This is a weekly article where I will be giving the Lakers grades for the games played in that week. This first entry will be for games 1 through 7.
The Lakers started their season 3-4, with very mixed outcomes. They got blown out twice, lost two close games in the 4th quarter, won two close games in the 4th quarter, and blew out the Clippers in the season opener. The following are my grades for the Lakers’ performance as a team, as well as for a couple of key players.
In their first 7 games, the Lakers averaged 98.3 points per game, 17th in the league. For a team coached by Mike D’Antoni, that’s pretty abysmal.
However, at this point in the season we should not expect a whole lot more. After all, Kobe is not playing, and he accounted for 27+ points per game last season. His replacement, Nick Young, is hardly capable of putting up those gaudy numbers for any stretch of games, and the current #1 option, Pau Gasol, has hardly been a dominant force. On top of that, neither Steve Nash, Steve Blake, nor Jordan Farmar have been getting enough penetration on dribble-drives to make D’Antoni’s offense work like it’s meant to.
The Lakers’ biggest problem, however, is in the fourth quarter.
The Lakers were fortunate to come away with both of their late wins against Atlanta and Houston – they beat Atlanta because of a controversial (but correct) blocking foul, and they beat Houston because of Dwight CHoward’s inability to hit free throws (5-16 for the game, 5-12 during the “Hack-a-Dwight” stage).
Steve Blake’s game-winner was heroic, and he has certainly earned the “Vino Blanco” title Kobe gave him on Twitter, but it would have been too little, too late if Dwight shot anywhere close to 50% from the line.
On the bright side, the Lakers have shown great improvement in two key areas that they lacked last year: 3-pointers and fast breaks.
Jodie Meeks is shooting the three-ball significantly better than last year (48.4% compared to 35.7% last year), and the addition of stretch fours Shawne Williams and Wesley Johnson have added extra options to the Lakers’ 3-point arsenal.
On the fast break, the Lakers no longer look lost. This is yet another area where Jodie Meeks has made strides – he is finishing better at the rim, and he’s even made a few good passes.
Overall, the Lakers are showing promise of a better offense than last year, but they have yet to execute it on a consistent basis, and are still waiting for Kobe’s stabilizing presence to guide them, especially in the 4th quarter.
The Lakers are allowing 105.6 points per game, 27th in the league. Numbers don’t lie, but they also don’t tell the whole story.
This particular number is quite skewed by two blowout losses in which they gave up 125 to the Warriors and 123 to the Mavericks. In fact, they gave up 103 or less in the other five games.
When they aren’t lookING lost on the floor, like during those blowouts, the Laker defense is much better than last year.
They are forcing turnovers, trapping the ball without fouling, protecting the rim better than anyone expected with Dwight’s departure, and being feisty. This is mostly due to a gigantic improvement in effort. The new, younger players we have are playing motivated basketball on the defensive end, and putting pressure on offenses. Without a supreme rim protector to bail out bad perimeter defense, the Lakers needed to focus on playing defense as a unit, and they have done so.
I also believe Nick Young and Wesley Johnson can be better 1-on-1 defenders than Metta World Peace was last year. Their length and athleticism is more effective these days than Metta’s strength and craftiness.
Overall, the Lakers defense is much improved. It is not elite yet, but it will only get better as the season progresses.