Does a single statistic ever send shivers up your spine? Sometimes a statistic comes around and draws similarities between an event currently happening with an event that you had previously buried deep in your subconscious, never to think about again given the grueling memories it might invoke.
The Los Angeles Lakers are in danger of one of those types of stats rearing its ugly head over the final weekend heading into their October 19th season opener against the Golden State Warriors. That stat is that the Lakers could end the preseason winless at 0-6 if they lose tonight against the Kings, something that team hasn’t done since the 2012-13 season. That’s right, the “Now this is going to be fun” Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, and Steve Nash team.
We all know how that team fell insanely short of its championship aspirations, something that Lakers fans hope doesn’t happen this year. And although it’s preseason and LeBron James and Russell Westbrook have both downplayed these exhibition games’ significance, Frank Vogel has deemed this final preseason game as a “dress rehearsal” for the team with the Lakers’ Big Three making its second appearance together. Vogel also pointed out that they will play “significant minutes“.
With Vogel putting such an emphasis on tonight’s game, here is what to expect and hope for as the team takes on the Kings.
A hopeful improvement of defensive efficiencies
This area might be a problem for the Lakers all season, but either way, they’re going to need to make some sort of improvements to what we’ve seen thus far if they’re going to compete for a championship this season.
As I said, it may be a problem all year given the loss of defensive talent like Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and even Dennis Schröder. The problem gets even worse when you replace those players with known defensive liabilities such as Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, and Wayne Ellington.
Even with Anthony Davis averaging 5.0 “stocks” (steals combined with blocks) per 36 minutes, the defense has struggled all preseason with the 25th ranked Defensive Rating so far. Sure, not many of the best guys are playing much for the Lakers, let alone even trying (LeBron is actively not trying on defense in these games including some moments in the clips below), but you’d expect a little more from a team run by Frank Vogel.
And even with poor defenders like Westbrook and Rondo out there, most of this is just effort and knowing the team’s defense. Check out some of the Lakers’ defensive miscues below from Tuesday’s loss against the Warriors.
But…yes…Westbrook and Rondo are, in fact, bad at defense.
Frank Vogel talked about this with reporters after the game, saying the following on what they can clean up between now and the season opener:
“We’re just losing too many guys. I mean it’s a great cutting team even with those guys out, they play with a lot of back cuts. Our scheme is rock solid in terms of not giving that up, but it’s against a lot of players’ instincts. Guys that are coming in new. It takes a while for those guys to get used to it. We got beat entirely too much on back cuts tonight, but it’s something we can clean up.”
However, if the defense still looks poor tonight, we should take it with a grain of salt. In the clip above, you’ll see the Warriors recover the ball after the Lakers initially deflected it. Because of his hustle, Chaundee Brown then is switched onto Moses Moody who was previously guarded by Rondo. Brown leaves Otto Porter Jr., who Rondo then covers momentarily all while staring at Moody handling the ball. Davis and Rondo expect each other to do one thing while each player does the complete opposite, allowing Nemanja Bjelica an easy bucket.
It’s pretty hard to defend this type of broken play, but it’s even harder when you’re not completely familiar with your teammates on the court. Although Rondo and Davis have played many years together on two different franchises, it’s been a full season since the two have defended together. And although Brown really did nothing wrong on this play, those two veterans had never played with Brown up until a week and a half ago. These types of defensive mistakes can only be fixed with time, but that time has to be with the core group all on the floor and in their normal rotations they’ll be in once they’re in the slog of the middle of the season.
Russell Westbrook looks to get comfortable
LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook played in their first full game together in Tuesday’s loss against the Warriors. It’s hard to put emphasis on the team aspect of it all given all of the injuries to this team’s role players, but we would like to see some individual positives from everyone, especially the Lakers’ Big Three.
Davis may be the best performer of the Lakers’ preseason so far, especially on the defensive end as evidenced above. LeBron has absolutely coasted, giving little-to-no energy at times which isn’t surprising considering his quotes on the preseason. However, he showed flashes of dominance in the most recent game against the Warriors with patented bully ball drives to the hoop with blue-and-yellow defenders bouncing off him left and right.
Westbrook, on the other hand, has some work to do to catch up to his teammates. The most glaring negative from Westbrook’s game has been his turnovers. Sure, it’s something you have to accept with him (second in the league last year with 4.8 per game) but the current 6.7 per game mark he’s at for the preseason (leading the league by far) is unacceptable. When you put that at a per 36-minute rate, it equates to 10.0 (!!!) turnovers per game.
He seems skittish out there, still not showing one of those patented drives to the basket where he looks like he’s exploding out of a cannon en route to a highlight dunk. Sadly, that may be due to the Lakers’ spacing, but it’s probably more indicative of Westbrook getting a feel for his teammates and the way the Lakers will play this year.
In regards to feeling out his teammates, it seems that Westbrook is passing more than he should as he is passing up some baskets that even seem like they could be easy for him in the paint. He’s averaging 14.1 FGAs per 36 minutes compared to 19.0 FGAs he took last year with the Wizards.
Hopefully, we see some improvements all-around from him, as that would give us times of great play from each of the Big Three before we head into the regular season.
Lakers injuries ruining dress rehearsal
Frank Vogel says the team is still hopeful Nunn and Monk will be back for the regular season opener.
Also says a scan revealed a Grade 1 hamstring strain for Wayne Ellington, who will be re-evaluated in "about a week." Still possible he could be ready for opener
— Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) October 13, 2021
Although Vogel may want this game to feel like a regular season game, the Lakers will be without some players that will be in the lineup opening night. Malik Monk, Kendrick Nunn, and Wayne Ellington will all sit out tonight’s game, with the former two players “hopeful” to play in the season opener while Ellington seems to be less likely. They’ll also be without Trevor Ariza and Talen Horton-Tucker who will both be out at least a month (with Ariza probably out at least two months).
Although defensive principles can improve and the Big Three can continue to find their footing, five rotation players sitting out makes it hard for the Lakers to really simulate what a regular season game will look like.
Hopefully, the team finds some constructive improvements to make tonight. But at the very least…can we get a damn win?