7 Things We Learned About the L.A. Lakers in Week 1
After struggling out of the gate to the tune of three losses and one win, the Los Angeles Lakers have definitely not lived up to the hype and expectations up to this point.
However, one of the benefits of losing is that for most teams, there are recurring themes in terms of weaknesses and strengths that are exposed.
Although their one victory over the even more dysfunctional Detroit Pistons quelled some of the criticisms for the time being, there is no avoiding the fact that the L.A. Lakers have yet to really conform to a style of play that can yield consistent victories.
Through their first four games, it is obvious that the Lakers have some clear strengths to take advantage of and several weaknesses to rectify.
The Princeton Offense Stifles the L.A. Lakers' Speed
Controversy has been rampant as critics and analysts weigh in on the L.A. Lakers and their Princeton offense.
However, the numbers indicate that the Lakers have found very little success on the fast break as they try and implement the motion offense.
Despite the age of their roster and their lack of a superior athlete other than Dwight Howard, the fast break is still the most effective way for any team to score buckets.
Over the first four games, the Lakers have averaged 8.5 fast-break points. This means that the Lakers are second last in the league in fast break opportunities.
Furthermore, it is clear that Steve Nash's ability to push the tempo of the game and create easy buckets is being severely mitigated in this offense.
Ironically, the Lakers' first win came without Nash. Without one of their key cogs, the Lakers went away from the Princeton for longer stretches in their game against the inept Pistons and carved out a victory.
As the TNT Inside the NBA experts analyzed, the real issue with the Princeton offense is that it is a half-court style of offense that will keep opposing teams in the game due to the slowness of its pace.
Despite the slowness of its pace, every team in the NBA needs a half-court set to fall back on. If the Lakers can focus more on running the break at every possible opportunity while learning how to quickly set up the complicated Princeton set if the fast break isn't available, they should become an elite offensive squad.
The Lakers' Defense Has Regressed
Exchanging Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard was supposed to make the L.A. Lakers much more formidable on defense.
However, the results have yet to show as the Lakers are allowing 99.8 points scored on them per game. During the previous NBA season, the Lakers only allowed 96.2 scored per game.
Part of these defensive issues come with team chemistry and the fact that this team still needs to work out some kinks in terms of their rotations and help coverage.
Another part of the issues comes in the form of the former Defensive Player of the Year, Howard.
Howard's 9.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game are a little misleading. Although those are quality defensive numbers, Dwight Howard is a shadow of his former self on the defensive end.
This can be attributed to his back injury, which has hindered his speed and his timing.
The Lakers are also allowing their opponents to score on 44.7 percent of their shot attempts, which makes them 16th in defensive efficiency.
Perhaps the most alarming deficiency the Lakers have despite their massive front line is the fact that they rank 20th in defensive rebounds, hauling down 30.5 boards a game.
However, there are some positive signs to take out of the Lakers' defense. With the biggest front line in the NBA, the Lakers have allowed 10.2 rebounds per game, which is good for ninth in the league in terms of opponents' offensive boards.
Those numbers should trend upwards as the team continues to build chemistry and Howard's back continues to mend.
The Lakers Struggle in Transition
Similar to their regression in terms of fast-break points, the Lakers are showing a regression in transition defense as well.
With their opponents averaging over 16 fast-break points per game, the Lakers rank 23rd in transition defense.
This statistic is peculiar, because Dwight Howard is a much better transition player than Andrew Bynum.
This should foreshadow an increase in fast-break efficiency on both ends of the court rather than a regression.
However, like his half-court coverages, Howard seemed a step slow in transition due to his ongoing recovery from back surgery.
Though Howard has shown flashes of excellent court coverage and speed in transition on both ends of the court, it appears as if he is picking his spots and taking it slow to allow his back to fully recover.
This poor transitional play from the Lakers should not stir a panic in the early going, as the team is still developing chemistry at both ends of the court and Howard continues to mend.
Kobe Bryant Hasn't Lost a Step
Despite his foot injury and the fact that the Black Mamba is 34 years of age, Kobe Bryant has come into this NBA season looking just as lethal as ever.
Averaging close to 27 points per game on an incredible 59.7 field goal percentage, Kobe Bryant has really thrived offensively.
Part of this is due to the fact that the Princeton offense, which has been widely criticized for its slow pace, has allowed him to play off the ball and utilize screens and cuts to score the same way players like Richard Hamilton and Ray Allen do.
Furthermore, with the inclusion of four former All-Stars playing alongside him in the starting lineup, Bryant is seeing less double-teams in an isolation set and has been much more efficient.
Bryant has always been one of the best conditioned athletes, and the inclusion of more shooters and an offensive system that allows him to utilize his conditioning to generate buckets is definitely an advantage. This will allow him to conserve himself for the inevitable isolation plays that tend to occur in clutch situations and will allow Bryant to stay dominant offensively for at least another season.
Though it isn't clear if Bryant will begin to lose steam as the season progresses, his current rate of 37 minutes per game is a step down form last year's 38.5 minutes per game.
Once the season rolls along and the Lakers work out their kinks, his minutes should continue to decrease, which will allow him to retain energy and efficiency for the duration of the season and the playoffs.
Offensive Confusion Yields Turnovers for the L.A. Lakers
Furthering the controversy regarding the Princeton offense is the alarming amount of turnovers the Lakers are causing, despite their veteran core.
The implementation of any new offense will spur on initial struggle. However, the fact that the Lakers lost all their preseason games as well as their first three regular season games can be partially attributed to their inability to take care of the ball.
Despite their above average offensive efficiency, the fact that they are committing an outrageous amount of turnovers per game is an obvious indication that the Lakers have not yet conformed to their offensive system.
The Bench Is Not Producing
Despite having some quality players coming off the bench in the form of Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks, the Lakers are last in the league in bench points.
Averaging only 20.5 points from the bench per game, the Lakers' bench squad is being outscored by Dwight Howard alone.
If this trend continues, Mike Brown will have a hard time reducing his starters' minutes in order to preserve them for the playoffs.
Their inability to score comes from the fact that they don't have a creator off the bench.
Antawn Jamison, their primary scorer off the bench, has basically become a spot-up shooter. Furthermore, their offensive coordinator at the point guard position, Steve Blake, is more of a long-range threat than a creator.
With a lot of shooters and a deficit of penetrating creators on the bench, the Lakers are going to have a hard time generating open shots for their role players.
Exasperating the situation further is the fact that the Lakers don't have a scorer in the post on their bench.
This means that outside of jump shooters, the Lakers have no offensive versatility from their bench, which will be a recurring theme throughout the season.
Dwight Howard Produces Despite Struggles at the Line
Despite the fact that Dwight Howard has looked a step slow on the defensive end due to his ongoing recovery from a back injury, there is no doubt that he has lived up to the hype, despite the losses.
Averaging 23.3 points on close to 70 percent shooting from the field while averaging 9.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game are impressive numbers no matter how you spin it.
However, Howard hasn't shown any form of improvement in the form of his most crippling weakness.
Howard is still averaging only 51.9 percent from the free-throw line and his performance from the charity stripe is one of the prevalent components of the Lakers' early season struggles.
Making only 27 of his 52 free throw attempts, Howard is leaving 25 points on the table that could have made the difference in each of the Lakers' first three losses.
Although Howard has often been scrutinized for his lack of a true post game, he is still able to rack up an impressive number of points per game in each of his seasons in the league because of his strength and speed.
Despite his obvious need to develop a low post game, it is even more urgent for the big man to become competent at the charity stripe.
For Howard, becoming a beast from the line is an even quicker way to offensive dominance than working on counter moves in the post.