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:
“I’m the 200th-best player in the league right now,” Bryant said after the Lakers’ 103-93 loss to the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center on Sunday, during which Bryant scored 15 points on 3-of-15 shooting from the floor. “I freaking suck.”
Bryant is shooting 31 percent (16-of-51) from the floor in three games, including 20 percent (6-of-29) from 3-point range. He shot 2-of-8 from 3-point range against Dallas.
“I just can’t make a shot,” said Bryant, who was ranked No. 93 in ESPN’s #NBArank project, which counts down the NBA’s top players for this upcoming season.
Kobe later said he’s “getting to his spots”, but just isn’t hitting the shots he’s taking. This, though, isn’t really true. Well, the last part is, but the getting to his spots part is not.
Against the Mavs, Kobe took 8 three pointers to only 7 two pointers. It was the third time in the team’s first three games he’s taken more three pointers than two pointers. Unless Kobe’s “spots” are outside the three point line, he’s not getting to his spots. (Here’s a hint: Kobe’s spots aren’t around the arc.)
There is blame to go around, here. If you want a good take on that, you can read this piece by Kevin Ding where he lowers the boom on Kobe and on Byron Scott for enabling him. This is a tricky path to walk down. We all want Kobe to play well. And he says he is willing to take a step back to help the young players.
Down the stretch of the loss to the Mavs, nary an isolation play was run for Kobe. The coaches were not calling plays for him and the young players were not actively looking for him to bail them out of possessions or to take on a bigger load. Kobe took 4 shots in the 4th quarter, but besides an early clock heave after an offensive rebound late in the game, none stood out as particularly egregious.
So, this isn’t as simple as having him cut back and things changing for the better. There needs to be a shift in the style he’s playing, where he’s making his catches, how he’s operating in the sets the team is running, and how the coach leans on him. More from Holmes:
Scott said he still believes Bryant is valuable on the court even if he isn’t making shots. “You’ve still got to respect him out there, period,” he said. “No matter what.”
Again, this hasn’t really been true. Kobe’s not drawing double teams. He’s not working from the post very often because he has bigger defenders on him as a SF. And even when that’s not the case, his legs are not active enough to drive back smaller players on the low-block like he used to in the past. He’s not creating shots for others because he’s not handling the ball very often. He has become a catch and shoot player who is not making shots.
If you want to pivot, this is where the easiest thing to write is something condemning Byron Scott. I’ve ridden that train for a while and, much like Ding wrote, see one of his biggest failures as his lack of challenging Kobe by coaching him harder or in a way which seeks different results by asking him to do different things. I’ve been saying that for a while now, actually.
But, even that strays from the real point a bit too much. The Lakers are 16th in offensive efficiency and 28th in defensive efficiency. One could argue the offensive number is propped up by late game runs against teams who are no longer playing hard, but it’s still the number for now. The defensive number, though, is real. They are awful on that end and, I believe, will stay that way for the remainder of the year.
I think it’s good to remember that the Lakers were not supposed to be good this year. I don’t care what the players, coaches, and front office people said. It’s their job to say those things. I also think it’s good to remember that the team was supposed to be more fun than this too. As was noted after the loss to the Wolves, this team has some capable stretches in them. Now, though?
Lakers fall to 0-3. Different expectations, but the way they're playing compared to how excited fans were feels like Mike Brown's 2nd year.
— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) November 2, 2015
Remember, Brown had Dwight/Nash/Kobe/Pau. This team nowhere near that. But fans were excited heading into the year. Falling flat, though.
— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) November 2, 2015
Brown met his fate after 5 games. I do not think that will happen to Byron Scott. But I am interested in seeing how he adjusts and whether his longtime superstar can do the same. Because I think fans can deal with the losing as long as it looks as though they contribute to some larger forward progress. Right now, that’s not the case. And, if nothing else, that needs to change.