Archives For Laker Analysis

The Lakers lost again. This, in and of itself, is not news. It is especially not news when they are on the road and playing a good team, as they did on Tuesday night, against the Heat in Miami. So, with the simplest of explanations, chalk this up to one team losing to a better team under circumstances in which that outcome was going to be pretty likely.

The bigger story, though, wasn’t just the team losing, but the side stories within the loss. Namely, that despite the Lakers finding themselves down big late, D’Angelo Russell could not get any 4th quarter minutes. After the game, Byron Scott had this to say about that development:

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This is less a preview about the Heat and more a comment on approach to any given game moving forward. So, if you are interested in match up specific content, sorry to let you down today. Our morning links from today give some nice background Kobe and Wade and, like our previous game previews you can hash out the players of import simply by examining the rosters from both teams.

I am taking this approach for the simple reason that at some point the Lakers are going to need to decide what they want most out of this year. As we noted in our season preview and have touched on several times since, the Lakers headed into this season with contrasting goals of winning as many games as possible while also developing the young players. The balancing act which would come from trying to achieve both goals would be difficult and likely unsuccessful.

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The Lakers lost again on Sunday, this time to the Knicks, their 5th defeat in six games. The game was close throughout and the Lakers, down the stretch, fell into the trap of looking for specific types of plays — namely Kobe wing isolations – which bogged down their ball movement and, ultimately, did not produce good shots.

It wasn’t even that Kobe got a lot of shots down the stretch, but rather that process of trying to even get him these shots led to the failures. If the Lakers had simply relied on different play types and, in the process, initiated their offense in a different manner they might have gotten the needed baskets (or trips to the foul line) to stop the bleeding.

Instead, they scored exactly one basket between the 7:18 mark and the :05 mark of the 4th quarter. Those two points — on a Roy Hibbert offensive rebound and putback — were only bolstered by four free throws to in the last 7-plus minutes. In case you were wondering, that’s very bad.

I would like to get back to the point above about seeking out different options offensively, however. Because, for the season, the Lakers have been making similar errors in judgement and it has been hampering their offensive output.

What do I mean? I am glad you asked!

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There has been a lot of handwringing over the Lakers’ offense. I know, I have been doing it myself. And while I stand by my criticisms of how the team’s worst tendencies have been too present to start the season, we are beginning to see a slight shift in how the team attacks.

Since the Nuggets game, the Lakers have been running more quick hitting actions, getting into their sets faster, and using more integrated pick and rolls throughout any given set. This has all led to a more fluid looking attack. Granted, the team has played two very poor defenses, but I’ll take any progress I can get.

But even when the team has been running some of the actions they have been running all season, the execution and attention to detail has been better than what we saw in the preseason or the team’s first few games. An example of this was a Triangle action from the Brooklyn game on Friday night:

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There has not been much to cheer for in the Lakers 0-4 start, but one player who has proven to be a bright spot is Jordan Clarkson. After a strong second half to his rookie campaign, Clarkson has shown that the hard work during the off-season and strong play from the summer and preseason were not a mirage.

Clarkson is leading the Lakers in minutes played (31 minutes a night), scoring (18.3 points per game), and is second on the team among rotation players (behind Nick Young!) in PER (20.6). Not bad for a guy taken 46th in the draft a summer ago.

While some of Clarkson’s early season success could easily be small sample sized theater — I do not expect him to make 46.7% of his three pointers on almost 4 attempts per game all year — his continued growth in certain parts of his game is clear and, in my opinion, very real.

Nowhere is this more true than his work in the pick and roll. Consider the following stats, per through Synergy (10 possession minimum):

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It should be noted, at the top, that few people thought the Lakers would win many games. In my season preview I wrote the following:

I think this team tops out at 38 wins and that’s with everything going right. When was the last time any NBA team had everything go right? When was the last time the Lakers did? That said, if this team wins over 30 games, they will simultaneously improve on last season’s win total by 10 wins and beat their over for Las Vegas.

A 10 win improvement on the 21-win dumpster fire that was last season might seem too optimistic right now. That’s where we are after the Lakers lost 120-109 to a Nuggets team missing one of their better wing scorers and their entire rotation of Centers.

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The Lakers lost their third straight game to open the season, a hat handing by the Dallas Mavericks by the final count of 103-93. Depending on your outlook, the game was either closer or not as close as the final score. I fall more on the latter side.

The Lakers started the game on the wrong side of a 15-0 run — an interesting response to Byron Scott’s criticism that the team was soft and not ready to play after losing to the Kings two days prior. After falling down by so many points early, the Lakers tried to battle back but could never get over the hump. Several times they cut the deficit to 8 points, but never really got closer than that; never really threatened the Mavs in a way to make it seem the outcome was seriously in doubt.

Recapping every detail of the loss is not important. I tell you this not because I’d prefer to avoid typing the words, but more because the reasons for losing are the exact reasons why the team lost the previous two games of  the year. Or at least variations of them.

The team cannot defend well. They have droughts of really poor offense. Rather than getting a key stop, the possession instead ends in a foul or an offensive rebound or a perfectly (poorly) timed mental mistake defensively which surrenders the bucket. Not enough players play well — in this case, Julius Randle needed more help — while too many players didn’t just play average, but very poorly.

The last part of the last sentence there is really me pointing my finger at Kobe Bryant. The 20 year veteran is not playing well. In fact, “not well” is generous. He’s been bad. Very, very bad. Don’t take my word for it, though. Take his. From ESPN’s Baxter Holmes:

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I am not a huge boxing fan, but I have watched enough of the sweet science to know a little bit about the sport. Boxing, in the sports world, is the ultimate mano-a-mano physical endeavor. The sport in which there is no where to hide your failures; no where to escape the punishment when you face someone better than you.

There is maybe no modern superstar whose career has more closely resembled a pugilist than Kobe Bryant. He has turned so many possessions into a one-on-one battle where, like two men confined to the ring, there is no where to run from the onslaught he had prepared for his opponent. Maybe, for me, at least, that’s why his comments last night took on a familiar tone.

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