The Los Angeles Lakers are struggling.
It hasn’t been pretty to watch. December has just not been their month. It’s unfortunate, because the season started out with a fair amount of promise. The young Lake Show grabbed a huge opening night win over a very good Rockets team, winning 120-114. And let’s not forget the biggest win of the season so far: a November 4th 117-97 blowout win on their home floor over the Golden State Warriors, a team that has been reinvigorated by the free agency addition of Kevin Durant. Stephen Curry was also 0-10 from 3-point range in that game, effectively ending his 157-game streak of consecutive games with at least one made 3-pointer.
The Warriors have emptied the bench with 4:12 to play, trailing the Lakers by 18. Last year, LAL’s 3rd win didn’t come until Dec. 2 (3-15).
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) November 5, 2016
The Lakers started the season 10-10, which included going 9-8 in the month of November. Fans and players alike were riding the high, the organization was smelling success and fans were thinking about a return to the playoffs. “Maybe this is our year to get back on track. I’m feeling it. We’re right on the verge of a return to glory!”
Then December started, and that enthusiasm came to a screeching halt as everything came crashing and burning to the ground.
In the month of December so far, the Lakers have only managed to go 2-13, with their only two wins coming in 100-89 win over the still struggling Philadelphia 76ers on December 16, and a Christmas Day 111-102 win over their hometown rival Clippers, who were without the services of their star point guard Chris Paul and leading scorer Blake Griffin. 35 games into the season, however, the Lakers’ record stands at 12-23. Other than those two bright spots, the month can accurately be classified as a disaster.
Postgame Walton: “We’re playing good basketball. We’re just not doing the little things that make you win ballgames” https://t.co/8kTkB9ZPjo
— LakersTV (@LakersTV) December 23, 2016
Here we go again. Another season of mediocrity. Banished back to the basement of the Western Conference again.
So, what exactly happened? This was the supposed to be the year of change. They hired a new, young head coach in Luke Walton, who had a very successful run coaching the Golden State Warriors last season while Steve Kerr was out. Kobe Bryant retired, so the Lakers once again had the cap room to go after talented free agents to help bolster the roster. They drafted a rookie in Brandon Ingram who is averaging a respectable 7.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game off the bench.
Where did things go wrong? And what can be done to fix it?
For starters, a drop in shooting percentages going into December certainly didn’t help. Through the month of December, the Lakers were solid at a 45.6 made field goal percentage, including 35.2 percent from the three-point line.
In the first few weeks of December until their December 16th win in Philadelphia, those numbers dropped to 41.5 percent on made field goals, while going 31.4 percent from downtown. Likewise, the Lakers’ efficiency on both ends of the court is disappointing. Per NBA.com, their offensive efficiency stands at 103.2 points per 100 possessions, placing them at 19th in the NBA, while the defensive efficiency is locked at 109.8 points allowed, placing them at 29th in the NBA. That’s just disappointing, to say the least.
So what needs to change? How do the Lakers begin the recovery process and start grabbing some more of those wins that their early season performances suggested they were capable of having?
The Larry Nance, Jr. injury certainly hasn’t helped. He was the best shooter for the Lakers before his injury. Getting him back would certainly be a huge help.
Los Angeles also has some solid young pieces that have attempted to pick up the slack. Former Sixth-Man of the Year, Lou Williams, in his second year with this team, has the highest player efficiency rating at 23.9 – he is the team’s leader in scoring at 18.8 points per game. Julius Randle has also done his part, averaging 8.7 rebounds to go along with 13.2 points per game. They have also been getting good output from Nick “Swaggy P” Young, who has finally found his rhythm on this squad and become a vital roster piece. These players give some pretty great performances on a nightly basis, but this team needs more.
One glaring deficiency is that the Lakers still lack a truly dominant big in the middle that can make an impact on both sides of the floor, an issue which can hopefully be addressed sooner rather than later. Timofey Mozgov has had some nice performances, but that rather large contract the organization signed him to this past summer doesn’t really seem to be paying off yet.
Likewise, in the absence of Kobe Bryant, the Lakers also lack a true leader. D’Angelo Russell needs to step up and be the point guard and floor general that helps to drive this team to succeed. Luol Deng was probably this team’s biggest pickup over the summer, making him somebody who must show younger players the ropes. There is a lot of talent on this young team, but there’s still a disconnect that is keeping them from putting it all together and making it work.
For example, plays like this:
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) November 23, 2016
Luke Walton on if the last pass was intended for Nick Young: "No. I think it's BS he doesn't get a steal on the stat sheet for that."
— Jesse Dougherty (@dougherty_jesse) November 23, 2016
This was a play that everyone knew and admitted was drawn up for Lou Williams, but Nick Young felt he had to be the one to take the big shot. Sure, it went in and resulted in a win over a surging Thunder team and Young has never been shy about the overwhelming confidence he has in himself, but that play shows a lack of trust, both towards his teammates and his coach. It worked out in that instance, but 90 percent of the time, that’s the kind of disconnect that screws with team chemistry.
This team has the potential to be a pretty good team. D’Angelo Russell is capable of rising to eventually become a top-5 point guard in the NBA if he keeps trending upward. Brandon Ingram has a high upside, and could easily be in line for a starting position by next season. Los Angeles has players that have demonstrated a high level of efficiency on both ends of the court in Lou Williams and Julius Randle. Despite these important players, the Lakers still need to find a way to put it all together and figure out a way to consistently close out games.
The young Lake Show certainly has the pieces to be solid and get back on track. They just need to work harder to get on the same page and find some sort of cohesion. Until that happens, their lackluster performances will continue, and they will continue piling up more losses than wins. This team clearly still has a lot more growing up to do.
Let's NOT mount campaigns to vote our Lakers into the all star game … They have work to do and need to earn it…
— LakerStats (@LakerStatistics) December 27, 2016