A Quick Note on Progress

Darius Soriano —  December 9, 2016

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.

Darius Soriano

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to A Quick Note on Progress

  1. Another bad game from Julius Randle. Julius is a tremendously talented player, but I suspect he thinks too much and doesn’t pick up nuances as quickly as Brandon Ingram does. Constantly passing into a crowd under the basket – a bad place for Julius, in particular, to pass – drifting out to the 3pt line – where other teams will back off and let him shoot – constantly using the same moves and shots going to the basket – making him easier to defend.
    After playing at the NBA level for over a year, he should be moderating these tendencies a bit. I understand Walton has a very long leash – in order for the players to buy in and gain confidence – but at some point Larry Nance’s steadiness is going to outweigh Julius’ explosive talent, if he doesn’t learn more nuances of Walton’s system.


  2. Randle is going to be fine. Just has to keep working on his game. I do agree that he should have a 15 foot jumper by now. So, in my humble opinion he needs to work on these 3 things:
    1) 15 to 18 foot jumper to off-set his ability to drive.
    2) Counter move to the right because the whole world knows he wants to go left.
    3) Lateral movement because right now he is pretty much a straight ahead player. This hurts him on both ends of the floor. Defensively one must drop the buttocks bend those knees and slide your feet especially when you need to cutoff penetration. Offensively when he does drive and there is no clear path you see the spin move to the left hand. He handles it well enough and should be able to crossover or inside out dribble to vary his attacks.
    But I believe Randle is starting to think the game better. The coaching he received in college did not prepare him for the NBA as he was more of a brute on the blocks. Fine when your facing 6’6″ forwards and what not. He is improved this year so that is a positive.
    BI needed to stay in college another year period. Does not have an NBA body or game right now. So he really should be riding the pine and brought along slowly. Not sure why we r playing him at point when you have Clarkson? Play a 1 – 4 set with Clarkson and watch his speed kill! Or pick and roll him with Randle and watchout but this seems to be Golden State South right now … Minus the superstars.
    Tough loss but they did not quit!


  3. Heck of a piece Darius. 
    Gotta climb the mountain to reach its peak.


  4. Lakers DRTG and Rank last year: 111.6/30th
    Lakers DRTG and Rank right now: 111.5/28th
    Without Russell and Young, they have dropped off to 18th
    in ORTG during the losing streak.


  5. With exception of Nance no one the team is known for their D. Deng was but he needs to be at a golf course somewhere these days enjoying his retirement….ditto MWP. It will always be about exceptional offensive as this roster is currently constructed.
    Lakers are running a new offense and im sure they will get even better with it. But the more you play the more other teams have film and scouting reports on you. They are learning our sets and tendencies and your seeing the adjustments. Couple that with the injuries and that pretty much sums up the slide.


  6. As to Randle, the main thing that has happened there is that his shooting numbers, especially at the rim, have regressed to the mean. I noted about three weeks ago that he was at .800; now, he is down to a more normal .725. On the other side, he is only hitting .301 from 3-10 feet and that will go up. 
    Randle is strong and fast, but the idea that he is going to be a really good player has always been based on his learning to do things that he doesn’t actually do–take and hit a lot of jumpers, pass better, learn to go to his right, etc. 

    Clarkson is fine, but he is pretty much who he is. 

    After the NY game on Sunday, the team goes on a seven-game 13-day trip, which may go a long way towards determining the arc of the season. 
    All that said, I believe in Walton. We will see.


  7. Nice article, Darius.
    I’ve been saying for years that improvement is anything but linear.  Rather than moving smoothly along, progress tends to lurch forward and then back again. I call it the “whiplash effect.”  It’s just the way of the world, I think.
    Of course, the recent injuries to key players have resulted in something of a perfect storm.  There have been injuries + the schedule has been brutal + the rotations have been thrown off whack.  To make matters worse, we keep playing teams that are re-hot (except for Phoenix) and on huge winning streaks.
    And yet, somehow, I firmly believe that down the road this will all be beneficial.  One tends to grow most when one goes through hard times, not when things are easy.  Eventually, the Lakers will return to full force again.  The rotations will become normalized.  And the Lakers will be more battle-tested.
    The real litmus-test for this team, I think, will be how well they perform during the 2nd half of the season.  That should be (hopefully) when they really start to put the pieces together.  The transition defense should be better. They should start minimizing their TOs.  (Twenty-seven TOs against Houston is ridiculous and should never happen again.) And their assists should go up as well as their assist-to-turnover ratio, a crucial statistic.
    If all of that happens, and I think it will, we’ll start to notice a significant improvement around February or so.
    But for the time being, this period — painful as it might be — is absolutely necessary.  The fans as well as the players should maintain a long-term view of things.  After all, it’s a long season.  And the core of this team is still very young.


  8. That was an ugly game.  Anyone nostalgic for last year’s team should feel fulfilled.  It was so bad that Huertas was probably the best defender when he was on the court.  The team defense was continually abysmal.  Players loafed down the court and arrived out of position.  Huertas walked the ball up the court and still had to wait for a player to cross half court.  Players attempted help defense but usually just got in each other’s way and left shooters wide open.  All this stuff can be fixed but the schedule and injuries are limiting how much can be done.  This is a good test of the coaching staff and of leadership among the players.


  9. Randle doesnt have to hit a lot of jumpers just enough to keep them from saggin off him.
    Everyone knows that Clarkson is rated higher than Randle in all 2014 redrafts…right? He would be the 4th pick from what Ive seen in most. He is playing out of position in a system that doesn’t suit his strengths. He is a dribble penetration player and the Lakers are running the GS offense which caters to shooters. Clarkson is being a team player but ultimately prolly needs to go somewhere and be a PG. There are a few teams that covet him. We stole him in the 2nd round doesnt mean he is a 2nd round talent … quite the contrary.


  10. Sage read Darius,.. I was thinking the same thing, that many tend to tune their outlook on what is occurring today, not taking fully into account the circumstances of why, or even, what may happen tomorrow.
    If we are winning, then the future is bright, if we are losing, then our talent is nil and we need to either tank or trade.
    Imo, a more practical assessment would be found when the key players on our team are healthy.
    If we take that tact, even during the most difficult stretch of our early season, we were .500 or above.
    I expect that we will end up the same at seasons end, if, we can stop the bleeding before we are far too anemic and the team mates who are being overused don’t break down later.


  11. LordMo

    Clarkson has some pretty well-established performance levels, and those really haven’t changed much except for his AST rate in the switch from Scott to Walton. His FTR has dropped off since he was a rookie, as his 3pAR has risen, but that happened last year, pre-Walton.


  12. Given the start of the season, this losing streak sucks and is reminiscent of the many from last season. However, I feel a lot better about the reasons behind this one than the ones last year.


  13. KermitWashingtonKilla December 20, 2016 at 11:57 pm

    The enegery and sheer hope for a new year quickly evaporated with the injuries and schedule. It feels like this team is falling into old habits while trying to stay afloat. As mentioned slumps like losing 12 of 13 games is what this team has experienced for last 2+ seasons. With 2015 injuries and 2016 toxiticty, this years team must show progress on the court and in the win loss column. They need that playoff carrot to chase throughout the season even if it’s a long shot, I fear this team will go into selfish mode particularly our two best players this year young and williams if moral victories and learning moments are what’s left. Do we even talk about trades or dare I say tanking after the all star break. Just real talk.