We’re twelve games into this season, and many Lakers fans are still wondering what this team is.
Are the Lakers the team that manhandled the Clippers in every facet of the game on opening night? The team that didn’t need its starters to erase a four point deficit heading into the fourth and final quarter, and ended up winning by 13?
Or are the Lakers the team that went up north the next night and stayed competitive for about five minutes against the Golden State Warriors, who shot the lights out en route to a 31 point thrashing of the purple and gold.
At 5-7, the Lakers have shown that they can compete with talented teams. They defeated the Clippers and the Houston Rockets, and lost by six to the defending Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs.
They have also shown that if they don’t bring intensity and their drive every night, they will get run out of the building. The Lakers currently have the eighth-worst point differential in the league. They got blown out in Golden State and in Dallas, and Minnesota came into the Staples Center and ran them out of their own building.
However, the Lakers had arguably their best game of the season when they got revenge on the New Orleans Pelicans (it’s going to take a while to get used to that). They brought their energy and tenacity, but that game was the first in a back-to-back. The Lakers then went into Denver the next night and lost by 13, where it seemed like they just ran out of gas in the fourth quarter. They followed that up with a loss to the struggling Memphis Grizzlies – Memphis’ first road victory of the season. They had one of their better games of the season in the next contest, a 15 point victory against the Detroit Pistons.
The trend this season has revolved around the bench. When the bench brings the energy and puts the ball in the hole, the Lakers win. When they come out flat and commit turnovers, the Lakers don’t have a certain Mamba to bail them out anymore.
The consistencies have been rare for the Lakers, but Jordan Hill has been arguably the most consistent Laker so far this season. That is, of course, when he gets playing time. Mike D’Antoni called Hill a “spurt guy” and had given Hill limited minutes, but Hill has seen the floor more lately, including getting multiple starts and putting up career highs in points and rebounding.
When Hill plays, good things happen. He is averaging 20.9 minutes per game, and is third in the league in rebounding rate and eighth in the league in Player Efficiency Rating. These are fancy schmancy sabermetrics, but being in the top 10 in the league in something is usually not a bad thing.
Before the season started, I thought that if the Lakers could hover around .500 until Kobe Bryant returns from his Achilles tear, they would be in good shape for a playoff spot. The Lakers are doing that, and I refuse to believe that Bryant’s return could hurt the Lakers. Sure, there will be less shots for everyone else. But is less Shawne Williams necessarily a bad thing? In a perfect world, everyone would adapt to Bryant’s style, and Kobe would be smart enough to realize his limitations.
For the first time in what seems like a while, the Lakers have a variety of different role players. Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry are players who need to utilize their athleticism and take what they are given. Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake are the three point shooters. Let Hill, Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman run the paint, while Jordan Farmar and Steve Nash (when healthy) handle the ball. Or just get out of the way of Nick Young and Kobe, who are two of the best in the league at dominating the ball and creating their own shot.
It’s going to take a while to figure out exactly who or what the 2013-2014 Lakers are. They’re not a championship contender, but maybe they won’t exactly be tanking for Andrew Wiggins either.
This Laker team won’t have much of an identity until Kobe returns, which could be in the very near future. Sometimes they are fun to watch, whiles sometimes it physically hurts to watch. But watching the Lakers is always a lot better than not watching the Lakers.
This was an article by Alex Campos. You can follow him on Twitter here: @ac3581