This is a weekly article where I give the Lakers grades for the games played in that week. This entry will be for games 14 through 17.
The Lakers played 4 games this week, going 3-1, including 2-1 on the road, and improving their record to 9-8. They are above .500 for the first time since their season-opening win against the Clippers. The Purple and Gold pulled away from Sacramento in the 3rd quarter, lost a tough game in Washington, held on after blowing a 27-point, second-quarter lead in Brooklyn, and came from behind to beat the Pistons in Detroit. The following are my grades for the Lakers’ performance as a team, as well as for a couple of key players.
The Lakers are now averaging 100.6 points per game, up from 99.6 as of last week. They are still at 14th in the league.
Over the past couple of weeks, Mike D’Antoni’s vaunted offensive schemes have begun to pay off.
With somebody different stepping up every single night, the Lakers have had no trouble putting points up on the board. In fact, they have scored 99 or more in each of their last six games. The leading scorers in those games were Jordan Hill (24 pts), Pau Gasol (24 pts), Xavier Henry (21 pts), Jordan Farmar (22 pts), Nick Young (26 pts) and Wesley Johnson (27 pts). This is a testament to the Lakers’ versatility and ability to score in a plethora of different ways.
With Kobe’s return imminent (if all goes well in practice this week, a return at Sacramento on Friday seems likely), the Lakers are continuing to rely their chemistry to put points up on the board. The Lakers all know their roles and how to work with each other, and that makes all the difference. While last year the Lakers had players arguing over lobs vs. bounce passes (*coughdwightcough*), this year everyone is acquiescing to a single, clear style of offense: run the break, shoot 3’s, post up Pau and sometimes Jordan Hill, and let Swaggy P do swaggy things.
The Lakers had lapses however, committing too many careless turnovers and finding themselves in shot-clock trouble. When they led for all or most of the game (vs SAC, @ BKN), they committed 10 turnovers. When they lost or trailed most of the game (@ WSH, @ DET), they committed 16 and 17 turnovers, respectively. Most of these turnovers came from careless passes and let to easy fast break points by the likes of Nenê and Andre Drummond.
The biggest culprit, in my estimation is Pau. The big Spaniard is known for his passing, but he’s seemed a bit lost recently, trying to make difficult cross-court passes and being careless with the ball in the post. He is still getting his legs under him, which is understandable, given his summer surgery and early-season respiratory infection, but that is no excuse for not having his head in the game. The real issue here is Kobe’s absence. As long as the Lakers do not have a consistent 20+ ppg perimeter threat, opposing teams WILL double team Pau, and that’s too much for him to handle on a nightly basis.
Overall, the Lakers have put themselves in good position to be an offensive powerhouse once Kobe returns and gives them a steady scoring threat. They are so close to being a top tier offensive team, and Kobe will push them over that hump.
The Lakers are now allowing 102.3 points per game, down from 103.2 as of last week. They remain 25th in the league.
With the emergence of Wesley Johnson as a shot-blocker and Nick Young as a clutch defender, the Lakers are beginning to form an identity on the defensive side of the floor. Even Shawne Williams has shown the ability to block shots and give good weak-side help.
But no factor has been so instrumental as the Lakers’ injuries. I love what they can do on the offensive end, but Steve Nash and Chris Kaman just can’t keep up on defense. Both are a step slow, and it showed in the early games when both were on the floor. Many will say that Kobe’s absence benefits the Lakers’ defense, but I disagree. Sure he gambles sometimes, but with the way his teammates are putting pressure on the ball, he will no longer need to try so hard to create defense. On top of that, if he’s less explosive, he will know that he can’t gamble as much, and will adjust accordingly.
I cannot emphasize how much we need Pau to get his head in the game on defense. He’s shown good stretches (for example, the final few minutes in Detroit) but for the most part he still looks slow. He doesn’t help from the weak side, and he still hasn’t figure out that moving will help him protect the rim better. The ridiculous 76 paint points from Detroit on Friday was a fluke, but it could not have happened if Pau simply moved his feet. Pau knows he can play better, but it remains to be seen whether he has the fuel to put in the required effort game after game.
As long as the rest of the Lakers continue to put forth the same effort on defense as they have been, they will be just fine. This does not seem to be in jeopardy, but if they start slumping from behind the arc, their frustration may start to carry over to a lack of defensive focus.
Overall, the Lakers have shown continued improvement on defense and seem to still have untapped potential in Johnson and Young to look forward to.