Are the Lakers Better Now than they Were to Start the Season?

Darius Soriano —  January 9, 2017

Which team would you rather be?

Team A

Offensive Rating: 104.3, 13th in the NBA
Defensive Rating: 107.4, 27th in the NBA
Net Rating: -3.1, 21st in the NBA
Winning Percentage: .500

Team B

Offensive Rating: 108.9, 12th in the NBA
Defensive Rating: 108.5, 19th in the NBA
Net Rating: +0.4, 13th in the NBA
Winning Percentage: .400

Team A scores less, defends better, has a negative (and worse) net rating, but a better record. Team B scores much better, defends slightly worse, has a (slightly) positive net rating, but has a worse record. Before we get into the answer to which team you like better, know that Team A is the Lakers through their first 20 games where they posted a 10-10 record. Team B is the Lakers as well, but from their last 10 games where they have gone 4-6 during that stretch.

Call me crazy, but I’d rather have team B. Yes, the defense and winning percentage is worse, but when you consider how much better they have been scoring and the fact they have a positive net rating, there’s a case to be made that the way the team is playing now is actually better than they were to start the season. Especially when you consider the lineup data.

Over the last 10 games, the starting lineup of D’Angelo Russell, Nick Young, Luol Deng, Julius Randle, and Timofey Mozgov has played 121 minutes. During those minutes the they’ve posted an offensive rating of 121.8 and a defensive rating of 99.0, for a net rating of +22.8 for the year. Consider through the first 20 games those numbers were, offensive rating of 112.1 and a defensive rating of 110.0, for a total net rating of 2.1.

Also consider the play of D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle during the recent 10 game stretch. In the 232 minutes Russell and Randle have shared the floor in the team’s last 10 games, the Lakers have had an offensive rating of 113.9 and a defensive rating 107.1. Compare that to the 111.7 offensive rating and the 110.2 defensive rating the team posted in the 316 minutes that duo shared the floor in the Lakers’ first 20 games.

With that, I think Reed’s point is a salient one:

I understand the recent samples are small. And the level of competition in this stretch is not what it was in the team’s first 20 games — in that stretch the Lakers played the Warriors three times, the Thunder twice, the Hawks twice, the Rockets, Spurs, and the Bulls. Playing as well as the team did to start the year was important for a variety of reasons, but maybe none as much as how it set the tone for what the team could be. There’s an argument to be made some of the success the Lakers are seeing now is directly related to them having that early season success as proof their approach can actually work.

That said, there’s also an argument to be made that this most recent stretch where the team has been without Larry Nance Jr. for the entire 10 games and where opponents have the Lakers more fully scouted and, thus, are more prepared for what the team is doing on both ends should be weighted more heavily. When you add that Russell, Randle, and, in the last few games, Ingram have really started to elevate their play and been drivers to getting some of these wins, that’s another positive mark towards this iteration of the team than the one which was being more heavily influenced by the play of the 2nd unit.

To speak to the question in the title of the post, I’m not ready to say it definitively but I am leaning towards “yes” — the Lakers are better now. The play of the young guys is not only improved, but what they are doing looks sustainable in several key ways. They are more attentive on defense, attacking the rim more on offense, and in carrying a bigger load have taken on more responsibility in the form of increased minutes.

If nothing else, this might make this recent play more meaningful even if not conceding it as better.

Darius Soriano

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to Are the Lakers Better Now than they Were to Start the Season?

  1. What about some egregious blowouts?  I’m thinking like the Warriors beating the Lakers by something like 50.  Games like that would throw off the sample unless discarded.


  2. Vasheed

    Those games might be games to discard if the Lakers were playing with 4-5 guys out, and/or if they were built around stars that were out. As it is, the huge blowout losses to GS and HOU are part of the package. 

    But as noted above, the key thing is what Reed said: some of these games have been keyed by good performances from the lottery picks. That is the big issue with this team, not how far they are out of 8th or whatever.


  3. new rr  Vasheed
    A 50 point game or two is too much of an outlier to average into a small sample and still have a meaningful comparison.  It is part of the record but, is only meaningful in a larger sample.


  4. Vasheed new rr

    Perhaps. But the Lakers lost by 43 to Golden State and by 39 to Houston. Good teams very rarely lose by that much unless they just bench all their guys, and as I have noted, records in double-digit games is a very reliable indicator of team quality. GS is 20-3 in such games, SA is 16-3, and HOU is 15-3. 

    One good sign for the Lakers is that they have already won nine games by 10 or more after winning four all of last year.


  5. new rr  Vasheed If we’re going to throw out those blow outs, are we also going to discard the point differentials for wins where the Lakers blew out their opponents, because the Lakers performed better than they should have? Notably, the Warriors by 20, Pelicans by 27, Heat by 27. 

    Importantly, t
    hese statistics make sense because they confirm the eye test.


  6. The Lakers are not a very good team yet, they are improving but still have a long way to go. We have won 3 of the last 4 but the sample is too small. We need to see if this brief sucess can sustain itself…


  7. Yes, they are better. 
    In the beginning of the season, they were healthy, excited with a young new coach that they could relate to, and this translated into wins.

    Now they have gone through a learning experience, trial by fire and injury, and though they still have a lot of developing, hardening, honing to do, they are better than they were before.


  8. Kareemez new rr  Vasheed
    I would agree with this.  I personally would set an upper and lower limit of 20 but, it is a somewhat arbitrary number.  The point is to get rid of outliers.   Outliers are numbers that would fall out of the range of outcomes one would reasonably expect.  The threshold can be debatable.  But, I can say with some certainity that games decided by roughly 40 points throw off the numbers enough within a small sample enough to distort them.  How many more games do you expect to be decided during this season by roughly 40 points?  I would be surprised if there were even 2 more such events.  Then truncate that down into a clip of 10 or 20 games.  The result is obviously distorted.


  9. Also Deng and Ingram play a lot better. Deng and Ingram played maybe a combined 30 Minutes (Sorry, I don’t have the exact numbers) and at the start of the season they weren’t able to make shots or contribute otherwise. First Deng played a lot better and now BI stepped up his game too. So you get much more production out of their minutes.

    And now imagine BI playing the way he did under a certain coach named Byron Scott. I know the circumstances were different but I don’t think Byron would have supported him the same way Luke did / does: Defending him in front of the media, pointing out the things he did well, saying that he trusts him, letting him play his minutes and even letting him play the point at times. And thats all because it would be good for his development and not because it was beneficiary to the teams performance / getting wins at that time.


  10. Darius:  with 17 games to go starting tonite at Portland and before all star weekend,  I would like to see a continual surge so that a Team C with a plus net rating will emerge with a clear cut plan to continue to gradually develop the core and still win around .500 ball. that would put them just over 30 wins for the season. 

    I’ll settle for any 30 wins.  any wins for 30 would be cake for me.

    Go lakers.


  11. A difference that haven’t been mentioned a lot. Team A was propped up by the veterans, Team B is being powered by the kids.That is very very important…


  12. Better?
    Of course we are. We are better than last year – how could we not be?    We are also better than we were at the beginning of the year   (new coach, new system, players not used to playing together in their roles).    
    It is also safe to say that we will be better a couple of months from now and that we will be better next year.    These are pretty safe bets given where we are now.
    But what does that all mean?   
    The important factor is where is this leading and what the ceiling is?   To use a phrase another poster often uses –     “We fans”   can enjoy the incremental improvement and “enjoy the ride”,   but the FO needs to make sure the improvement is leading toward “contention” and the “ride” is going somewhere.   Hard to do?   Sure – but it greatly influences what we do and how we manage the team.


  13. _ Robert _
    So in other words, in your opinion, our core is minus potential stars, or even combined talents enough to make us competitive in the future; thus the front office should recognize your opinion, and package our ‘assets’ for the kind of player you will deem a ‘star’.


  14. KevTheBold _ Robert _ There are very few Kobe Bryant’s coming into the NBA and even Kobe wasn’t really recognized until he started his 3rs year. We don’t know if any of our players will be a star, much less a super star. BI shows evidence of having superstar potential, Russell shows some star potential, and Julius would seem to be a pretty unique talent. 
    However, I can’t see why we would want to definitely state what we have at this time. What we can say is that the FO has drafted amazingly well over the last 3 years.


  15. Vasheed Kareemez new rr

    I think that in some contexts, “outliers” have signature significance. The two games that the Lakers lost by 40 were to the two most effective offensive teams in the game, Golden State and Houston. The massive margins were a result of that, as well as bad Laker defense, and the circumstances of the matchups. Losing by 40 in games that a team is trying to win is not a result that should be thrown out just because it doesn’t happen often. 
    That said, as noted the key stat for me in this area is that the Lakers are 9-13 in double-digit games whereas they were 4-44 last season. Absent any other info, that is a sign of progress.


  16. KevTheBold _ Robert _

    Robert has never suggested making a trade like this and even if he wanted to, doing so is not allowed on the site. Robert’s thing is that the FO should be firmly focused on young guys, asset accumulation, and guys on short contracts, instead of giving multi-year deals to guys like Young, Williams, Deng and Mozgov, and he is not alone in that. I mostly agree with him, as do some other people here. His other thing of course is that he has never wanted Jim Buss to be the guy running the FO and still doesn’t. But he is not agitating for the FO to trade a package for a guy like Westbrook or Cousins because while Westbrook and Cousins are outstanding players, they are not LeBron James or Shaquille O’Neal–that rare guy that you know that you can use to anchor a title team and that you need to get at all costs if he is in his prime and available. For the record, I oppose such a move right now as well and have said so. 

    As far as “the points”, they are simple, and have been made many times: 1) the Lakers are clearly making some progress, but given where they have been the last three years, they SHOULD BE getting better. Most teams that get to the 17-65 level improve a bit the next year.

    2) The Lakers have three lottery picks doing some very good things who seem to be improving, and four guys in back of that who look like they can support them. Those seven guys are all 19-25 years old. That is good. But OTOH, none of the seven looks like the type of impact player that Embiid, Towns, Porzingis and Antetokounmpo appear to be, and there are a few other young players (LaVine, Turner, Nokic) who are doing as well or better as the Lakers’ young guys are even though no one on this site has ever mentioned that that I recall.  

    3) The Lakers made very questionable long-term, expensive commitments to Deng and Mozgov, and are likely to lose their pick to the 76ers. 

    The Walton hire is also on the plus side, but overall it is a mixed bag, and I think that is pretty much what Robert is getting at.


  17. new rr  _ Robert _ 
    So the comment is based upon past decisions,… again, which imo, is akin to beating a dead horse, gets us no further than simply walking on.

    Your opinions that none of our players are impact types is also already well known to us, thus the answer to the question: ‘if we are better than before’, was answered with spilt milk, and pessimism. 
    As always,… yet it would be nice for once to simply say ‘Yes’, and let it go.
    The rest, since we don’t know the future, is purely throwing cold water on a warm moment.


  18. rr: Very well stated – that is why you are my General Manager.    And your last sentence is especially on target.
    Kev:  when we were 10-10 you stated that I had underrated the roster (when I said Luke was doing it with mirrors).   Well no I clearly did not underrate it.   I projected 35 wins or so which is more than most people did.     We will need  a superstar and no I do not think DAR is that.  Ingram still could be and I like him, but I would think he could be a Scotty Pippen type maybe  (no slouch since he is HOF).   Nobody on our roster strokes me as the type of guy who can be “the man” on a title team.   But we will see.   In the interim – I do not want to hinder their growth at all  (I think you would concur), but I also do not want to reduce our chances of getting a superstar by spending 4 years-worth of cash on veterans who are not needed.   I really do not think we are going to keep the whole young core together, gradually get incrementally better each year, and ultimately win the title.    If you do – fine.   We can agree on developing the core but I will not root for more Mosgov and Deng deals  (or even Young or Williams extensions).
    Craig:   “What we can say is that the FO has drafted amazingly well over the last 3 years.”  Mostly this is due to the fact that we have been bad and had high picks.       Ingram was an obvious #2 that anyone would have selected.   Randle was the consensus pick at #7.   DAR was selected over Okafor but then again – we could have had Porzingis.     We made good later picks with Nance and JC.    Add all that up and it is a good performance, but hardly legendary given that 2 of the first round picks were obvious and the third might have been a big mistake if Porzingis ends up being a total stud.
    All:   The point is     We Are Better.          We have been flunking out of high school for the past 3 years, and now we have gotten our act together  and are getting a “C-“ average during our senior year.    We might even graduate  !      Some of us are not happy with just graduating however and we want to make it to the Ivy League  (contention).      So yes comparing the C- to the F   might be one way to look at it,   but I am more interested in how we get our grade up to an “A”.    And an honest assessment of what we have now is the best way to do that – else we will start making trades, signings, and other moves that we may regret later.


  19. KevTheBold new rr  _ Robert _

    The main thing here worth replying to is this: the “past decisions” affect the present and future arc of the team. For example, the Nash deal–long in the past–is also very much part of the present, and the future, since the last pick owed in the deal is still on the table. So, if you are trying to set parameters for what should be talked about (which is not your place to do anyway) you will be limiting topics in a very unproductive way. What happens with Deng and Mozgov will have implications for the next several years, beyond the scope of their contracts. 
    Beyond that, the point was simple:some very good things are happening and there are also some negatives/issues. And I will end my communication with you with this: I certainly hope that I am underrating the Lakers young guys and will be the first to admit it if I am.


  20. _ Robert _

    FWIW, I think Ingram has the highest ceiling of the three guys, in large part due to his length. But even though he is only 19, he will need to show some improvement over the second half. And, happily, he appears ready to do that.


  21. We can hold the premature assessments on not thinking DAR or one of the young guys can be “the man”. He’s 20 years old. Relax.
    You guys were probably also saying the same things about Steph, Harden, Westbrook etc (funny that those guys were still in college at 20).


  22. new rr  _ Robert _ 
    Let it be known once and for all, that when someone, well, at least myself, comments on aversion to negativity, especially in a positive article, it has no bearing on some perceived control over subject matter. It’s simply an expression, to an expression.
    As for the past, we all understand that it affects the future, yet opinions vary on how. Some could just as well say we gained a great deal in the form of picks.
    In other words, it’s impossible to say what outcomes result from any situation.
    Time factors may or may not be a factor, yet the end results are in flux, and as we see here, heavily balanced on opinion.


  23. Pbz06

    Westbrook and Harden were both in the NBA at 20. Russell’s age 20 numbers compare very favorably to both of them (they were rookies–and were both better as rookies than Russell was as a rookie. ). But one key point: even as 20-year-old rookies, both of them were getting to the stripe much more than Russell does.


  24. new rr  
    Him getting to the stripe is now changing, addition, he’s got strengths that they lacked, so it’s all a wash.


  25. Great post. I agree the young guys are playing better now and against better prepared opponents.

    The biggest difference now is the inconsistent effort. One of the biggest signs of mental toughness is the ability to maintain energy and spirit when things go bad.

    During the first twenty games, the young guys made more mistakes but overcame that with 48 minutes of hustle. The first game against Sacramento was a highlight, as they came back after being down 19 points in the first half.

    43 games into the season, the losses and frustration have started to pile up. The team can be very good when their shots are falling, but things can turn around quickly in a bad way because the effort on the boards and on loose balls comes and goes.

    The Lakers’ young players are all, at present, good role players on a great team. Without a true star, the only way they can win against good teams is if they hustle for 48 minutes and share the ball.