The Los Angeles Lakers faced off against their crosstown rivals to start the NBA season. Despite it technically being a home game for the Clippers, Lakers fans packed Staples Center and drowned out whatever support there was for newcomer Kawhi Leonard & Co. Despite that, the Lakers came up short and lost, 112-102.
Before we get into this, I will state the obvious: it's the first game of the season, the first real minutes LeBron James and Anthony Davis have played together, and they came against the best player in the world right now in Kawhi Leonard. The Lakers were missing their third wheel in Kyle Kuzma, and two key depth pieces in Rajon Rondo and Alex Caruso didn't play. There are definitely some asterisks on this loss.
But! Despite all that, the performance from the other Lakers bench pieces was bad enough that it's worth writing about. We'll start with this simple stat: the Clippers' bench outscored the Lakers' bench 60-19 last night. You don't need to be an analytics expert to recognize that a point differential of 41 is bad.
The biggest reason for concern is that the poor play came from guys who they'll have to rely on for regular minutes fairly often this year. Sure, Jared Dudley and Troy Daniels won't be playing double-digit minutes in important games when LA is at full strength, but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope? Quinn Cook? These are guys the Lakers signed to play 15-20 minutes a night, and they both looked bad. They were a combined -17 in net rating last night, and Caldwell-Pope in particular was completely useless as he put up a goose egg in the scoring category despite playing 27 minutes.
Again-- first game, shaking off the rust, not at full strength, yada yada yada. But last night, Dwight Howard (of all people!) looked like the only bench guy who Frank Vogel could call upon with any sort of confidence. The starting lineup will likely fluctuate based on matchups, but upon Kuzma's return, we can safely assume he'll slot into the starting lineup, and the Lakers' closing five will be LeBron/Danny Green/Kuzma/Davis with either Rondo or Avery Bradley in the last spot. That leaves, at best, four reliable bench guys, and two of them are centers. A team featuring 35-year-old LeBron and the injury-prone AD needs to go more than nine deep in the regular season. They both played over 35 minutes last night, and that isn't tenable.
The Clippers are a very good team with great depth, and it shouldn't come as a surprise that they dominated a depleted Lakers squad. But when they go out and play like that, well... It's only natural to get a little worried.