If the silver lining to the loss to the Magic was the young players playing well while gaining valuable experience down the stretch of a close game, the loss to the Mavs offered some hints at improving group play from the starting group. After a Heat game that saw the Lakers’ starters struggle against the Heat’s top 5, the team’s first five had a stronger showing against the Magic one night later.
Last night, against the Mavs, the starters’ showing was even better:
Against the Mavs on Friday, Lakers starters played 14 minutes together, had an OEff of 133.2(!!) and a DEff of 72.1(!!!).
— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) November 14, 2015
This improvement came even with a shift in group dynamics as Kobe returned from a 2-game absence nursing a sore back. The time off did Kobe well as he came back looking fresher and with more life in his legs than when he departed. That extra pep in his step translated to better shooting accuracy early, a 4-4 start for 9 points. These shots mostly came within the flow of the offense and things were going well for the entire team.
Until it wasn’t, of course. After jumping out to a 19-9 lead in the first six minutes of the 1st quarter, the Lakers were outscored 20-5 in the final six minutes of the period to trail 29-24. A lot of that was on the backs of a disastrous performance from the 2nd unit. And while a competitive game ensued the rest of the night, the Lakers never again led. They got within a single point multiple times, but never got ahead on the scoreboard.
Their are individual positives to take away from this game, however. Jordan Clarkson played very well offensively, bouncing back from his poor game in Orlando two nights earlier. Clarkson’s 9-18 shooting (including 3-5 from distance) for 21 points were team bests. He looked fluid, quick, and strong. D’Angelo Russell didn’t have a strong shooting night (3-7), but stuffed the boxscore with 9 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. He only had a single turnover (which is both good and, for me, a bit bad — I want a bit more risk taking) and was in control for a lot of the night.
On the not as good side, some of the team’s veterans again struggled. I mentioned Kobe’s hot start, but he only hit 3 of his final 11 shots and had a couple of forced shots late. Lou Williams was, well, bad. He was only 3-11 from the field, but only two of those FGA’s were three pointers. So, a lot of his shots were of the long two-point variety and he came up empty. Further, he was -21 in his 28 minutes and had trouble organizing the team’s offense during that terrible 2nd quarter stint. Nick Young also couldn’t hit a shot, literally missing all of his 4 shots and never getting to the FT line.
I think it is also fair to question the coach for how he managed the closing lineups. Not because swapping Metta or Bass for Randle was an egregious mistake (Randle wasn’t shooting well, Bass/Metta are better defenders), but because it once again showed that Byron is chasing wins and is more than willing to sit a young player to try and get it. He did it in Orlando by sitting Clarkson, has done it with Russell, and did it with Randle in Dallas.
Again, I don’t blame Scott for wanting to win games. But, if he’s going to make these changes and deny some of the young players for closing games in favor of veteran alternatives, actually coming up with a win would be nice. By not winning games and not having the young guys in the game, it really does accomplish nothing.
Sure, maybe the veteran player is appeased and the young player gets a taste of (insert whatever your favorite Byron idiom is here). But if your two stated goals are to develop the young players while winning as many games as possible, but your team is 1-8 and every other game one of your core young players sits out the closing minutes of a game (some of them the type of close games where valuable experience is gained), I would argue you are accomplishing neither of those goals.
There’s more nuance involved than that last sentence above, but that is the gist of it. So, while it is somewhat of a broken record, it is worth mentioning again – in the goal of balance winning with player development, the Lakers — via game action — aren’t doing so hot on both fronts. This is a problem.