Early in the season, the Lakers were 3-5, and a lot of people were panicking about them. I thought the panic was undeserved. The Lakers had a point differential of +3, with Steve Nash out and Dwight Howard playing hurt. I felt that when Nash returned and Howard healed, the Lakers could easily go from being a +3 team to a +6 team, which would make them a championship contender.
Now, Nash is back, but Howard and Pau Gasol are both out. The result is a team that has serious holes and a total lack of cohesiveness.
The Lakers roster has three plus defenders: Howard, Gasol, and Metta World Peace. The team has barely had any two of the three playing at one time. Right now, Metta is the only plus defender who is active, and he isn’t nearly as good at it as he used to be.
I just watched the Lakers play the Thunder, and granted, the Thunder are a serious offensive powerhouse. They’re capable of scoring 110 points against anybody. But the Lakers made their job way too easy. It seemed that all Oklahoma City needed to do was throw a wrinkle at the Lakers, and it would result in an open man or scoring opportunity. Nick Collison would set a pick, which would utterly confuse two Lakers, and leave Durant with an open three. I saw Kendrick Perkins get double teamed multiple times – there is no excuse for double teaming Kendrick Perkins. Russell Westbrook posted up Kobe Bryant one-on-one and made it look easy.
The Lakers can score points – that’s not an issue. Going into the Thunder game, they ranked 6th in the NBA in offensive efficiency, per Basketball Reference. The teams above them are Oklahoma City, New York, Miami, LA Clippers, and San Antonio, who are basically the five teams in title contention right now. By contrast, they rank 22nd in defensive efficiency, and as long as Howard and Gasol are both out, that ranking is only going to fall further.
So when I said there was nothing wrong with the Lakers, I was dead wrong. Here’s what’s wrong with the Lakers:
–Injuries. The “big four” on the Lakers are Nash, Bryant, Gasol, and Howard. Those four have played together in seven games, and Howard might not have really been healthy for any of them. If the Lakers want to be any kind of contender this year, they need at least three of the four healthy, and probably all four.
–Defense. Again, the Lakers have only three players who are good on defense, and two of them are currently injured. It’s possible to win a championship with mediocre defense; it’s probably impossible to win a championship with defense as poor as the Lakers have been playing.
–Continuity. This might be the most important factor. Good players need to learn how to play together. The only way to do that is for them to actually play together. It took 20 or so games for James Harden and Jeremy Lin to figure it out in Houston, but Lin’s production has been much better recently. Even if the Lakers’ big four are all healthy, they’re going to need some time to figure out how to co-exist in a productive manner. Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard are both very good players who will eventually figure out how to work together in the post – if they get enough playing time. And the whole team is just a total mess on defense, like an offensive line who double teams the opponent’s worst pass rusher, and leaves the best pass rusher untouched.
I still think the Lakers can be a dangerous team, but they need to get their players healthy and give them enough time to figure everything out. At 36 games into the season, with a 15-21 record and almost no progress having been made, time is running out.