The proliferation of superstar duos around the NBA isn’t of much concern to Lakers Coach Frank Vogel.
“I think we got the best of ‘em, of all the duos,” Vogel said Saturday afternoon. “We have two top-five players, two guys that really just do it all. You know what I mean? And I’d put those two guys against anybody in the league.”
Even with that mentality, Vogel didn’t spare LeBron James or Anthony Davis during his first practice. Saturday’s morning session — the first of two for the day — was tough, physical and defensive-minded. The Lakers’ introduction to their coach set a tone Vogel wants to see continue through the season.
“The message is on Day 1 to really establish a defensive mindset,” Vogel said. “You know we got a lot of firepower offensively. But establish that defensive mindset of playing hard and playing tenacious and being physical. And on offense, just beginning to get organized and talking about the importance of playing for each other.”
More than 2½ hours into their first practice together, the Lakers conducted a full-court scrimmage. James, Davis, Rajon Rondo, Danny Green and JaVale McGee played on the first team against a rotating group of teammates.
Vogel stopped the scrimmage once to remind players to run back on defense after turnovers, rather than jogging and “wondering what the hell happened.”
When Alex Caruso collided with James, hitting the court with a thud, or when Davis and Dwight Howard tangled to the ground, Vogel didn’t blink.
“Did they get up?” he said after practice. “I love guys hitting the floor. We’re not playing hard enough if we’re not doing that.”
While the new coach set to work introducing his style, James and Davis began to develop their on-court chemistry.
“We spent a lot of time together in the offseason, but this is probably one of two times we spent together on the floor,” Davis said. “Every little thing to happen today, when we was on the sideline we talked about it. Even those things, something that went right but something that we can do better in those situations. We’re trying to just talk through everything.”
Vogel plans to experiment with different starting lineups throughout training camp, but Davis and James will be two constants. He wants them getting as much practice time together as possible.
“You want to continue to learn every day,” James said. “As much as I have watched AD over the years and know about his game, you really don’t know how much more that you want to continue to build until you get on the floor with one another.”
Saturday’s practice began with defense. Vogel estimated about 60% of the time focused on defense, with the first hour dedicated to drills and fundamentals.
The Lakers were a middle-of-the-road defensive team last season, ranking 15th by giving up 109 points per 100 possessions. It was a marked improvement from some previous years, but Vogel wants his team to be elite defensively.
That is in keeping with his reputation as a coach. It’s about the only thing Davis knew about him before they met.
“He actually asked me in our first meeting, he said, ‘What do you know about me?’” Davis said.
Unable to come up with much, Davis offered in response that a University of Kentucky assistant said to tell him, “Hi.”
“I knew he was a defensive coach but I didn’t really know that much about him,” Davis said.
They’ll have plenty of time to get familiar now.