The Los Angeles Lakers got off to a rough start this season, which many forecasted considering the remade roster faced the challenge of opponents who were in the playoffs. But an improvement on defense led to a turnaround and the team is now 11-9 entering play Thursday.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton evaluates the team in 10-game increments and is pleased with how his group has progressed since the rough start. Though, Walton noted that while the Lakers’ defense has picked up, their pace and offense has suffered, and next is finding a balance.
Through 20 games this season, below is a look at what’s apparent with the Lakers roster and what remain question marks.
LeBron is still LeBron
Sixteen years in, and LeBron James still has it. James leads the team in points (27.6), rebounds (7.9), assists (6.7), and steals (1.4). He’s shooting over 37 percent from three, not to mention exploding for record-setting nights.
Aggressive Ball is the best Ball
Ask any of his teammates or coaches about Lonzo Ball, and they’ll tell you how much he can influence the game…. As long as he is aggressive. In year No. 2, Ball has bulked up and is showing signs of increasing confidence.
He’s shooting from three with less hesitation and 35 percent accuracy. His growing assertion, which includes more drives to the basket, will be a key to keeping the Lakers offense revving in full throttle.
JaVale McGee is an impact player
How would Javale McGee look as the starting big man for the Lakers after two seasons where he averaged nine minutes per game? Twenty games in McGee is averaging 24 minutes, 12.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.9 blocks (!!) per game.
McGee has made himself a bonafide presence for the Lakers down low.
The team can take better care of the basketball
The Lakers’ turnover troubles have intensified with Rajon Rondo out for the last two weeks. In effort to keep the pace up, passing becomes rushed, sloppy, and sometimes overambitious.
Coughing the ball up not only means missed opportunities on offense, but easy buckets for opponents. On average, teams have been scoring 18.5 points off of Lakers turnovers. They currently rank 21st in turnovers per game and have had only two games with single-digit turnovers.
Scoring isn’t the issue
The Lakers have found ways to generate offense. They have spent the first 20 games in the league’s top 10 in points per game. The issue is, not letting their opponents score more.
LeBronZo can work
Ball’s low usage style of play has shown an ability to coexist alongside James. The two high-IQ playmakers have coordinated plenty of highlight worthy moments. In the five-man lineups that have played over 20 minutes together, the two with the highest offensive rating feature both James and Ball.
Rajon Rondo isn’t toxic
Rondo has some reputation baggage when it comes to his locker room presence. But a quarter of a way through the season in Los Angeles and the biggest drama he’s stirred has been in regards to a spittle battle with Chris Paul. Nothing internal.
If you watch Rondo during games, whether it’s in the huddle or on the floor, he is constantly talking and coaching up his teammates. Even with a broken hand, the veteran point guard has been on the court at Lakers’ practices working with his team.
The West is Wild
It’s crazy out here! Just around the quarter mark, the Clippers sit atop the Western Conference and the Houston Rockets are 14th. It’s jam packed amidst the standings and the Lakers currently hover in the seventh spot. Every game matters, and we love it.
Lakers front office will take action
Magic Johnson’s early November meeting with Luke Walton to the acquisition of Tyson Chandler, there is evidence that this front office wants to win, and win now. If the Lakers continue to hover around 500 through December, it would be of no surprise to see this roster change by February.
At the season’s quarter mark, there is still a lot to be answered.
As for what we still don’t know about the Lakers…
Just how patient can LeBron James be?
An 11-9 record is the worst start James has had to a season since 2007. Remember what he cautioned on Oct. 29th, “You don’t want to be around me when I lose patience.”? Following that loss in Minnesota and a 2-5 start, the Lakers won nine of their next 11 games.
But after two ugly losses (at home to the Orlando Magic and a blowout in Denver) the Lakers have reverted to inconsistency on defense and turnover troubles. What way will the momentum swing through December and just how patient can the King be?
Who is the second guy on the team?
There have been five games so far this season in which James did not lead the team in scoring: Kyle Kuzma (3), Brandon Ingram (1), Lance Stephenson (1). The second two leading scorers on the team are Kuzma (16.7 points per game) and Ingram (15.7).
Not to mention, we have yet to see a Laker other than LeBron close in the clutch.
Can Brandon Ingram grow to play alongside LeBron?
It’s frustrating because Ingram was hyped as the youngster who would benefit the most from playing alongside James. Unfortunately, the stats say otherwise. James and Ingram have played 417 minutes together. According to ESPN, when James is on the court, Ingram is scoring 15.1 points per 36 mins on 44.1 percent shooting.
When James is off, those numbers jump to 29.5 on 56 percent from the field. Ingram’s development matters in more ways than one. Can the 2016 No. 2 overall pick thrive in tandem with the King? If not, will he develop enough to be a significant trade piece to haul in another superstar?
Is anyone safe from being moved (besides James)?
Dates to keep in mind: Dec. 15 is when front offices can officially trade guys who changed teams as free agents this summer. Also, Feb. 7 is the trade deadline.
The aggressive maneuvering of Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka in the past suggests this roster might not look the same come Feb. 8.
Will the pace sustain?
The Lakers are currently second in the league in fastbreak points per game, and they rank top five in pace (103.93). The squad wants to play fast, but what’s the reality with an older James in the mix who is masterful in his half court offense?
Will this track team sustain its speed or will that breakneck pace peter out as the season grinds out?
Can that fast pace complement solid defense?
As the Lakers look to lock down on the defensive end, will it affect how they want to play on the other end of the court? Can a great defensive rating accompany a high flying offense?
Are the headbands here to stay?
Please? Insert praying hands emoji.
Are free throw woes contagious?
This team has struggled at the charity stripe through the first 20 games. The Lakers are bottom five in free throw shooting (71.5 percent) and in free throws made per game (16.2). Not to mention, in the overall landscape of the league, the team isn’t making much hay at the line.
The Lakers rank 25th in overall percentage of points scored off free throws (14.3 percent).
Can the Lakers get more consistent production from their bench?
Early suspensions, the Rondo injury, and a new roster has not created the ideal opportunity for consistent lineups to develop chemistry. It’s early, but the Lakers bench is bottom 10 in points per game (33.7), so what tinkering can Walton do to maximize production when James is not on the court?
Where is LaVar Ball?
It’s been silent on the BBB front.