IN THE DAYS leading up to the Los Angeles Lakers' second-round series against the Golden State Warriors, Klay Thompson was on the court, wearing a blue pinnie with an ironed-on No. 11, and practicing against them.
Not the Klay Thompson, you see, but a facsimile. A Laker in Warriors clothes. The Lakers assigned the fill-in practice role to a man named Dru Anthrop, the team's head video coordinator and player development coach, in an effort to prepare the team's rotation players for the Warriors.
Anthrop (6-foot, 180 pounds) doesn't have the frame of the 6-6, 220-pound Thompson, but he has the familiarity with his game from one too many bleary-eyed nights breaking down Warriors film to ping out to players' iPads to study the next morning.
"In a lot of ways it's more efficient," Anthrop told ESPN. "We're the ones watching the hours of film. All the games. ... It becomes second nature to just go out there and impersonate someone that you've been watching."
Lakers equipment manager Andrew Henk, seen here, had pinnies made up in the Warriors' team colors for coaches to wear during the team walk throughs to script offense and defense. Lakers assistant video coordinator Micah Fraction has been playing the part of Steph Curry. pic.twitter.com/VkMKrJq2gv— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) May 2, 2023
During the regular season, it's sometimes difficult to remember what day it is or what city you're in. But in the playoffs, when it's one foe for weeks at a time, teams can bring their scouting reports to life with live on-court action.
First-year Lakers coach Darvin Ham, who spent the past nine seasons working under former Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer in both Milwaukee and Atlanta where they used the immersive technique with a postseason scout team practice, brought the idea with him to L.A., complete with having practice uniforms printed in enemy colors for extra emphasis.
With Los Angeles up 2-1 on Golden State going into Monday's Game 4 (10 p.m. ET, TNT), the team believes it's a helpful part in their postseason success. Stephen Curry has made the 16-win march through the playoffs to the title four times. LeBron James has done it four times, too. Just like teams hand out rally towels or T-shirts to their fans or postgame news conferences are conducted in front of blue backdrops with the NBA playoffs logo plastered on it, the scout team jerseys are a visual cue the stakes have changed and teams are a month away from taking home the 2023 title.
AFTER THE LAKERS beat the Memphis Grizzlies in their Western Conference first-round series, Anthrop -- who was a walk-on at Purdue and used to imitate Big Ten stars the Boilermakers were prepping for -- stopped playing the role of a shifty swingman Desmond Bane. His next assignment: one of the Warriors' Splash Brothers in Thompson.
Ham assigned Lakers assistant Chris Jent the task of doling out the roles for the scout team:
Andrew Wiggins, played by assistant video coordinator and player development coach Justice "Juice" Bartley
Draymond Green, played by assistant coach Schuyler Rimmer
Kevon Looney, played by player development coach and advanced scout Jon Pastorek
And the Lakers actually have two people playing Curry -- assistant video coordinator Micah Fraction at road games and video intern Corey Wheeler for home games.
"I mean, they're both great," Anthrop says. "I would say one's right-handed and one's left-handed. That's really [the only difference]."
When the Lakers took to the practice court before flying to San Francisco for Game 1, the scout team sprung the Warriors' patented "split action" play on their players.
Wheeler (pretending to be Curry) threw an entry pass to Rimmer (playing the role of Green) in the post and screened away for Anthrop (Thompson); Anthrop blazed around the pick back toward Rimmer, who dropped the pass off to Anthrop and he let it fly.
"I just came off as fast as I could," Anthrop said. "That's all you need is a little separation, especially when you're these guys, a little separation. And Schuy did what Draymond does, he did a little handoff action towards the baseline and if you're imitating them, you got to shoot it. And so I did. That one just happened to go in."
Lakers guard Austin Reaves received the lesson loud and clear.
"I was guarding him, of course, and he made it," Reaves told ESPN. "So I was like, 'Yeah, I might see that a couple times this series.'"
Says Anthrop: "Whenever that type of thing happens, you get a little bit more respect from the players and the coaches, and it is the same thing that happened in college where it's like, 'Man, if we can't guard Dru doing this, what are we going to do when we actually got to guard Klay?'"
Fraction played at Kutztown University, a Division II school about 90 minutes north of Philadelphia, and averaged 22.7 points as a senior. If the 6-10 Anthony Davis makes the 6-2 Curry look small, then think about when Davis is smothering the 5-9 Fraction.
"It's super fun just to have the green light out there to shoot whenever," Fraction told ESPN. "But ... when you see how tightly these guys are guarding and obviously they don't want the video coordinator scoring on them -- so they give me probably a little bit extra -- I just have a new level more level of respect for Steph Curry because you see AD right there, I mean it's just hard to raise up on him, you know what I mean?"
LAKERS EQUIPMENT MANAGER Andrew Henk ordered a batch of blue pinnies for the Memphis series and affixed all the Grizzlies' uniform numbers with a heat press.
And then he did it all over again for the Lakers to play Golden State. Fifteen more Warriors-color blue jerseys. Fifteen more numbers ironed on.
"Because we have reversible practice jerseys, if it's just purple on one side and then white on the other and Lakers [on the chest] ... this gives it a different type of feel to it. It just adds a little more. Because the playoffs bring more intensity," Henk said.
Henk will prepare 15 more dark blue jerseys if the Lakers make it to the conference finals to play the Denver Nuggets or black ones if they play the Phoenix Suns. Henk also is clear to point out he has blank red jerseys and green jerseys in mind for potential NBA Finals matchups.
"They take it seriously, man," Ham told ESPN of the scout team process. "There's no goofing off once we step out there. And I think those pinnies signify that. And during the regular season we might just break out one and say, 'OK, this is the threat. This is DeMar DeRozan and this is Zach LaVine,' and everybody else, the other coaches, are dressed kind of normal. But when we do all five and we know we're working on something that's important, everyone is locked in. There's no fooling around."
Rimmer, who was an assistant coach in Milwaukee on Budenholzer's staff, came to L.A. with Ham.
He remembers then Bucks assistant coach Charles Lee wearing an orange jersey while playing the part of Suns star Devin Booker. "We called him Kevin Booker," Rimmer joked.
What Rimmer isn't joking about is how that scout team played a part in the Bucks' path to the 2021 Finals and eventual title.
The Lakers aren't cosplaying so much as they're dressing to contribute to their success.
"With the Warriors, it's not even plays as much as it is just kind of actions and the pace that they play with within their actions. So I'm just trying to identify what are the handful of triggers that you think are most important, and then trying to put our guys through as many of those situations as you can and then trying to emulate it with some pace," Rimmer said. "But obviously they're elite, elite athletes and we are coaches and video guys, so that's not quite the same execution."
But what about that shot that went in when Rimmer turned into Green and Anthrop turned into Thompson, if only for a split second?
"Every once in a while we'll mix in a make," Rimmer says. "The reason he can remember that one is because that may have been the only make we saw that day. So we let everyone in the gym know."