Finding progress in the Lakers’ rebuild

What if I had told you that the Lakers were (10-10) in the first 20 games of the season, would you consider that progress? And what if I follow up with that question by telling you that the Lakers are currently (12-24) and have lost 13 of their last 15 games, would you consider that progress? If you answered affirmatively to the first question, then your answer should remain firm for the second question.

The first month of the Lakers’ season was magical. They were clicking on all cylinders. They played with joy and excitement, and heck there were small whispers of them contending for the playoffs. They looked like a team that skipped a few stages into rebuilding, but when injuries came tumbling down on the Lakers, the losses began to pile up and reality began to set in — there are no shortcuts in rebuilding mode, but there is still progress.

Progress is a complicated term and measuring it is even more complex. If you look solely at progress as the number of wins and losses, then the Lakers are heading into a positive progression. Despite going (2-14) in December, the Lakers still have 12 wins, something that they did not reach until the beginning of March of last season. At this point last year, the Lakers were (6-27), and subsequently two seasons ago during the same time they were (10-22).

Currently, the Lakers are on pace to win around 27 games, an improvement of 10 wins compared to last season. If you are optimistic, the Lakers could pass that mark and win around 30 games. Regardless, the Lakers are sitting in a comfortable position to win over 17 games.

It is perfectly understandable for some fans to want the Lakers to strive to win over 27 games and not settle for anything below that. It is also understandable if you are happy with the Lakers winning over 17 games at the end of the season. Whatever your preference might be, the important fact to consider is that the Lakers are improving.

Like I said earlier, wins and losses are just one measure of progress; another way to measure it is the development of the Lakers’ young core. Although D’Angelo Russell has not been stellar to fans’ expectation, he is averaging career highs in scoring and assists in fewer minutes compared to last season. Last season, Russell averaged 13.2 points and 3.3 assists while shooting 35 percent from deep in 28 minutes. This season, Russell is averaging 14.6 points and 4.6 assists while shooting 36 percent from deep in only 26 minutes. Statistically, Russell, who is only 20, is progressing well for a young player. One could even argue that he deserves more playing time.

Even Julius Randle, who many have criticized for having a hard time finishing around the paint, is currently shooting a respectable 50 percent from the field, a significant increase from 43 percent last season. Randle’s scoring and playmaking have also progressed. His 3.5 assists per game are currently second on the team behind Russell. Like Russell, Randle is only 22 and progressing.

One could argue that statistical progression is often subjective and skewed. Brandon Ingram’s statistics may not look promising to the casual fan, but at only 19, he is playing a vital part in the Lakers’ offense and defense. Ingram is already a valuable defender and playmaker. His shooting and scoring will improve naturally throughout the season, but currently, his real impact lies with how well he blends in with the team’s concept and game plan.

Many people forget that Luke Walton is a rookie coach, so it is natural for him to make mistakes. He is sometimes stubborn with his rotations. He relies on his veterans at the end of the game. Those decisions come with the territory of being a rookie coach. Walton will find a way to adjust his rotations. His positive remarks after losses is an optimistic sign that he is willing to do better for the team.

There is no question that the past month for the Lakers and their fans, including myself, has been tough to swallow. Sometimes, it is okay for the Lakers to take incremental steps backward just as long as they pick themselves up and take better steps forward. And if you compare this team to last year’s, you can see those forward steps. However short it was at the beginning of the season, the Lakers showed us glimpses of the future as a team that is fun, exciting, and making progress one step at a time.

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