By Dennis Berry
To say that things have not gone to plan early in the season for the Lakers is an understatement. They are sitting at 1-3 after four games. They lost their first three games to teams that are expected to contend for the playoffs – Dallas, Portland, and the L.A. Clippers. It took a visit from the Detroit Pistons to get them their first win.
Fans are wondering what is going on with the team. Many want to point to the new “Princeton” offense that Mike Brown installed this year. There are some that feel that the new offense is holding the Lakers' star players back.
It is true that the offense has not looked smooth so far this season, but that is not the real problem for the Lakers. When you look at the Laker's offensive numbers, they are actually not that bad.
After four games the Lakers are averaging 100 points a game, making them ninth overall in the league. Last season they averaged 97.3 points a game in 66 games. So the scoring is up three points a game. They are shooting 50% from the floor and 41% from behind the three point line. Last season they shot 46% from the floor and 33% from the three point line.
Right now the Lakers are doing better on offense from a statistical stand point than they did last year. As far as the offense holding the players back offensively, it does not seem to be the case.
Kobe Bryant is off to another strong start. He is averaging 26.8 points a game and is shooting 60% from the floor and 53% from the three point line. Dwight Howard, who had back surgery in the offseason, is averaging 23.3 points and shooting 58% from the floor. Pau Gasol is giving the Lakers a double-double with 15.8 points and 10 rebounds a game. His numbers are down, but that is because of the addition of Howard.
Many look at the struggles of Steve Nash so far, but that is not fair. Nash’s job is not to score. His job is to get the team into the offense. He knows that the Lakers are still getting used to this new offense and he is making sure that they run it a lot early in the season.
The only fault for the Lakers is they are averaging 18.5 turnovers a game. That is a number that is going to have to come down. One reason for the turnovers is the Lakers' key players are still getting used to playing with each other and Nash is out with an injury. That should improve the more the season goes.
Once they cut down on the turnovers, the offense is and will continue to be fine for Los Angeles. This team has bigger issues that it needs to worry about. There are two areas that need to improve if the Lakers are going to contend.
The first is defense. So far this year the defense has been terrible. The Lakers are allowing opponents to score 99.8 points a game.
Against a Dallas team that was missing Dirk Nowitzki, they gave up 99 points. Against two teams with younger players they gave 116 points to the Blazers and 105 to the Clippers. That is an average of 106.7 points in the first three games. They held the Pistons to 79 points to help their points allowed average drop to 99.8, 19th overall in the league.
They are a middle of the pack team when it comes to defense shooting percentage. Teams are shooting 45% from the floor (16th overall) against them. They are only forcing 13.5 turnovers a game.
The Lakers are also giving up points in transition. They are 24th in the league, allowing 16 points a game in fast break scores. The Lakers' age really shows up when they have to get back on defense, as they seem a step behind their opponents.
The other problem for the Lakers is their bench. It has been terrible from the start of the year. They are only getting 18.8 points a game from their bench, which ranks 29th overall. There is no real spark for the Lakers from their bench. They have no threat, like a Jason Terry for Boston or Jamal Crawford for the Clippers, to come in and get points when they need them. Their bench has been outscored in all four games this year.
The Lakers became Western Conference favorites after the Thunder traded James Harden to Houston. If they want to make it out of the Western Conference, they need to address their bench and defense as these issues stand in their way of a shot at a championship.