The Los Angeles Lakers, one of the biggest markets in the NBA, find themselves struggling early in the season with an unexpected 0-4 start. Early season projections weren’t high to begin with, predicting around a 30-win season, depending on the statistical source. However, this start is worse than anyone could have predicted, not only because the Lakers are still winless, but also because of the quality of their losses.
Although the Lakers were not projected to be playoff contenders in a very competitive Western Conference, hopes were high for the young talent that the Lakers brought together. The Lakers drafted D’Angelo Russell, a point guard with excellent vision who is intended to be the face of the franchise in the near future. Julius Randle returned off his injury from the first game of last season and should be able to provide some offensive firepower from the four. On top of bringing in two lottery picks to the starting roster, the Lakers surrounded this young talent by signing Lou Williams to mentor Russell and provide valuable minutes of the bench, as well as Roy Hibbert to be a significant interior presence. The team also brought in Brandon Bass to rotate in for Randle off the bench and serve as a decent role player. In addition, management made the bold move by starting Jordan Clarkson at the two after his good rookie campaign and significant improvement over the summer. And don’t forget Swaggy P’s nice offensive spark off the bench. Laker Nation had high hopes for a better season after suffering through last year’s mere 21 wins. The front office couldn’t bring in a huge name over free agency, but there seemed to be some decent young talent to give fans optimism for the start of the 2015-2016 season.
So what is going wrong for the Lakers right now? A number of problems have arisen from the start. Through a small four-game sample, the Lakers have the fifth lowest number of team assists at only 18.5 APG, leading only the Suns, Pistons, 76ers, and Jazz. Not good company. The Lakers’ best distributor right now is D’Angelo Russell, who has only averaged 2.8 assists per game so far. There is not a single player on the roster yet to establish himself as the distributor for a team that has a couple decent scorers to go to. When a team is not playing great team basketball, it resorts to a lot of isolation ball, and frankly, the Lakers do not have a player that will handle that role in the long run.
That brings me to the next major problem: Kobe. I truly hope to see a good season from Kobe Bryant, as this could be his last year in the league. But right now, Kobe is shooting a pathetic 32.3 percent from the field and an even less impressive 20.6 percent from three. We can expect that Kobe will shoot his way out of this slump to better numbers, but I think the “shoot through the struggles” mentality is what concerns me most. Kobe is shooting 15.5 shots per game, 8.5 of those shots coming from three. Kobe is simply taking too many threes. He leads the team in shots taken by 2.5 shots per game (Clarkson 13.0 FGA). Still, Kobe is actually taking less shots compared his normal average of 19.6 FGA over his career. If Kobe could be more selective from three, taking only four to five threes per game, he might be able to produce much more efficient numbers. Let’s not forget that Kobe also has assisted 4.8 APG over his career. As Kobe ages, a slight change in his role might prove very beneficial for the team’s success. The Lakers need Kobe to be more selective.
Kobe is not the only one struggling from the field; the Lakers have the seventh lowest field goal percentage thus far at 40.4 percent. The Lakers haven’t fared any better from three, shooting only 27.9 percent from beyond the arch. The team does not pass and is simply taking bad shots. The Lakers also find themselves at 23rd in the league in rebounding with a team average of 42.8 RPG. Hibbert, at 7 foot 2, is only averaging 6.3 RPG. That needs to change. The Lakers’ woes have been made abundantly clear in the first four games, but there are some bright spots to look out for as the season progresses.
Jordan Clarkson has been off to a very hot start, shooting 55.8 percent from the field and 46.7 percent from three. He leads the team in scoring with a very efficient 18.3 PPG. The Lakers might be able to lean more heavily on him if he continues to show a good shot selection. The Lakers are also fourth in the league in free throws attempted at 32.0 per game. On top of that, the team is hitting their free throws with a team free throw percentage of 82 percent, sixth in the league. They are forcing the ball inside and converting from the line. The team also has the eighth fewest turnovers per game at only 14.0. They are doing a good job taking care of the ball. If the Lakers could only be more patient, rely less on isolation ball, and move the ball around more, the assist numbers would rise and the Lakers would compete with most Western Conference teams. When I watch the Lakers play, the talent is there to be competitive with almost any team in the NBA; it’s just a matter of team unity.