I’d be lying if I said I felt no disappointment or frustration after Tuesday’s loss to the Hornets. After controlling the game for the 1st half, the Lakers struggled mightily during the 3rd quarter to let the Hornets back in. The 4th quarter became a test of execution and timely plays, with Charlotte doing a bit more of the former and on the receiving end of a few more of the latter. A loss ensued and, as per the usual, when a loss like that occurs the torches were lit and the pitchforks were sharpened.
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I really like Jordan Clarkson. He cares about getting better. He works hard. He plays with a chip on his shoulder. He is self aware enough to see some of the weaknesses in his game and then takes measures to try to eliminate them. Any player who has these traits will endear themselves to me because not all players are like this. A lot of them are the opposite.
Jordan Clarkson also frustrates me at times. He has become increasingly one dimensional as an offensive player. When watching him play live, especially recently, I’ve wondered if he realized he had teammates on the floor. During the recent game against the 76ers, his general approach led me to actually tweet this:
Much like seeing the forest through the trees, it can be hard to find positives about the Lakers while in the midst of an 8 game losing streak. Coming off double digit losses to the Kings and Nets only piles on further, leaving many wondering where the early season fun went; where the confidence and joy the team played with disappeared to.
The obvious answer is injuries and losing. It’s hard to be upbeat, happy, and feeling good about yourself when you’ve lost 8 games in a row. It’s even harder when the things you’re doing on the floor aren’t actually working, when your coach says they played mentally soft (as he told the team directly after the Nets loss), and when the other team seems to have all the answers during games while every single one of your runs ends up falling short.
This has been the Lakers’ lives of late and it is dispiriting. To the players, to the coaches, to those of us watching.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.