The Los Angeles Lakers have displayed an understandable amount of flaws in 2013-14. They’re leaning on an eclectic group of role players for production because Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol are all hobbled with varying degrees of injury. But do their problems have viable solutions?
The Lakers’ 7-8 record ranks them fourth in the Pacific Division and 12th overall in the Western Conference. Poor defense, terrible road play and the inability to force turnovers are some of the flaws that have doomed them to a sub-.500 record.
Nevertheless, they’ve remained surprisingly competitive without star power.
Getting a healthy Bryant back would solve a lot of the Lakers’ issues, but there are still big flaws Mike D’Antoni’s team must address.
Note: All stats used in this article are accurate as of Nov. 27, 2013 (prior to games played).
Once again, the Lakers defense ranks in the bottom third of the NBA.
The Lakers are positioned 25th in the league by surrendering 102.9 points per game, and opponents are shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 36 percent from three-point range against them—which puts L.A. in the middle of the pack in both aspects.
John Wall toyed with the Lakers’ porous defense on Tuesday (see embedded video). He pulled up for open mid-range shots, set teammates up with wide-open looks, torched defenders to the basket for easy layups and ran the Lakers out of D.C. in transition. He finished with 31 points and nine assists.
What is perhaps most telling about the Lakers’ woes this season comes at the one-minute, 40-second mark of the video.
Marcin Gortat hauls in a long rebound off a Steve Blake miss and outlets to Wall. The Washington Wizards point guard storms up the court only to find himself in a 1-on-4 situation. Four purple jerseys get back on D in transition, but the only Laker who paid attention to the most dangerous player on the floor was Blake. Wall promptly blew by him for an easy layup.
Plays like these demoralize the Lakers defense. They simply cannot happen moving forward.
Yes, the Lakers hustled to get back on defense in transition, but they didn’t make an effort to stop the ball. Everyone was too busy looking to pick up their defensive assignment, which allowed Wall the freedom to attack the basket without resistance.
Solving the defensive problems in Los Angeles can only be accomplished with effort. Mike D’Antoni’s teams have never been defensive juggernauts, so the goal should be to at least become league average.
The Lakers are turning the ball over 15.3 times per game, which leaves them tied with the Los Angeles Clippers in the middle of the pack. They’ve done a decent job limiting their own turnovers, but forcing opponents to cough up the ball has been a struggle to say the least.
The failure to force miscues from opponents is a microcosm of the poor overall defense. Correcting it, however, may be easier than fixing the defense as a whole.
Instead of magically becoming an above-average defensive team, the Lakers could roll the dice by gambling on defense. By that, I mean players should be jumping passing lanes, trapping poor ball-handlers and doing everything in their power to get a steal on each possession.
The Lakers average a meager 6.6 steals per game right now, which ranks them second-to-last in the NBA. Bumping that number up could make a lot of good things happen.
Of course, the Lakers would run the risk of gambling in passing lanes and coming up empty. With that said, they’re already a bad defensive team as is. At least they’d be making an effort to stymie opponents.
Getting Bryant back, who is known for roaming around on defense and playing passing lanes, should provide a much-needed boost.
At times this season, the Lakers haven’t been ready to play from the opening tip, which is evidenced by numerous poor performances in the first quarter of games.
On Oct. 30 against the Golden State Warriors, they were outscored 26-16.
On Nov. 5 against the Dallas Mavericks, they were outscored 35-22.
Worst of all, on Nov. 10 against the Minnesota Timberwolves, they were humbled 47-23.
If the Lakers don’t show up to play from the opening tip, they’re going to get embarrassed. The offense doesn’t have enough potency to climb back into games, especially since the defense struggles to get consistent stops.
Again, this comes down to effort and preparation for the Purple and Gold.
Losing the opening quarter will happen on occasion. Even the best teams in the league aren’t perfect in that regard. But surrendering 35 or an egregious 47 points? That has to be corrected.
That may mean going to the bench earlier for a spark, because the starting five for the Lakers this season has been truly uninspired.
The Lakers starting five has been given the rotating-door treatment during the 2013-14 season. A stunning 10 different Lakers have started at least two games, and only the tandem of Steve Blake and Pau Gasol has started all 15 games.
Needless to say, the Lakers coaching staff is still looking for a successful formula. The starting rotation for the Lakers ranks 28th in both points per game (54.1) and efficiency recap difference (negative-25.4), according to HoopsStats.
By contrast, the Lakers bench is leading the league by averaging 46.3 points per game, according to HoopsStats.
The bench has remained remarkably consistent regardless of the unit filling that role. The same can’t be said for the starters.
The early struggles of Pau Gasol and Steve Nash explain why the starting five has been so inefficient, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that they’ve been so much worse than the second unit.
Continued tweaks to the starting lineup appear to be the only solution going forward.
Again, the eventual return of Kobe Bryant should solve this problem (like so many others). However, we still don’t know exactly when the Black Mamba plans to return.
Above all, the Lakers need to get healthy.
Kobe Bryant will determine the success or failure of this team upon his return, but he’s still recuperating from an Achilles tear he suffered in April.
Steve Nash has been limited to just six games this season due to nerve root irritation, which has caused problems in his hamstring and lower back. He’s been extremely limited as a 39-year-old.
Pau Gasol hasn’t looked 100 percent all season long, and it was revealed recently that he’s been playing through a strained foot, according to ESPN's Dave McMenamin.
Those three players combine to form the identity of this squad. Due to injuries, however, upstart performances from Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill have carried the Lakers.
Nobody knows if the Lakers are a playoff-caliber team because they haven’t put the best product on the court yet.
They clearly have a lot of flaws that need to be addressed, but health is the biggest issue holding them back.