Twelve games ago Byron Scott decided he wanted to shake up his starting lineup. The move was a controversial one as he demoted Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell — the two players most considered cornerstones of the team’s rebuild and future — from the ranks of the starters to reserves. The young players have said all the right things, but when pressed have expressed a desire to start (at least Russell has – Randle has taken the “control what you can control” approach with the media).
With the change now 12 games deep and exactly three weeks old, now is as good a time as any to take stock and look at some of the numbers and trends which have emerged since the switch. Please note that while Randle has been a reserve for all 12 games, he has missed a contest with a sore ankle and that Russell did start two of the 12 contests while Jordan Clarkson sat out with his own ankle issue.
With that, let’s dig into some numbers:
- The Lakers have gone 2-10 since the switch, nearly doubling their win total from the 3 they had in their previous 20 games.
- In the team’s 1st 20 games, the Lakers had an Offensive Efficiency of 96.3 and a Defensive Efficiency of 106.9. In the last 12 games the team has had an Offensive Efficiency of 97.4 and a Defensive Efficiency of 112.4. So, while the offense has improved marginally (if you want to call +1.1 points per 100 possessions even marginal improvement), the defense has actually been much worse since the switch.
- Individually, the Laker who has shown the most improvement in his play is Kobe Bryant. Since the lineup switch his scoring, assists, rebounds, and FG% are all up. While I believe these improvements are likely more tied to his body starting to feel better and his timing returning, maybe the change has helped too. I wouldn’t argue that, but I’m sure some might see it that way.
- As for Russell and Randle, their numbers have pretty much been identical from before and after the change.
- Russell’s averages as a reserve player: 12.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 39.8% shooting. As a starter: 11.5/4.5/3.5/40.6%.
- Randle’s averages as a reserve payer: 10.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, .9 assists, 38.6% shooting. As a starter: 11.7/9.2/2.0/43.3% shooting. The drop off in shooting and decline in assists stand out here, but those are likely the product of playing more minutes with teammates who aren’t as good as those he was as a starter.
- The eye test says that the Lakers have been better at the start of games since the change, but the numbers actually tell a bit of a different story. Pre lineup change, the Lakers had a net rating (OEff – DEff) of -17.6 in the 1st quarter of games, but in the last 12 games their net rating has actually been worse at -28.4. The difference in these numbers is on the defensive side of the ball where the Lakers are posting a DEff of 122.5(!!!) in the 1st quarter in their last 12 games. So, even though the offense has improved in the 1st quarters (their OEff has gone up by 3.2), it’s not been nearly enough to offset how bad their defense has been.
To summarize, the Lakers have won more (relative term, I know) after the change, but as I wrote in my game preview for Monday’s Hornets game, those wins seem mostly the product of strong individual performances and not indicative any real schematic improvements or in-game adjustments. What we’ve really seen, then, is the Lakers’ defense fall off a cliff since the change and not enough offensive improvement to offset it.
If you’re looking for a silver lining, the young players’ counting statistics have basically gone unchanged even though they are playing fewer minutes. However, those guys playing fewer minutes in general isn’t really a positive. Randle’s minutes are down 3.9 minutes a night since his move to the bench and Russell’s are down 2.3 a night. These aren’t huge numbers in the big picture, but it’s not nothing either.
Lastly, over the last week or so the Lakers have looked less engaged and prepared than earlier in the year. I don’t know if this is a product of losing, a product of the lineup change, or if this is just a perception bias on my part that cannot be proven outright. However, I would argue the drop off on defense is nearly all effort related and on too many possessions it looks like the players simply do not care. There are exceptions to this (Brandon Bass, for example, has been playing hard and well in last 10 games), but in general the drop off in defensive efficiency lines up with the eye test.
Byron Scott says the team will stick with the current lineup through the calendar year. That’s at least one more game of this before a potential change. We’ll see if any of the numbers or observations above translate to a change.