At 10-8, the Los Angeles Lakers sit seventh in the West, 3.5 games behind the first place Minnesota Timberwolves (a sentence I never thought I’d be writing). With expectations through the roof at the beginning of the year, it is no surprise that Laker fans and media pundits alike are sounding the alarms about this team and how they have come out of the gates.
A 44-point demolition at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers Monday night didn’t do anything to help calm the noise. Despite a 7-3 record in their last ten games, there is some real concern about this roster, coaching staff and just how far they can go. The question now is are these issues serious flaws or problems that will be solved as the team gets healthier? The answer so far seems to be somewhere in the middle.
Before we continue, the Laker season has not been all doom and gloom so far. LeBron James is healthy and does not look anything like a guy in his 21 st season. Anthony Davis has been inconsistent offensively at times, but he has been an all-world defender and is clearly a top ten player in this league. Health permitting, these two are going to be tough as hell to beat come playoff time.
Outside of the top two guys however, there are absolutely some red flags with what we have seen so far this season.
We can’t discuss the teams slow start without pointing out that injuries, especially on the wing, have decimated the Lakers early. With Jarred Vanderbilt, Gabe Vincent and Rui Hachimura each having missed significant time, the Lakers have been down multiple key rotation pieces every game this season. This has significantly hampered the Lakers ability to build any type of continuity with their rotations and lineups.
But to blame injuries only would be a cop out. There are real flaws with this roster that need to be addressed.
While players being out has absolutely played a role in problems with continuity, Coach Darvin Ham’s rotations have not done anything to alleviate those issues. It has not been uncommon
this season to see a guy get minutes in the first half, play well and then sit out the second half entirely.
Rui specifically has seen his minutes jerked around, sometimes playing as few as five minutes in a half or only getting one shift on the court. With Vando out and wing depth depleted, not giving Hachimura consistent minutes just makes zero sense. Especially when you consider that all the talk surrounding Rui this off-season was how important he was to the future of the team. While Ham deserves some blame for the teams slow start, they have had their fair share of on-court issues as well.. Los Angeles continues to be a team where shooters go to die. Taurean Prince is a career 37% three point shooter who has not been under 35% from deep in five seasons. Prior to the season he was all but guaranteeing he would be a 40% three point shooter with all of the open looks he expected to get. The looks have been there all season, but his shot has gone completely missing. Prince is shooting an abysmal 29% from three, including 4/34 (11.8%!!!!) on corner threes.
As mentioned on the latest episode of the Late Night Lake Show Podcast, as a team, the Lakers are shooting 33% from deep, good for 28 th in the league. For a roster that was expected to have some much needed shooting, the results just aren’t there so far. This is a number that should regress towards league average at some point, but until it does the Lakers will continue to struggle to score the ball.
Another issue offensively is what seems to be an inability or lack of priority in getting AD more touches on the offensive end. Davis has been much more vocal this season about needing to get the ball and his frustration has come out multiple times on the court. When you compare his offensive touches to other bigs around the league, it’s clear to see why.
When you consider the fact that AD is third in the league in Isolation Points per Scoring Possession, the lack of game planning to get him touches is even more puzzling. Fortunately, this is a correctable issue.
Another glaring issue with this team so far is energy and effort. In an 82 game season, you are going to have off nights, it’s just a part of the process. But in multiple losses this season the Lakers have been beat purely off of effort. Teams crashing the boards, diving for loose balls, just wanting it more.
The team has struggled going against tougher competition as well, sitting at just 5-8 vs. teams above .500 compared to 5-0 against teams below .500. Even worse, in those eight losses the team has trailed by at least 15 points in all but one game. The only game they didn’t trail by 15 was against Miami, and they trailed that game at one point by 13. The team continues to come out of the gates slowly against elite competition, a sign of a squad that lacks preparation and energy.
While a mid-season trade to shake up the roster may completely swing the trajectory of this team as it did last year, banking on an All-Star to become available is hopeful at best. Rotation pieces getting healthy and coming back to the line-up should provide an immediate boost for this team, but there are glaring issues that need to be addressed for them to reach the level many predicted prior to the season starting.
The Lakers need to start hitting shots from outside, and their coaching staff needs to start pushing the right buttons with rotations. Most importantly, they need to start playing with some pride and effort. It is still early in the season and there is plenty of time to correct what is ailing this team, but the Lakers need to start now before these issues snowball even further.
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