Through 15 games, the Lakers only have two wins. This, in a vacuum, is concerning. In an ideal world — a world where the Lakers would have the inside track at a top free agent — winning a few more games with the young players showing a readiness to contribute to those wins would be occurring. In that alternate universe, the Lakers wouldn’t be .500 (or even close to it), but a 5-10 record with some eye popping numbers from any of the younger players in those wins would have happened.
Of course, this has not happened. In the teams two wins, one was predicated on Kobe handling the ball a lot and being a key facilitator of the team’s offense (vs. the Pistons) and in the other one the win came against a team arguably worse than the Lakers (vs. the Nets). The young players have shown some promise, but like most young players they have also been inconsistent, mostly subpar defensively, and still sorting out what they are good at in the NBA.
Through 15 games, then, it’s hard to feel too good about where this team is. We might feel differently if the team were 2-13 with the young players getting the bulk of the minutes while playing a style which seemed more in tune with the rest of the league, but this team is still heavily invested in Kobe Bryant as a centerpiece player and coached by Byron Scott. These variables impact the approach to any given game and the underlying schemes the team employs, leaving us to watch exactly what we are watching.
This is not all bad, though. In Saturday’s loss to the Trailblazers, the Lakers trio of young players all played well offensively and were able to find success within the team’s offense and through improvisation. Russell and Clarkson led the team in minutes and were 2nd and 3rd in points while leading the team in assists. No, none of this led to a win, but, again, players must first sort out what they can do at this level before they can directly channel those abilities towards wins and losses. Baby steps.
Sunday’s game against the Pacers offers another chance for growth, though that may prove difficult. Unless Roy Hibbert decides to channel Wilt Chamberlain in this match up against his former team, the Lakers do not have any advantages at any position to coming out of the gate. In fact, it’s worse than that because the Pacers have the best player on either team and one of the best players in the entire league.
When Paul George returned from a broken leg late last year, there were questions about how good he could be even when he was fully recovered (which, from a health perspective was last year, but clearly not from a timing and mental readiness perspective). When this season started with George bristling at the prospect of him playing power forward in small-ball lineups, questions about his attitude were added to that equation.
Now, though, there are no questions. George is having the best season of his career and dominating the action by playing amazing two-way basketball. George is averaging over 26 points, 8 rebounds, and nearly 5 assists a night while playing lock down defense on the other end of the floor. His play has catapulted him into the discussion of one of the top 5 players in the league and it is on his back that the Pacers are 10-5 and 2nd in a more-competitive-than-expected Eastern Conference.
Now is the time where I might try to explain what the Lakers can do to slow down George, but I do not think they can actually do that much. If playing the match up straight up, George will be guarded by Kobe which. If they try to cross match, Jordan Clarkson draws the assignment. Neither of these can even be considered good solutions and, if we’re being honest, are both pretty bad. Unless George just has an off night, he simply has too many advantages to fail against either guy.
George isn’t the only problem guy, either. The rest of their wing rotation features George Hill, Monta Ellis, and a recently red-hot from the outside C.J. Miles. This is a ton of firepower and considering how poorly the Lakers have defended on the wing, this has the chance of going very, very poorly.
If the Lakers are going to stay in this game, then, they will need to keep up offensively by pouring in the points. Clarkson, Randle, Kobe, and Russell all need to have good nights. As will Nick Young. Lou Williams will again not play due to the death of his grandfather, so the aforementioned guys will all need to be at their best. Hibbert and Bass will also need to do good work on the offensive glass and it would also be helpful if Nance and Metta hit the open shots this offense affords them.
Even if all that happens, the Pacers are still the better team and should win. But at least, if it did, the game would be much more entertaining than it would be otherwise. Which, considering what I wrote at the top of this post, is better than what we’ve gotten to this point.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio Los Angeles 710AM.