("What went wrong this season?" is the question we get the most from fans at Silver Screen & Roll. The 2012-2013 team had championship expectations, but a convergence of worst case scenarios kicked down LA to the the fringes of playoff contention. In this post series, we'll be taking a look at just what went wrong with each part of the Los Angeles Lakers this year, how it affected the organization and if this could be a problem going forward.)
SG Kobe Bryant: 78 games, 78 games started, 4 missed (for injury), 27.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 6.0 apg, .463/.324/.839
PG Steve Nash: 50 games, 50 games started, 32 missed, 12.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 6.7 apg, .497/.438/.922
PG Steve Blake: 45 games, 13 started, 37 missed, 7.3 ppg, 2.9, 3.8 apg, .422/.421/.771
SG Jodie Meeks: 78 games, 10 starts, 0 missed (for injury), 7.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 0.9 apg, .387/.357/.896
PG Darius Morris: 47 games, 17 starts, 4.0 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 1.6 apg, .388/.364/.649
PG Chris Duhon: 46 games, 9 starts, 2.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 2.9 apg, .382/.363/.462
What went wrong with the Lakers guards?
Even more than the front court, injuries, which in part led to offensive inconsistency.
It seems redundant to mention it, but injuries absolutely killed the Lakers guards, perhaps even to a greater degree than the bigs. The pair of points named Steve were originally forecast to have the lion's share of minutes this year, breaking down opposing defenses and at times, playing off each other when Kobe needed a rest. Instead, they missed a combined 69 games, Blake with an abdominal tear and Nash with a broken leg and nerve irritation affecting his hip and hamstring. Bryant tore his Achilles tendon in game no. 80, which was the first step in derailing whatever shot the team had of making any noise against the San Antonio Spurs in the postseason.
In Nash's case, he hovered around his career numbers statistically in regards to his shooting percentages, points created per possession and points per game. The one outlier was his lowest assist average in 13 years, a surprise considering all the high-powered offensive weapons around him. The team's lack of speed and athleticism crippled a few of Nash's best attributes, including probing and penetrating the opposition's defense looking for slashers and shooters and especially finding teammates on the fast break. Even more so than either of those deficiencies was Dwight Howard's inability (for whatever reason) to run the pick and roll, and Pau Gasol's season-long injuries keeping him off the court. The amount of times Nash either bounced the ball off Howard's heels or the big man simply got stripped on his post move are more than I could count, and truly negated a future Hall of Fame point guard's greatest strength. It was also apparent that Nash found it difficult getting back into a groove after fracturing his leg and was rendered nearly immobile towards the end of the season with hip and hamstring problems.
As exhibited by Steve Blake's last month, even with or without Nash in the line-up, it took a while before he truly bounced back from a serious abdominal tear. Whether it be his timing, sheer physical strength or conditioning, Blake dropped a 11.6/4.2/3.9 on .434/.434/.842 shooting in the season's last 30 days, the type of production the Lakers could have used all year long off the bench. Similarly, Jodie Meeks' performance hit highs and lows during the season (though not due to injury), shooting a .418 form the 3P line in February, but then .320 in March.
It was this season-long inconsistency that began to put Steve Nash into more of a perimeter shooter's role, with Kobe turning into the facilitator. At times, the former Sun excelled in this role, but it was frustrating to see one of the greatest point guards with a still working skill set reduced to spot-up duty.
Inexperience or ineffectiveness pressed into duty
Of course with all the injuries, inexperienced or just plain ineffective guards were put into the rotation. Darius Morris played 48 games his sophmore season with a surprising 17 starts, showing flashes of elite one-on-one defense, but often getting lost in help schemes or pick and rolls. On the other side of the court, Morris wasn't at all equipped to run or score in an NBA offense, which helped reduce his playing time towards the end of the year. Chris Duhon played 46 games, which is a lone sentence that could describe "what went wrong with the 2012-2013 Lakers". The reserve point guard was one of the league's worst every day guards when he got regular time and didn't improve the team in any perceivable way.
The drop in talent from Nash, Kobe, Blake and Meeks to two guys who really have no business getting NBA playing time really hurt the Lakers for large stretches in the season. No other way around it.
Lack of athleticism, poor help defense leading to perimeter D woes
....but even as bad as Morris and Duhon were at times, other than injuries, this was the true killer of the 2012-2013 Lakers.
LA's perimeter defense was atrocious this season, highlighted by Kobe's non-chalance, Steve Blake's horrible over-helping and a general lack of athleticism and effort. The Lakers allowed the 10th most three-point attempts this season, though placed only 16th in 3P% at .357, and 12th most three-point makes. Furthermore, it shouldn't come as a surprise that LA yielded the 6th highest percentage of makes at 20-24 feet.
The even more telling statistic is the complete lack of steals and opponent turnovers. The Lakers could not force opposing teams to give up the rock this year, ranking second to last in opponent turnovers. This helped towards LA being 22nd in both fast break points per game and points from turnovers, a clear contributor to Steve Nash's partial ineffectiveness as a facilitator this year. Of course, it's unfair to attribute this lack of in-game ball pressure just to the guards, but the Lakers did rank 25th in all the NBA in terms of steals from their back court. On the whole, the Lakers guards lacked the speed, length and athleticism to mob opposing wing players, force turnovers and stop penetration into the paint before it began.
Overall, just about the only thing to go right for the Lakers back court this year was Kobe Bryant's offensive blitzkrieg, one of his most brilliant in his career. A lot of these issues wouldn't persist into next year with health permitting, but the Mamba's ruptured Achilles tendon, as well as the ages of Nash and Blake have already spoiled that sunny outlook. Unless the Lakers make a major deal for a younger, more athletic guard--or Darius Morris makes great strides this summer--all these problems could linger throughout the 2013-2014 season.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino