It’s generally accepted that when an NBA team has many new players on its roster, it takes some time to build chemistry once the season starts.
However, it took the 2019-20 Los Angeles Lakers little time to do so, and one reason why may be that they scrimmaged together last summer.
Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated talked about these sessions in a revealing article about LeBron James’ revival following a failed maiden voyage with the Lakers in 2018-19.
“Like [Michael] Jordan’s, James’s pickup games drew a collection of NBA talent,” wrote Mannix. “Chris Paul and Draymond Green; DeMar DeRozan and Buddy Hield. On the first morning [Jared] Dudley arrived at the facility at 5:30; he was greeted by the sound of James lifting weights. When the game started, James insisted that the Lakers who were there—Davis, Dudley, guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and center JaVale McGee—play together. Against a collection of All-Stars, James’s group won four straight. After sitting out a game, the pickup Lakers came back and won two more. Says Dudley, ‘LeBron wasn’t playing around that day.’”
The Lakers lost on opening night to the Los Angeles Clippers, and there was some low-level anxiety about whether the Purple and Gold could become an elite team.
But they won 24 of their next 26 games, as James played at as high a level at age 35 as he had for many years prior.
The Lakers not only developed great chemistry on the hardwood, but they also seemed like a group of players who genuinely loved being around each other.
Another factor in their outstanding start and overall play has been a meeting of the minds between James and first-year Laker head coach Frank Vogel.
According to Mannix, the two met prior to training camp, and Vogel sold James on playing point guard, a position he hadn’t played since his rookie year.
He also got James and his teammates to buy into playing a true up-tempo game, despite James’ advanced age and mileage.