions Dion Waiters and JR Smith.
During the regular season, the Lakers struggled to find a ball-handler and playmaker off the bench. No longer do they have to worry about someone else stepping up as Waiters proves to be a perfect fit. His performances were surprisingly productive throughout the scrimmages, considering the fact that he had not played the entire season.
Waiters brings a huge spark off the bench with his explosive offensive creativity and reliable shot-making. There were numerous possessions where the clock was running down and ‘Bubble Cheese’ saved the day with a miraculous shot.
His one-on-one offensive production was outstanding to watch. Waiters showcased his tight ball-handling skills, elusive finishing, and smooth shooting from anywhere on the court. He put his defenders through Waiters Island with quick in-and-out crossovers leading to step-back jumpers or pulling up and swishing from three with a hand in his face.
Waiters plays with a certain swagger making it known he is from Philadelphia. He controlled the tempo of the bench mob and was effectively running the pick-and-roll as a ball-handler. His energy and reliability on the offensive end takes the pressure off Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso, allowing Waiters to get buckets.
Waiters is also an excellent playmaker, dropping six assists along with 18 points against the Wizards. Whether it be finding the open man off a rotation or splitting the defense and handing the ball to the pick-and-roll man for a slam, his ability to create plays is what the Lakers were lacking the entire season.
With Waiters, they get a player — who when hot — can extend a lead dramatically. He is simply a walking bucket. Most importantly, he can allow head coach Frank Vogel to run lineups without LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Philly Cheese is not the only Laker with a key role this upcoming season, but he will prove to be worthy.
Another thing is clear after the three scrimmages: Smith is still a baller and can rain down threes. The Henny God proved just that, draining six threes on 85.7 percent shooting and finishing with 20 points against the Washington Wizards.
He splashed threes off a handoff with a defender in his face, off a catch-and-shoot dish from Waiters, and even double-clutched it over a defender to beat the clock, resulting in a clean swish. It showcases the outstanding repertoire and breathtaking three-point shooting Smith still has after taking two years off.
Smith has been energized, focused, and entertaining to watch. It seemed fitting Smith’s first highlight with the Lakers was a no-look lob coming off the pick to Dwight Howard. His circuit shots are still apart of his arsenal, however, he is yet another deadly sniper off the bench for Davis or James to find when being doubled.
The main question coming into the bubble was Smith’s conditioning and how rusty he would be.
It took a game for Smith to get accustomed, but he was red hot against the Wizards and has fit seamlessly into the system. Smith brings lights-out shooting and is a role player with championship experience. If these scrimmages showed something, it is that Smith can still be an important contributor off the bench.
Whether it be energy and defensive hustle or consistent three-point shooting, the Lakers have Smith to fill this need. Whether it be reliable offensive firepower and effective playmaking, the Lakers have Waiters to fill this need.
The acquisitions of Bubble Cheese and J.R. Swish have proved to be worthy so far. Both players elevate the team’s chances of winning the 2020 NBA Finals in October.
Now it is only a matter of time before they do so.