The first half of the 2012-13 season has passed for the Los Angeles Lakers. Fittingly, there was enough drama in Tinseltown to record a pilot for a new soap opera.
We saw coaching changes, injuries, arguments, the season “starting” multiple times and most importantly, losses. On the bright side, the Lakers’ offense looks good and Kobe Bryant seems to have found the fountain of youth as he is in the middle of another historic season.
So what were the five biggest storylines of the first half of the season?
Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Hill have all missed significant time so far this season. Notice that list does not even contain Dwight Howard’s torn labrum and recovery from offseason back surgery.
The Los Angeles Lakers have been decimated by injuries during the first half of the season. Furthermore, the team’s lack of depth has complicated things just as much as two head coaches and one interim coach have.
The best thing the Lakers can do, besides ending the insinuation that the season starts “tonight,” is to stay healthy. They remain in striking distance of the playoffs, but another significant injury could doom their run. Staying healthy is easier said than done, but it remains a legitimate concern as the season progresses, especially with Dwight’s injuries and Steve Nash’s aging back.
There has been one common theme that has plagued the Los Angeles Lakers all season: defense. While the team was playing average defense under Mike Brown, once Mike D’Antoni was hired the defense got even worse.
The Lakers currently rank 19th in defensive efficiency, 1.9 points worse than last year’s 13th-place finish. One of the culprits of the poor defense has been the pace, which is allowing teams to attempt more shots than the Lakers have given up in recent years.
The Lakers allow 26 shots at the rim, the sixth most attempts at the rim in the entire league. Opponents are shooting a painful 65.7 percent on those shots. That simply should not happen with Dwight Howard patrolling the paint, even if he is not fully healthy. For comparison, Orlando allowed the second least attempts at the rim last season with Dwight.
The rotations are slow, nobody is getting back in transition and Mike D’Antoni does not care about defense. The defense has been the No. 1 problem and is the reason why the Lakers continue to lose games.
Mike D’Antoni is often thought of as a very good offensive coach, but has never been mistaken for one that prides his teams on getting stops on defense. While that formula worked pretty well in Phoenix, it also led to his dismissal in New York.
Although the Los Angeles Lakers’ offense is one of the best in the league, ranking sixth in offensive efficiency according to hoopdata.com, the defense has suffered from the breakneck pace the team plays at.
The team is old, not very athletic and does not have the shooters D’Antoni needs to space the floor for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. Meanwhile, D’Antoni is not taking advantage of his team’s strengths. The Lakers can still beat teams up in the paint with Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, but that advantage has disappeared due to the team’s pace, which ranks third in the league.
D’Antoni’s reluctance to adapt his offensive philosophy in order to improve his team defense has been one of the many Lakers' downfalls this season. There is no doubt that a slower pace would allow the Lakers to remain elite offensively while limiting possession and improving their defense.
Compare these two players:
Player A: 11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists on 44.7 percent shooting.
Player B: 12.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists on 44.9 percent shooting.
Neither of them looks like Pau Gasol on paper, but one of them is. Player A is Glen Davis, who is having a career year with the Orlando Magic. Player B is Pau Gasol, who is having the worst season of his illustrious career.
What has happened to Pau Gasol? There is no doubt he has been negatively impacted by the arrival of Dwight Howard, but most notably, Mike D’Antoni. Gasol has been widely regarded as one of the best low-post threats in the league. However, D’Antoni’s arrival while ushering in a new offensive philosophy has put Gasol in a conundrum.
Gasol no longer operates on the block unless Howard is out of the game and has seen his crunch-time minutes greatly reduced. More importantly, his shot attempts at the rim and from three to nine feet are at a career low as he only attempts 3.4 per game at the rim and 2.0 from three to nine feet.
Despite being one of the most skilled bigs in the NBA, it is clear to see that Gasol is uncomfortable playing as a stretch 4, which D’Antoni’s offense relies upon. Regardless, Pau needs to be more assertive when he faces up from the elbow and continue to work the high-low action with Howard. Mike D’Antoni also needs to understand his personnel and adapt some schemes to fit Gasol’s game if he is ever going to mesh with this offense.
In case you did not notice, Kobe Bryant had a historic season last year. Not only did he pull off the seemingly impossible by recording the highest-scoring 16th season in NBA history, by 4.7 points per game, but he also had the fourth most assists per game and the second most rebounds per game for a guard/forward.
Oh yeah, he is having an even better season during his 17th year. His 28.7 points per game are the highest mark since his 2006-07 season, while shooting a career-best 47 percent from the field. Additionally, his 5.1 assists per game are the most since his 2007-08 season.
Offensively, Kobe is having two historic seasons and looks just as impressive as he did five years ago. No doubt the talent around him on offense is helping him get easier looks, but Kobe still looks, and is producing, like the vintage Black Mamba.