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Newsletter: Perimeter defense a point of emphasis for Lakers

The Lakers' Malik Monk tries to cut off  Suns guard Elfrid Payton.
Lakers guard Malik Monk tries to cut off a drive by Suns guard Elfrid Payton during a preseason game Wednesday in Phoenix. Perimeter defense will be a point of emphasis as the Lakers prepare for the season opener Oct. 19.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Hello everyone, it’s Dan Woike with the latest edition of the Lakers newsletter, my favorite part of the week because I can do or say whatever I want and it won’t get edddittted.

This week’s check-in comes from the road — currently inside a Phoenix hotel room — because NBA games are back. A new set of less-restrictive protocols has life feeling a little more back to normal, and that’s allowed me to get out and have some conversations with different scouts and executives about the Lakers.

As players have gone through their pregame routines, I’ve had multiple conversations about the Lakers’ perimeter defense and, specifically, about who is the Lakers’ best individual perimeter defender.

It’s something that’s definitely on the mind of the Lakers’ coaching staff, and while after two preseason games it’s hard to judge much of anything, it’s also on the minds of some veteran league scouts.

The answer is probably either Anthony Davis or LeBron James, though their offensive responsibilities will limit their availability to, say, chase James Harden around for 48 minutes.

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That job would’ve gone to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the past. Maybe Alex Caruso would’ve gotten a crack. Dennis Schroder even.

They’re all gone. So who nows?

It’s not going to be Trevor Ariza, who is the first of the Lakers’ elders to hit the shelf following ankle surgery on Wednesday. He’s going to miss at least eight weeks and almost certainly more.

Ariza’s absence probably makes coach Frank Vogel’s decisions about a starting lineup a little easier, with the team probably heading back to a traditional look at center with Anthony Davis at power forward.

Asked about which wing has impressed the most defensively, Vogel noted Kent Bazemore ahead of Wednesday’s game with the Suns.

“I really think Baze has separated himself some. His wingspan and athleticism have been more impressive up close, in that regard,” Vogel said. “And I just think everybody else has been competing in what we’re trying to do. And the execution of our defense, that’s the biggest thing.”

Scouts have agreed with Vogel on Bazemore — he’s probably the most equipped to take on the challenge of one of the NBA’s top wings. Another name, though, that’s come up is Kendrick Nunn. Scouts love his toughness and think he could be a factor on that side of the ball, too.

Yet it’s definitely a team weakness, one that they can try to cover up by adding rim protection (playing two conventional centers) and by scheme.

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Heating up

So much of what we’ve seen in the Lakers’ two preseason games means almost nothing thanks to the absence of LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. Roles are going to change dramatically when those two players take the court and the true shape of the team will start to form.

However, Malik Monk is off to the kind of start where you think that other stuff might not matter. LeBron, Russell, whoever — there’s always room for a hot-shooting, multidimensional scoring guard off the bench, and Monk looks like he’s got all those tools.

Monk’s made more than half his shots and is leading the team in scoring with 16.5 points per game, and while that stuff isn’t sustainable at that rate, you can see the skills pretty plainly.

He’s been as impressive as any Laker, and if he plays close to this level through the rest of the preseason, he should be in the rotation.

My hottest take

It’s a minor detail in the scheme of everything, but it certainly seems like Chaundee Brown has the inside track to the Lakers’ open two-way contract. I tweeted it Wednesday, and I’m sticking with it — he’ll be on an NBA roster somewhere this year.

The 6-foot-5 wing has the physical tools — he’s got an NBA body already — and he’s been an accurate low-volume shooter in his two appearances so far.

“He’s making a case. He’s performing well,” Vogel said after the game Wednesday. “Obviously, he has the perimeter shooting and defensive physical toughness to have success in this league. So he’s off to a good start for us. He’s tough. He has the mindset of blowing up screens and being really physical on the glass.

“So he’s done a good job for us in camp. And, like I said, you’ve got a guy that can shoot the ball from the perimeter and make plays off the bounce and compete at a high level on the defensive end, then you got a chance.”

Song of the week

Wallows — “I Don’t Want to Talk

As we scramble for interviews, it’s a common refrain from some of the league’s biggest stars. At least these guys (from Los Angeles by the way) “no comment” with a harmonica.

Until next time...

As always, pass along your thoughts to me at daniel.woike@latimes.com, and please consider subscribing if you like our work!


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