The Lakers are in the midst of a 4 game losing streak. One of the key reasons for the losses are the injuries to key players they are dealing with, missing their starting back court, they next point guard up in the rotation, and their back up center. The team’s starting and backup PF’s have also been in and out of the lineup for a game or two over the last couple of weeks.
For a team which depended on depth and continuity to jump out to the stronger-than-expected start to the season, the types of injuries detailed above have a cascading negative impact on the team and the on-court results. Either out of rotation players are leaned on for minutes and production or established rotation players are stretched farther and for longer than they were when their production was being maximized.
These are imperfect solutions. They are also the solutions every team turns to in these situations. Ask the Grizzlies or the Mavs or the Nuggets. Next man up, as the saying goes.
If you listen to coach Luke Walton talk, he too subscribes to this saying. And in recent days, he’s said 1). that injuries are not an excuse for playing without the needed effort and attention to detail he expects and 2). the team is at a point in the season, with these circumstances, where they can either fracture and start to play for themselves/selfishly or stay together and continue to play the team oriented ball which was the backdrop to their good start.
These soundbites remind me of the fact that progress is not always linear. We often times discuss a young team like the Lakers as following a certain blueprint to becoming good. Call it the Thunder model. Team acquires talented young players, those players make mistakes, the team then loses games. The players, though, start to learn from those mistakes, then their coaches start to put them in better positions to succeed, the players’ talent then starts to show more, and the result is more winning. A culture of hard work and the resulting winning is laid. Then you have a good team.
All that sounds nice. It sounds like there’s a simple progression to it all. A + B + C = D.
Reality is different, though. Progress is not always linear. There are fits and starts. Two steps forward, three back, 4 forward, 2 back, 1 back, 2 forward, 3 forward, 2 back. When you finally measure it, you might be out ahead, but the path to get there was not nearly as clean as the equation above.
The Lakers remind me of this now. They have some young talent. They have a good coach. They have some veterans who can serve as both on court producers and off court guides. Even with these tools, though, we have seen how injuries or youthful mistakes, or veteran poor play, or coaching learning curve can throw things off track some.
This is what progress looks like.
Do I get the sense Walton has real concerns about the recent poor play? About how the bad defense from years past looks like it has returned to this team? That, with the injuries, guys are trying to do more by themselves rather than finding ways to execute together? Yes, yes, yes. And he should be concerned. I also think he has the temperament, philosophy, and approach to get the team through this stretch and back on track.