Lakers Trending Up And Down: 2015-16 NBA Season, Week 1

The 2015-2016 NBA season hasn’t gotten off to the start that the Los Angeles Lakers were hoping for, and the team now finds themselves 0-3 after the first week. The Lakers have a relatively easy schedule early on, but that hasn’t translated to wins just yet. After dropping a heart-breaker to Minnesota, the team regressed, struggling in all areas in a blowout in Sacramento and failing to come up with crucial stops against Dallas.

With winnable games coming up against Denver, Brooklyn, and New York, the Lakers will be hoping to get back on track in Week 2. For now though, let’s take a look at which players are trending up and which are trending down after one week of action.

Nick Young: Look who found his swag. Last season, Young elicited mostly groans from the Staples Center crowds as one long jumper after another clanged off the rim. So far this season, we have seen the complete opposite, and it appears that Swaggy P has shown up ready to play. To date, he is shooting an impressive (and probably not sustainable) 50 percent both from the field and from three, which is resulting in an average of 13 points per game in only 20 minutes of playing time. While Young still doesn’t contribute much else aside from scoring, if he can keep this hot streak going, the days of him being considered a bad contract will be nothing but a distant memory.

Roy Hibbert: The Lakers were hoping that Roy Hibbert could have a bounce-back year in a new environment after they acquired the slumping defensive ace from the Indiana Pacers over the summer. So far Hibbert has lived up his reputation and then some. Most of his stats are up compared to his days in Pawnee, but the biggest leap has been his shot blocking, which has shot up to 3.0 per game from just 1.6 last year. The sample size is small, but thus far, Hibbert has done a solid job of providing the rim protection that Los Angeles lacked. Unfortunately, his finishing around the basket has been as-advertised, and he is shooting a horrid 42 percent from the field. Still, his shot blocking, rebounding, and (surprisingly) his passing have made up for it.

Julius Randle: All summer, Randle’s teammates were calling him a “beast” after coming out of practice, and now we know why. In the first week of the season, he has been the Lakers best player by far, and has had two incredibly impressive games against Minnesota and Dallas. He did struggle against Sacramento, but given the size on the Kings frontline these days, that wasn’t a surprise. Most recently, the Dallas Mavericks had no answer for Randle’s quickness and strength, and he went off for 22 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, four steals, and one block. That’s an impressive stat line for anyone, but for a 20 year old playing in just his fourth regular season NBA game, that’s absolutely incredible. The sky is the limit for Julius Randle, and Lakers fans can smile knowing they got a steal with the 7th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Brandon Bass: Everyone knows what Brandon Bass was expected to bring to the Lakers this season: a dependable jump shot for a power forward, a blue-collar work ethic, and a veteran’s poise in the locker room. Unfortunately, Bass has been tasked with playing center in Byron Scott’s new small-ball lineup, and so far the results aren’t pretty. At 6’8”, an argument could be made that Bass may even be a little undersized as a power forward, so attempting to guard true bigs like Kosta Koufos, DeMarcus Cousins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, and even Gorgui Dieng has been futile. Hopefully he can shift back to power forward in the near future.

Ryan Kelly: Compared to his disastrous 2014-2015 season, Ryan Kelly has improved quite a bit. Over the summer, he increased his quickness off the dribble and developed a nice pump fake to get defenders into the air and drive around them. He also rediscovered his surprising shot blocking ability, and is swatting 1.7 shots per game currently. Unfortunately, Kelly has greatly struggled with the three point shot, which is what made him a useful NBA player. He won’t shoot 14 percent from three all year, but he has also hesitated a bit to let the rock fly, instead opting to wait for a defender to close out so he can drive past them. Kelly’s defensive shortcomings have also been exposed while playing alongside Brandon Bass, and the duo has been getting punished in the paint. Kelly has looked better alongside Roy Hibbert, and if the Lakers can find a way to put a rim protector in the second unit with him, we should see better performances going forward.      

Kobe Bryant: The season started with Kobe Bryant setting an NBA record by playing 20 seasons for one franchise, but his play on the court hasn’t done anything to suggest that a 21st season will be in the cards. Bryant has shot just 31 percent from the field thus far, including a shocking 29 attempts from downtown with only six makes. Through three games, only Steph Curry and James Harden have launched more shots from deep than Kobe has, and that’s something that is going to have to change if the Lakers want to get the season back on track. Bryant has also struggled defensively, as his slow rotations have given opponents plenty of open looks. The hope is that Kobe can get his shot falling eventually, but a shift towards a pass-first, facilitator mode might be needed in order to bring some efficiency to the Lakers offense.

Byron Scott: It may be beating a dead horse at this point, but through the first three games of the season, Byron Scott hasn’t had a good showing at the helm. The players are complaining of tired legs from Spartan-esque practice sessions, and Scott has already called out his team for being too “soft.” The heavy legs have been an issue on the court, and currently the lethargic Lakers rank near the bottom in both offensive and defensive efficiency. His small-ball lineup featuring Ryan Kelly and Brandon Bass has predictably struggled on the defensive end. On offense, the Princeton sets that the starters have been running have led to a barrage of long, contested twos. Just three games into the season, there is still plenty of time for Scott to right the ship, but this certainly isn’t the start that anyone was hoping for.

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