INDIANAPOLIS- The Lakers are going to be fine.
This is a weird thing to have to clarify because, for so long, they were THE Lakers, a team who simply reloaded and contended year after year.
However, after arguably the worst stretch in franchise history and even despite a 1-3 start to the season, the Lakers are going to be all right.
As the final horn sounded on Wednesday night, the Lakers walked off the court losers of their third-straight game. On the surface, it was a frustrating loss not only because the Lakers had chances late to tie or take the lead, but because the game played out much the same way the previous two had.
However, as I walked out of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, I couldn’t help but be excited for what the future has in store.
Two years ago, I made the trip to Bankers Life to see the Lakers take on Indiana and was greeted with one of the most lifeless performances I’ve seen a Laker team have as they fell behind 26-4 in the first quarter and trailed 34-15 after one quarter.
Kobe Bryant, who had just passed Michael Jordan for third all-time in scoring the night before, was flying into the stands and diving for loose balls in what would be one of his final games that season (he only played 10 more games that year before tearing his labrum).
At that time, the Lakers’ future was grim. The best prospect at the time, Jordan Clarkson, played just 12 minutes (to Ronnie Price’s 18) and the Lakers had no discernible plan for the future.
Wednesday was a much, much different version of the Lakers. In fact, only Nick Young and Clarkson were holdovers from the 2014 match-up. Not only was the cast surrounding the duo different, but the outlook of the Lakers has changed entirely.
The Lakers, for the first time in many years, have a path forward.
The frustration was evident on the face of Luke Walton and D’Angelo Russell after the game, and rightfully so. The Lakers had let a third-straight winnable game slip through their fingers.
In that moment, though, it’s (understandably) hard to see the future and be excited about what’s to come.
Under a first-year head coach in a completely revamped offense and defense, the Lakers have not only competed with teams, they’ve battled four playoff teams to the wire and even won once. They’ve taken their lumps, struggled throughout, but done enough to be in a position to steal a victory each time.
Sure, the flaws are noticeable and, at times, frustrating. Open shots aren’t falling from deep. The Lakers are shooting 28.8 percent from three, seventh-worst in the league. However, 33.8 percent of the Lakers’ field goal attempts are three-pointers, sixth-best in the league and a stark contrast from last season when only 29 percent of their field goals came from behind the arc.
Their effective field goal percentage of 48.4 percent is still middle of the pack, but another huge improvement over the dead-last 46 percent they shot last season. Their PACE, a mark of the number of possessions per 48 minutes, of 104.28 ranks fifth in the league. Last season, they were 16th with a rating of 97.99.
The signs are there that the Lakers are improving both statistically and aesthetically, the latter mainly in glimpses, though. In short stretches, we see a vision of what the Lakers can become with a no-look pass to a roll man by D’Angelo Russell, a drive and dish by Julius Randle.
With each Brandon Ingram lay-up, Jordan Clarkson pull-up jumper and Larry Nance put-back slam, the Lakers’ future grows brighter. They’re going to continue to take their lumps this season, as will Luke Walton as he learns how to coach in what is essentially his first coaching position.
However, these Lakers are going to figure it out. They’ve shown what they can do, they’ve shown they’re dedicated to making this work.hey’ve shown Laker fans that, once again, the future is bright.
They’ve shown Laker fans that, once again, the future is bright.