Preseason expectations were all over the place for the Los Angeles Lakers this year, but one thing that was the consensus was a playoff berth. 11 games in they are 5-6 and a game behind a playoff spot.
Not the exact start to the season the front office, or the team, envisioned. But it was expected from the most rational minds and nothing to panic about.
There has been a lot to take away, even with the season so young. Here are two of the biggest ones.
The Lakers are Worlds Apart on Both Ends
Chemistry was going to be an issue when you have a revamped roster, and we are seeing some of those issues, particularly on defense. But on offense, where you would have expected the glaring problems to exist, they look good.
Magic Johnson’s tirade on Luke Walton was reportedly due to unhappiness with the half-court offensive sets, but the Lakers are not struggling to score.
The pace of play was going to be the biggest thing after leading the NBA in pace last season. This year they are third. They are third on points-per-game and seventh in points-per-100-possessions. The Lakers are taking more field goals than any other team and have been incredibly efficient.
They are shooting 49.5% from the field (3rd), and are fifth in effective field goal percentage. Three-point shooting was going to be the biggest concern on offense, but they have been better than expected.
The Lakers are 14th overall from long-range at 35.3%. But that number is brought down after shooting 15 of 62 (24.2%) from distance during their 0-2 start. Since, however, they are fifth in the NBA at 38% and are coming off a 15 of 34 performance Wednesday night.
While the offense has cracked defense has been the biggest issue to their sub-.500 start, the Lakers have yet to limit an opponent to under 100 points. And it’s because the defense they have lost so many of their close games.
The Lakers own the 23rd-best defensive rating and are 21st in defensive field goal percentage. They had a hole inside the pain after JaVale McGee which has been continuously exposed early on.
After finishing 13th last season, you would have assumed an improvement this year. But, there are vulnerabilities on both the perimeter and inside the paint.
Kyle Kuzma is still a liability, Brandon Ingram started slow, and LeBron James is playing virtually no defense (saving himself for the stretch run). And communication hasn’t been the best.
The Lakers Have Too Many Players
The biggest talking point heading into the season was how the young core of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart would fit alongside LeBron James. And we are starting to get answers, although not definitive.
Josh Hart has seen a seamless transition and is proving to be a steal game after game. He is playing 28 minutes and has per-36 numbers of 15.1 points, five rebounds, and is knocking down an excellent 45.5% of his threes, including a tremendous 50% on catch-and-shoot opportunities. He is terrific and at his best off the ball and is one of the better perimeter defenders on the team.
Kyle Kuzma has been another good fit alongside the superstar. He’s averaging 19.2 points-per-game, with a lot of them coming off-the-ball. He has yet to find a consistent shooting stroke but has two games with four three-pointers, one with three, and two with two.
We have seen the flashes that profile him as a really good off-ball slasher and scorer because he could catch-and-shoot or put the ball on the floor once he gets the rock and make a move to the rim.
Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram have been the two that have not yet adjusted to playing with James, but that has a lot to do with the minutes and role.
The Lakers have at least ten players that need or deserve minutes, which is why Luke Walton has such a hard time finding rotations that work and giving opportunities to the younger guys.
Depth is never a bad thing, but it can be a bad thing when all those bodies bring a lot of egos to tend do. And all those players are ball-dominant guys that are only effective with the ball in their hand.
And because of that, Ball has seen his minutes dip dramatically and his usage rate drop. During Wednesday’s game against Minnesota, Ball did not finish out a back-and-forth game. It was the type of situation where he needed to be out there if he is a crucial part of the franchise’s future.
But Rondo was out there instead. If Ball is not going to have the ball in his hands, how effective will he be? And with Rondo and James, along with Brandon Ingram, just how many point guards do the Lakers need?
Brandon Ingram had a rocky start to the season with slow play and a four-game suspension. He was supposed to blossom into the second star alongside LeBron James, but instead, looked like the odd-man out.
And a lot of that has to do with Ingram being a player that needs the ball in his hands. But again, with the amount of ball-dominant players on the roster, he isn’t getting the opportunities needed.
But Wednesday night, with Lance Stephenson’s playing time cut down, we saw Ingram play more and run some point. In return, he gave the Lakers his best game of the season and showed how he can fit in with the team.
Los Angeles will eventually need to unload some of their one-year veterans to create an opportunity for the younger players to show us just what they have in them. Instead of a 10-11 man rotation, it should be cut down to eight or nine so there is more consistency and minutes for everyone involved.