For the past couple of weeks, I must have used the phrase “work in progress” to describe this Laker team at least a dozen times. With an entirely new coaching staff, new schemes on both sides of the ball, a training camp and pre-season that offered little time to prep with a full team (remember, the Lakers were adding players that are now in their rotating a week into camp), and little (if any) practice time in between games, the team is obviously learning on the fly. In the best of circumstances – a full camp and normal game schedule with regular practice schedules – the change in staff and schemes alone would have me tempering my early season expectations. When all the factors listed above are combined, it’s hard to make any qualitative analysis about this team beyond going back to that phrase.
The Lakers are a work in progress.
However, in their fruitless trip to Florida where the offense was absent and their defense didn’t live up to the standard that’s been set early in the year, it seems that this team is more “work” than “progress” at this point. In fact, these two games showed a regression more than anything else. The offense – which hadn’t been that great but was still average – fell off a cliff. They flirted with franchise lows for points scored in a quarter and a half. Defensively, they looked even slower than normal and struggled to execute the principles of contesting shots, running people off the three point line, and controlling the defensive glass.
And in a shortened season where Sunday’s game vs the Pacers will represent one-fourth of the full 66 game campaign this is problematic. In a normal season the Lakers would have reached the 25% mark of their year (let’s use game 20 as that benchmark) in early December (last year they played their 20th game on December 3rd). Considering the regular season ends in April, that type of timeline would give the Lakers a full 5 months to find their stride and work out any kinks. This season they don’t have that luxury. Five months from today will be May 21st. For comparison’s sake, the Lakers’ season ended on May 8th last year.
Time is short, but there’s still much work to do. Especially in the area of determining what the finished product really is. Of course, this is complicated by the variables raised above but also by roster changes that may or may not come and how, if at all, that’s affecting the players on the team.
Will this really be the team that finishes the year? Will the Lakers make a big trade to shake up the core of the team? Will they work around the edges to add a point or combo guard that can add the playmaking and/or scoring that this team is currently lacking? We have no answers here and the team must work as if this group is it, but if that’s actually the case the flaws on this team are real and that must be taken into account when evaluating what this group’s ceiling is.
Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking. Soon it will be the all-star game where two Lakers will likely be in the starting line up for the West, then the trade deadline in March, then the push for the playoffs, and ultimately, the second season. It seems so far away but it will all be here before we know it. As someone that’s preached patience – and still does, by the way – that reality is both exciting and scary. The Lakers have so far to go and little time to do it but possess the work ethic and talent at the top of their roster that make it hard for me to count them out.
This season is shaping up to be one of the strangest I’ve seen in some time and the race against the clock has a lot to do with it.