The Los Angeles Lakers have defied all of the preseason expectations so far this season. A team that was expected to be among the league’s worst, sits at 7-6 and in position to potentially make a run at a playoff spot if they can keep this up.
The Lakers have used an extremely balanced attack with nine players averaging at least 20 minutes per game and five players averaging double-figure points, lead by D’Angelo Russell who is just under 17 points per game. The Lakers also have the NBA’s best bench, getting over 50 points a night from their reserves.
Of course there are still a number of things these Lakers need to work on and improve if they want to keep up the pace they have started.
Defense is still a struggle as they are giving up 109 points per game, though their high pace has something to do with that. The Lakers are also among the league leaders in turnovers and fouls which allows a lot of easy points to their opponents.
Additionally some players haven’t had the best starts to the season. Luol Deng’s contract looks like an awful one right now while D’Angelo Russell has been extremely inconsistent as well.
So we asked our panel of experts what worries them most about this Lakers team going forward. This is what they had to say:
Corey Hansford (@TheeCoreyH): Without a doubt my biggest concern regarding the Lakers is the fact that they always have to play from behind.
On one hand, the Lakers have shown an amazing ability to fight back from big deficits and their heart and fighting spirit is apparent to anyone who watches them. In many of their wins, including the Hawks, Rockets, and Suns, they have trailed by double-digits and many of their close losses saw them fight back from large deficits as well.
This is in large part due to their outstanding bench, the best in the league. They often have to close the gap that the starters have allowed to widen and that is something that just can’t continue. It is good to know that the Lakers can come back when down, but they shouldn’t have to do this in nearly every game.
Perhaps it is simply a matter of getting the starters on track, but the Lakers seemingly find themselves down in almost every game and that has to change.
Daniel Starkand (@DStarkand): What has worried me most so far about this Lakers team is that they tend to play down to the level of their competition. They’ve proven that they can compete with any team on any given night, beating teams like the Warriors and Rockets at home and the Hawks on the road.
But then there has been games that you expect them to come out and dominate their competition, and they lay a dud, such as their losses against the Mavericks and Timberwolves, and their close win at home against the Nets.
This is often a problem with young teams, so I’m not looking too far into it, but if the Lakers want to continue to surprise people and compete for a playoff spot then they have to win the games they are expected to win, everything else is just gravy.
Eric Avakian (@AvakEric): The scenario that worries me thus far has to be the execution during situations late in the shot clock, resulting in turnovers, missed opportunities and bad shot selection.
At certain points each game, the offense seems to get stagnant and often resort to 1-on-1 basketball. Often times, we will see Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell or any of the other guards holding the ball down without any set execution and just throwing up a bad shot late in a shot clock scenario. With a young team, this does end up happening every now and then, but it should be addressed before it becomes a habit or costs them a game.
The team is still attempting to learn Luke Walton’s system, which means they will go through periods where a possession won’t amount to much. The quicker the team adapts to the offense, the sooner they save themselves from making bad decisions late in the game. Walton is still evaluating the in-game scenarios amongst this roster and should be making adjustments to better fit their needs.
It seems as though in some situations, the Lakers drain the shot clock, execute a pick and roll, but settle for a difficult shot when a shooter was wide open in the corner or a cutter wasn’t seen. Walton is asking his unit for approximately 300 passes per game, which isn’t a goal, but rather an occurrence of an offense that rotates the ball and finds the open man. In order for a team to truly become unselfish, they must comprehend points from execution rather than difficult play making.
Although it has been an early struggle in this regard, this is a fixable problem that should change as the unit gets accustomed to Walton’s system and style of play.
Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane): The one thing that worries me most about the Lakers play this season is one player: Luol Deng.
The Lakers made him the highest-paid player on their team last summer when they gave him a four-year, $72 million deal to join them in free agency. Deng has a lot of attractive qualities, including his leadership and ability to mentor fellow Duke-product Brandon Ingram., but on the court, he has left a lot to be desired.
The Lakers took a chance on Deng, who is 31 years old and has a lot of mileage due to years of playing under Tom Thibodeau when he was with the Chicago Bulls. Deng has lost a step, and at small forward, it’s not easy for him to match up with some of the quicker wing players in the league. However, just as he did last season with the Miami Heat, Deng has seen his production improve whenever he plays power forward, and at this point it’s not a stretch to say that he is more of a four than a three.
This is a challenge for coach Luke Walton because there is no way to play Deng at his optimal position without taking minutes away from at least one of Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Timofey Mozgov, or Tarik Black. So the question is, do the Lakers want to get the best return on investment from Deng at the cost of taking away minutes from other players? Or do they continue to get cheeseburger production out of Deng despite paying for steak?
Deng’s skill at the four is certainly a luxury should an injury occur, but otherwise it’s going to be a tricky issue for Walton to navigate.