In recent interviews Byron Scott has taken a more optimistic approach for where his team is. For example, he had this to say about the team’s defense (per the LA Times’ Mike Bresnahan):
“I know a lot of people aren’t happy with our record and where we are,” Scott acknowledged. “But I’m happy with the progress that we’re making, especially at that [defensive] end of the floor. That was the main objective coming into this season, to form an identity on that defensive end and let everything else kind of take care of itself.”
Scott’s softer public stance is needed when the team is doing so poorly. We also should not dismiss entirely what he’s saying — the Lakers have been a bit better defensively recently — so it is worth him saying this publicly, not just to give his guys some public praise, but to speak to what is going on. Before the Lakers went on their 5 game road trip, their defensive efficiency was 113.0. Heading into tonight’s game, that number has fallen to 106.4. Lopping off nearly 7 points per 100 possessions defensively is improvement.
In saying that, however, the Lakers still rank as one of the worst defensive teams in the league. They’re also fairing poorly on offense and have one of the worst efficiency differentials in the league.
Lakers are still 28th in DEff & have fallen to 27th in OEff. 4th worst efficiency differential at -9.5. Yikes. Playing at 7th fastest pace.
— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) November 15, 2015
This is the reality of where this team is right now. So, while I am happy Scott is not using this opportunity to bury his team, it is also important to put the growth he discusses in the proper context. They have simply gone from historically bad on defense to really bad compared to the rest of the league.
The dip in offensive efficiency is also concerning. After getting some viable bench play early in the season, that production has taken a big hit in recent games. After the loss to the Mavs I noted the poor stretch of play the bench provided. While that group has not reached quite those lows in every game, they have hit rough patches in nearly every game in the past week and that is dragging down the team even when the starting group plays well.
What all this means for Sunday’s game against the Pistons will be two-fold. First, the Pistons do not offer a strong group of bench players and they also fall off production wise when certain players — namely Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond — go to the bench. If the Lakers’ bench can find their stride against a Detroit unit who has also had their struggles, the game could follow a pattern which favors the Lakers.
However, and second, the Pistons 1st unit is strong enough where the Lakers may be playing catch up from the outset. The Pistons starters — Jackson, Drummond, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, and Erson Ilyasova — have played a league high 169 minutes together as a unit. That group has a +8.9 efficiency rating boasting an offensive efficiency of 104.3 and a defensive efficiency of 95.4. Of the top 10 units in minutes played together, this differential ranks 4th. Meanwhile, the Lakers’ starting group has played 109 minutes together (10th most in the league) and have a -13.4 efficiency differential — last among the top 10 units in minutes played.
So, the biggest key to this game will likely be whether or not the Lakers starters can keep the game close enough so that the team’s respective benches performance actually matter. With the Lakers at home, the hope would be their bench players would get some of the bounce which comes from the familiarity of playing in their own building.
Also key will be how well the Lakers manage their defensive backboards — especially when Drummond is in the game. Drummond has an offensive rebound percentage of 18.5 — meaning he grabs nearly one of every five misses when he is on the floor. A lot of these O-rebounds come when the Pistons run P&R and Jackson gets into the lane or when other Pistons create shots off dribble penetration. Considering the Lakers do not defend well on the perimeter, have trouble defending the P&R, and are not a very strong defensive rebounding team, this spells real trouble. The Lakers will need to clean this up or they will get hammered on the backboards.
Lastly, the first game at home after a long road trip can often result in a lackadaisical and sloppy effort. The Lakers were just in Dallas on Friday and now play in Los Angeles tonight and then in Phoenix tomorrow before getting a nice break until Friday at home against the Raptors. If they get caught looking ahead or if they feel the result of all that travel on Sunday, you will be able to tell early via mental mistakes and generally mistake laden play.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.