Archives For Laker Analysis

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a podcast between Zach Lowe and David Thorpe about early season trends. The premise was that after a couple of weeks we were starting to get some information about teams and both Lowe and Thorpe were discussing whether these things were “real”. It was a good listen and worth your time even though nothing about the Lakers was discussed.

The caveat to their discussion, though, was that teams had only played about 10 games — thus the question of whether things they were seeing were actually real. Both commented that after 20 games we would have a better idea about whether trends we were observing had staying power and that it might be good to check back in in a few weeks.

Well, guess what, we’re now at the 20 game mark for the Lakers. They are 10-10 after an ugly, but lovely win against the Bulls on the 2nd night of a back to back on Wednesday. Now that we’re at the quarter pole of the season, we have a better idea about what we actually know about this team. What are some of them? I’m glad you asked. Here’s 10.

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The Lakers lost to the Bulls on Sunday night in a game I’d rather not recount too much. For one, the game was frustrating for me to watch and even after a night to sleep on it, that feeling has not subsided much. Secondly, there was simply too many things that got the Lakers to the point where they again were looking to come back, but just couldn’t get it done.

So, yeah, I could tell you about all the things I thought went wrong, but that would mostly be a waste of energy and not the way I want to spend my morning. Sorry. Just know the Lakers played poorly in nearly all aspects and the fact that they were even in the game late was more random shot making and poor play from the Bulls than it was about some sort of sustained good play from the Lakers.

However, there was one aspect from Sunday night which fits into a larger recent trend which does need some digging into. Namely, that the Lakers’ defense has not been good lately and the Bulls game was just another data point in the team’s decline. Against the Bulls, the Lakers surrendered a defensive rating of 116.5 which is dreadful. And this on the heals of other poor efforts before Sunday (more on that in a minute).

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Heading into this season, the general consensus was that D’Angelo Russell was going to break out while the rest of the Lakers struggled. We’re now a dozen games into the season and somehow, that’s flipped — though with a pretty obvious caveat. Darius joined me on “Locked on Lakers” to explain.

The Lakers have already won seven games this season and, compared to last year (when the seventh win didn’t come until January), the perception around this team is one of essentially pure optimism. Conversely, Russell, who leads the Lakers in several major categories, somehow hasn’t lived up to some fans’ expectations. So, Darius and I tried to figure out what’s at play there.

Then, the conversation expanded to the perceptions of the Lakers’ entire young core. No one  the Lakers are trying to build around moving forward fits an easily-defined player-type, which forces fans to do their homework a bit more than in year’s past. Basically, the Lakers are a hipster team the blogiverse tends to enjoy more than a casual fan might. Listen to the show and this will make sense. I promise.

Finally, we spoke about the daunting stretch of games the Lakers are looking at. The team’s play to this point has people talking about the playoffs, but this next stretch might serve as a reality check. While Darius and I weren’t all that interested in predicting whether the Lakers might make the playoffs (though we did talk about what we hope to see in the next 12 games), we were interested in where the sudden flip of expectations might’ve come from.

You can listen to the show below, and hopefully subscribe to us on iTunes, which you can do, here.

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We know from everything Luke has said, taught, and done that one of his core coaching philosophies is the need for an unselfish team approach to offense. He speaks more of ball movement than perhaps anything else, and recently emphasized the importance of achieving 300 passes per game as a team. This philosophy is unsurprising given Luke’s style as a player, and given his training under both Steve Kerr and Phil Jackson, who both tried to implement team offensive systems over one on one play. Just today, Luke commented that he learned from Phil that “One bad pass to start a possession can start a chain.”

The Lakers have made substantial strides so far this year on offense, and currently sit 9th in the league in offensive rating at 109.6, which is a stunning increase from where they finished last year (101.6 and 29th). This has made me think about Luke’s offensive philosophy and how his approach compares to some of the great offenses of the past few years.

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The Lakers are a surprising 6-5 through 11 games this season. Considering their Vegas over/under was 24.5 wins, being on pace to win almost close to twice that many games isn’t something many (any?) people saw coming. I know I didn’t.

There are several factors which are contributing to the team’s early season success, but I’d argue none are more important than the performance of the team’s bench. The unit of Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Larry Nance Jr., and Tarik Black is destroying opponents. Seriously. It’s not hyperbole.

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The other night I was out with a friend having a drink and talking basketball. In between some NSFW commentary on topics from around the league, he asked me about D’Angelo Russell. My buddy, an OKC Thunder fan, said he really likes Russell and wants him to do well. He asked me if I had any concerns about Russell (I will get to my answer to that in a minute) and then we went on to discuss how good we think he can be as a player.

In Sunday’s game against the Timberwolves, Russell did not play well. It took him 10 shots to score his 7 points and he struggled defensively, both when trying to contain Ricky Rubio off the dribble and when forced to switch onto other wings/bigs. This type of game isn’t indicative of how Russell has played all season, but it’s also not the first time it has happened. In a loss against the Pacers he scored 11 points on 3-10 shooting and the Pacers attacked him with Paul George down the stretch, intentionally singling him out by forcing switches defensively. A loss against the Jazz saw him score 9 points on 3-14 shooting while George Hill cooked offensively on the other end.

For the season, Russell is scoring 15.4 points a night and dishing 4.7 assists. He’s shooting 40.5% from the floor, including 35.9% from distance. If these numbers sound familiar, it’s because they are quite similar to the ones he posted last season: 13.2 points, 3.2 assists, 41.0% shooting from the field, and 35.9% from behind the arc. Russell is scoring and assisting better and in fewer minutes a night, but if you look at his shot charts, things this year resemble last year.

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The Lakers Collective

Darius Soriano —  November 7, 2016 — 13 Comments

The Lakers have traditionally been built on the premise that stars win. The idea is seemingly embedded into the fabric of the organizational ethos. This is a franchise that does not retire your jersey number unless you get elected into the Hall of Fame. They are the franchise who has always had a leading man (and usually more) — from Mikan to Magic, Baylor to Bryant and all the HOF names in-between — anchoring the roster and driving it towards success.

Recent summers (save for 2016) were dedicated to the chase of the next front-man who would lead the organization out of shambles and back into position to compete for championships. Even though there are high hopes for the youngsters grabbed in the lottery, the team always operated under the guise that the next great team might need to be fronted by a star not yet present.

And maybe that is still true. We don’t yet know how good D’Angelo Russell or Brandon Ingram or Julius Randle will be. Early returns tell us they have the potential to be special. And I am a believer in their respective talents. But if every player with potential reached their ceiling, Anthony Randolph might be the league’s reigning MVP on the Warriors, not that Steph Curry character.

While the young players ply their craft in pursuit of living up to their draft status, a funny thing has happened: the Lakers are winning games and are a fun team to watch play. Even if we thought this was possible, to see it actually happening is surprising. What’s even more surprising his how it is happening.

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The Lakers pulled out a surprise win over the Warriors on Friday, not only by being ahead when the clock hit triple zeros but by doing so in a wire to wire fashion with a 20 point final margin. Before the game, I wrote that I was only looking for good execution and the types of incremental improvements I think is the goal of this season. Instead, I saw the Lakers play quite well on both sides of the ball and punish a Warriors’ team who shot poorly and defended even worse than that.

The Warriors’ performance might lead some to give less credit to the Lakers than would typically be the case after such a win. And when you rewatch the game and see some of the open looks the Warriors missed, I can understand that sentiment to an extent. However, what the tape also revealed was the Lakers doing so many little things well, leveraging some of their advantages against a Dubs team who is simply not as deep as previous contending versions, and also countering every run with a big bucket or stop of their own to hold off any hard charge.

These are the things winning teams do often and the Warriors game marks the second consecutive contest in which the Lakers exhibited these traits. Now, I’m not ready to call this a trend and the Lakers have a ways to go before they can be considered much more than the type of pesky opponent who will play hard and stay in games — pulling some out you do not expect. However, if we start to see these things more consistently, it will force many (including me) to reevaluate our projections for what is possible for them.

But that is a discussion for down the line. For now, here are 10 thoughts from a game I did not see coming, but was more than happy to be wrong about.

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