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Breaking Down The L.A. Lakers: Where Has It All Gone Wrong?

You don’t need to be an expert to see that there is trouble in Laker Land. This storied franchise came into to 2012/13 with a whole new arsenal of players and Championship aspirations, and so far they have looked everything but. The acquisition of  Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison (who is he again?) were meant to bolster the team into the upper echelons of the Western Conference and everyone many predicted that this would undoubtedly end in yet another title for Lakers. Since the start of the season, the drama that has unfolded has been nothing short of disastrous for the Lakers’ PR department, as the team reels at 15 wins and 16 losses a quarter of the way through to season. Who would have thought this stacked Lakers roster would be under .500 after 31 games?

Add into the mix the firing of head coach Mike Brown after Los Angeles started the season 1-4. The players remain adamant that it will turn around,  that they can right the ship through hard work and chemistry building. Sure, injury has plagued them through the initial stages, but with the team nearly back to full strength it’s hard to see a lot of improvement and it’s now becoming frustrating for fans, coaching staff, management and indeed the players themselves. It’s really quite hard to pinpoint where the Lakers are struggling, but here we’ll take a look at all the factors surrounding the team and allow you to break down where you think there is room for improvement and who may or may not be the true crux of the problems in Los Angeles. We’ll look at the players, coaches, fans and more to try and better understand what the real issues are that face one of the most famous sporting franchises in history.

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Starting Players

Kobe Bryant: Bryant is actually playing some of the best basketball of his 17-year career. He leads the league in scoring (no surprises there) with an average of 30.3PPG and he still possesses the offensive efficiency of a 24 year old while playing close to 40 minutes a game. He recently made a record breaking 10 game streak of 30+ point games and still manages to dish just under 5 assists per game all at the ripe old age of 34. It may come as a surprise, but his shot selection has been a lot better than in previous years and his efficiency has been through the roof. He’s done this by eliminating the erratic long two-ball shots he so loves to shoot and replaced it with vicious drives into the paint (70%) and much more effective three balls (37%). A huge improvement on last year where Kobe shot 43% overall on the year. His attention to detail in the pick and roll has also been key to the Lakers winning games, but it hasn’t been as easy for some others making Kobe’s contributions go unnoticed. Where Kobe does lack is defense and while it has improved slightly this season it’s still not at the point the team needs it to be. this could be due to his natural desire to score rather than defend but one thing’s for sure if the Lakers are to improve, Kobe will need to do his bit of the defensive end. Where could the offense improve through Kobe? Distribution. Sounds silly with him having the year he is, but with Dwight, Pau and Nash there to score and facilitate it would be in the teams best interests for Kobe to continue sharing the ball more. Will it happen? Who knows. It’s Kobe after all.

Steve Nash: It’s been a rough start to the season for Steve Nash. He left the Suns for the chance to win Championships with the Lakers and has since seen his new team fall under .500 while he himself has been sidelined through injury since the second game of the season in a loss to Portland. Nash didn’t return to the court until December 22nd against Golden State where he made an immediate impact to the team’s overall efficiency playing 41 minutes and dishing 8 assists. He immediately followed it up by improving to 12 assists and 16 points in a win against the Knicks on Christmas Day. It’s impossible to argue that Nash doesn’t make this team, or any team, better and his pairing with Dwight and Pau should ultimately provide some of the most damaging offensive sets in the NBA. But so far, it hasn’t paid off as expected. Where Nash excels is the pick and roll, but it hasn’t been helped or facilitated well by his team mates who’s off ball movement is about as active as yours truly on a Sunday morning after a night at the pub. You could see Nash’s frustration with Dwight, Pau and Kobe over the past few contests where not only do they refuse to move and engage on defense, but they also have little interest in utilizing his passing ability and prefer to settle for mid range jump shots. Steve Nash is a vital part of the Lakers’ plan, but as long as he is being treated like just another point guard, the team won’t reap the rewards of having him.

Dwight Howard: Where do we start? I guess one word to describe Dwight’s start to the season would be underwhelming. the most dominant center in the league created an absolute mess throughout free agency but was eventually snapped up by L.A. in the hope he would again turn the team into a championship contender. Unfortunately Howard has struggled to maintain any consistency through his first season as a Laker, having flashes of brilliance but following it up with performances that seem less than impressive. His stats however aren’t terrible. While struggling to really be the enforcer he truly can be, he is averaging a tad over 17 points, 11 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game as a Laker. For a guy with a shoddy back, those aren’t bad numbers at all. Again, his problem remains his ability to compete hard every night and against Philadelphia, this was exemplified. 1 of 7 shooting and 7 points and 14 rebounds, 5 blocks. This is good work defensively but with LAL shooting 3-22 from long range, it was clear the ball HAD to be delivered to Howard more. I’m not so sure the blame can be placed on Kobe or Nash however. Dwight is clearly gassed and struggling to find the space to operate. This should improve with time but currently, there is work to be done. When Jordan Hill takes and makes more shots in the first quarter than you and your power forward combined did in the entire game, you know there’s an issue.

Pau Gasol: Pau has had to endure some very heavy criticism over the past two years and has been the subject of trade talks for the entire time. It’s amazing how quickly some Lakers fans forget this is the guy who re-salvaged their team in 2009 and 2010 and was a huge part of why they won championships. Sure, times change and players value depreciates but mark my words, Pau is still a hugely important part of where the Lakers want to go. That said, he hasn’t been good in season 2012/13, and mostly because he is finding it hard to exist in D’Antoni’s run and gun system. Too often we see Gasol on the perimeter shooting mid rangers because he’s unable to create space for himself in the paint or find the open man. When he does, it’s deadly because he’s one of the best passers in the game. His efficiency hasn’t taken a huge hit at +17 on the season, but his averages aren’t quite as high as in previous seasons (12 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists). Gasol was out for the majority of December with tendonitis in both knees and the team missed his presence, but since returning Gasol has made little impact on offense and has been less than effective on defense. The team needs Pau’s production and versatility, and so far it just hasn’t been there.

Darius Morris (cc: Chris Duhon): This kid has been well and truly thrown in at the deep end, and has made the best of it. Well, as best he can. Morris is erratic and fast and is defensively solid while on offense he’s worked particularly well with Kobe Bryant in the D’Anotni System. Morris has shared the starting point guard spot with Chris Duhon while Steve Nash and Steve Blake have been out with injuries and the pair, while obviously flawed, engaged the team to a degree where it was possible to win games. Morris’ numbers are low, but on occasion has risen above and beyond including what looked to be a career night against Phily with 15 points and 2 assists in the 1st quarter before succumbing to a sprained ankle. His averages are too low to be considered anything special, but it is a work in progress for the 2nd year rookie. It’s been an interesting transition and a huge challenge for Morris to move into starting shooting guard while Kobe occupies the 3 spot, and Metta World Peace coming off the bench. Is it wise to have a player still learning the ropes running and gunning with 4 Champions/Olympians/All stars? Yes and no. Yes because his experience will skyrocket and no because he’s not quite there yet.

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6th man - Metta World Peace: Yeah, Ron got shafted to the bench when it became apparent Antawn Jamison wasn’t providing anything for his new team off the pine (more on that a little later). This is not a bad thing however. Metta has been explosive in the first quarter of the season after having worked on his strength and conditioning throughout the summer. He did start the season at the 3, but since injuries forced lineup changes and the undeniable need for some sparks off the bench, Metta was the obvious choice for 6th man. Since then, he’s embraced it whole heartedly. Averaging 13.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and his three point shooting percentage has risen above his career average to .36%. World Peaces’ defensive effort has never been questioned, but in a season where the main focus of the Lakers’ problems are on the defensive end, a guy like Metta coming off the bench and creating tough situations for guys is crucial to the Lakers successes. The fact he can hit a three ball is a bonus

Bench: The bench really has been 50/50 this season so far. What was meant to be a revitalized, efficient bench has turned out to be, well, meh. The guy who was brought in on a veteran’s minimum to be the 6th man is now not even in the rotation, while guys like Jordan Hill and Jodie Meeks have really had to prove themselves to the coaches even though their numbers and efficiency are very commendable.

The problem the Lakers have had since Lamar Odom won 6th man has been depth and this season doesn’t appear any different. Antawn Jamison struggled to create a positive outlook for himself, and has since seen 6 DNP-CD’s next to his name. It’s not really that bad a move to be fair though. Jamison really only provides on the offensive end, and in a team stacked with offense and desperate for athletic, fast defense where does he fit in?

Jordan Hill, while initially struggling to find his place in D’Antoni’s rotation, has been a spark of energy for the team in both rebounding and scoring. Hill makes second, third and sometimes fourth efforts under the rim to get the board, which is more than most others are doing, and his hustle is second to none.  Jodie Meeks found his shot after a rough start and is now contributing to the overall offense, but he still lacks consistency. There’s no question he plays with heart and energy every game, but it doesn’t always pay off and there are occasions where his shot just won’t fall.

Unfortunately, this is where the buck stops and the Lakers begin to become very fragile. The names here cannot contribute to a level where the team would be able to abstain with these guys on the court in anything but a blowout. Devin Ebanks (3.5ppg, 2Rbs), Earl Clarke (0.8PPG, 0.8Rbs), Robert Sacre (0.5PPg, 0.5 Rbs), Darius Johnson-Odom (0.0 PPG, 1.0 Rbs). No, these players almost never hit the floor, but it’s because their production is so low it would be detriment to the team in many ways. The Lakers must boost this bench if they are to compete with deep teams such as the Clippers.

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The Coach: Mike D’Antoni as the Lakers coach never made sense. After the firing of Mike Brown, and the snubbing of Phil Jackson, D’Antoni really had to make his mark and turn the ship around and putting it simply, he hasn’t. D’Antoni was brought because of his track record with Steve Nash and his ability to coach the pick and roll. But what management seemingly forgot is that D’Anotni is a run and gun, 7 seconds or less coach and the Lakers, obviously, are not that type of team. They are old, they are slow and they are not a team that can run the type of offense D’Antoni sets up.

Additionally, he is one of the league’s most unheralded defensive coordinators and being that he’s in charge of a team desperate for some defensive guidance, it makes no sense at all. His rotations are as out of sync as Mike Brown’s ever were, and his decision to start Darius Morris at the 2 and move Kobe to small forward while benching Antawn Jamison and playing Hill and Meeks on limited minutes has ruffled some serious feathers. There’s no question management will stick with him though, and it’s up to the players to adapt to D’Antoni’s system now.

the key here is definitely a lacking on defense. This team has a three time defensive player of the year anchoring the paint, but it’s evident that the way he’s being coached is not helping him reclaim that crown. Mike D’Antoni MUST start to enforce some defense soon, otherwise this team will not contend in June.

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Injuries: Through the start of the season, injuries have plagued the Lakers and the impact has not been good. Steve Nash was the most obvious exclusion missing in action since October with a broken leg leaving the Lakers in serious trouble at the point (haven’t heard that before). It’s been a long road back for the aging star who has helped the Lakers a lot since returning to the lineup. One would have to imagine had Nash been healthy for the past two months the Lakers wouldn’t be in quite the hole they are now.

Dwight Howard has played the entire season, but originally wasn’t slated for a return until January and it is evident his back has not fully healed. The one they call Superman has barely been able to jump and what used to be three or four consecutive giant leaps to block, rebound or dunk are only memories. Former coach Stan Van Gundy has said publicly that he believes Dwight isn’t the player he once was. Time will tell if Howard is able to find the dominance that the Lakers believed they were getting when trading for him, and every Laker fan is hoping his back is the root of the problem.

Steve Blake was always going to be an important piece of the puzzle, especially after Nash’s injury, but he suffered an abdominal strain mere days after Nash went down and hasn’t returned since citing 6-8 weeks rehab before playing was even a possibility. Blake is dearly missed right now as the back up point guard as the Duhon/Morris combo is not nearly as sound as Steve. He is probable to play in 2-3 weeks.

Pau Gasol is yet another causality of this increasingly grim Lakers season. After looking out of place for most of the early part of the season, he eventually succumbed to severe tendinitis in both knees and was sidelined for 2 weeks. Ironically, D’Antoni started Antawn Jamison during Pau’s absence and he did manage to improve as his minutes went up. But, that’s history. Pau’s recent struggles come down to three areas age, injury and trouble fitting in. Two of the three are fixable.

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The Offense: Not the biggest issue so far for L.A., but it could definitely be better. As mentioned earlier, Kobe Bryant has regulated his shot taking to a point where the shots he is taking are far more effective and this helps the teams overall scoring efficiency. However, this could be further improved by feeding their bigs (Howard/Gasol) more. Dwight getting 7 shots in a game against Spencer Hawes isn’t cutting it, and this is an area that needs work. We explained earlier that both he and Gasol are struggling in the pick and roll but it is something they’ll need to work on if they are to improve. Pau taking mid range jumpers and long threes will only get them so far. It’s sometimes as if they look they are trying to score through a brick wall with nowhere to go. This with “one of the best offensive coached in the league”. The numbers aren’t good though:

Offensive Efficiency: 6th (106 points/100 possessions) – The most attractive ranking the Lakers have

Turnovers per game: 26th

Free Throw Shooting: 29th

Assist per game: 21st

You think the offense stinks? Wait till we get to the defense!

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The Defense: This team simply sucks on the defensive end. There’s no other way to put it. The Lakers are just completely left behind by teams who are now learning that through heavy defense and quick offense they are going to cut right through L.A.’s D and pile on a bunch of points. Rebounding hasn’t been too much of an issue, averaging 46.1 per game (2nd in the West), but their rotations and the fact that guys do not move or stay with their opponent is really the area where they are lacking. Mike D’Antoni has never been a defensive coach, so it’s no surprise there are problems, but it’s silly how bad it’s gotten for them. Here’s a few rankings to properly exercise my point:

Defensive Efficiency Rank: 17th (102.7 points per game)

Transition Defense Leading to Opposition Points: Dead last

Opposition Points of Turnovers: 28th

Opponent Points in The Paint: 20th

Opponent Turnovers: 20th

Opponent Offensive rebounds: 28th

Schedule Difficulty: 15th

That last one should ring very loud in Lakers’ fans ears because they haven’t had it all that tough yet, and the long road ahead doesn’t get easier. In fact, it gets a lot more difficult and they will desperately need to boost those rankings should they want to play postseason basketball.

    Remember these idiots?

The Fans: Laker fans really are one of a kind. Like all popular franchises there are the bandwagoners who have eased their “pain” by jumping on the Clippers and are now riding the wave with puffed out chests jeering and mocking the Lakers every chance they get. Not all, but some. Real Laker fans have reacted with positivity, yet also with caution as they know there is trouble afoot. The fans at Staples Center aren’t used to losing, so this season has come as quite a shock. The message from the players is to settle down, let them work and it will all come together but it is a trying time for the fans. It’s difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel when the situation is as bad as it is for L.A. but rest assured even the ones who abandon ship will come crawling back when things begin to swing the Lakers’ way again. You know it will happen, it’s the Lakers.

What can be done? Tough times ahead I’m afraid Laker fans! There’s things that can be done but it won’t be without further loss and further anguish. First on the list should be an overhaul of the defense and make it their main focus. With that will come easier more fluent offense and they’ll be able to reduce opposition points. Good strength and conditioning coaching should help to decrease injuries, but not all together. Management should keep their options open and listen to trade offers which could improve the bench and possibly even the starting lineup. Mike D’Antoni needs to accept the type of team he’s coaching and not expect the defense to be able to react immediately in transition, and additionally should also work to solidify his rotations. These are just a few areas where the team could help the situation, but we want to hear from YOU. Where do you believe the Lakers need to improve.

Leave a comment below or tweet us @NBANationOz and let us know your thoughts on this year’s Lakers squad!

Nick C.

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One Comment on “Breaking Down The L.A. Lakers: Where Has It All Gone Wrong?”

  1. @MrTrain January 4, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    Great stuff nicko! Its not gonna get easier for us laker fans. D’antoni’s rotation is what annoys me most. Transition D is what kills lakers most games. And thry seem to live and die by the 3 ball alot and if thats what D’antoni thinks will get them thru playoffs and finals, his wrong!
    Couple of cold games from 3 and they get bounced from playoffs like all the other 3 ball shootin teams have.
    A balanced offense will win games, and solid D wins rings.
    Lakers have neither right now

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