It's only five games into the season and even the most optimistic of Los Angeles Lakers fans is starting to admit the purple and gold are in dire straits. Simply put, it’s been a rougher start to the season than most of us could have imagined. While the Lakers have played a murderous schedule to start the season and are already crippled by injuries again, these excuses can only go so far toward explaining a depressing 0-5 record.
Never one to shy away from morbid curiosity, I wanted to dig into the Lakers disastrous five-game stretch. The eye test has certainly been conclusive, but what do the numbers tell us about how bad the start to the season has been?
Any way you cut the numbers, the Lakers have been among the worst teams in the league thus far. They are getting beaten by 14.8 points per game (16 points per 100 possessions when adjusted for pace). This is a historically bad number. To put this in context, the 2013-14 Lakers set a franchise record for losses and had a negative margin of 6.2 points per game.
The lowly Sixers, who were basically a D-League team, were beaten by a mere 10 points per contest last season. Going even further back, the all-time worst '11-12 Charlotte Bobcats (proud owners of a 7-59 record) had a -13.9 per game differential. While this is certainly depressing company to keep, I’ll try my best at a silver lining. Even controlling for the insane level of competition they've had thus far, there is simply no way that the Lakers can maintain this level of futility for 82 games. There’s literally no where to go from here here but up.
Bottom line: Treading water.
Believe it or not, the Lakers are performing at about the same level they did last year on offense. Despite Kobe trying to shoot his way out of a stagnant offense, an aversion to the three, and players being asked to do way too much, their 2014-15 offensive efficiency is at 101.7 points per 100 possessions (compared to 101.9 last season). This number is decidedly middle of the pack, good for 17th of the league’s 30 teams.
Reasons for Hope:
-Offensive rebounding: It helps when you miss a lot, but the Lakers have actually been one of the better offensive rebounding teams thus far. The Lake Show has pulled in 29% of its misses, providing plenty of second chance opportunities.
-Free-throws: As a team, the Lakers are getting to the charity stripe and making it count. They are drawing free throws at a top 5 rate and currently make 24 FT’s a game, third in the league.
Signs of the apocalypse:
-Three-point shooting: The Lakers are really missing the shooters they lost in the offseason. Despite taking 10 less threes per game, the Lakers three-point percentage has dropped from 38.1% last year (third in the league) to 32.9 percent (very middle of the pack). The three-ball has gone from being a strategic weapon to a major disadvantage for LA.
-Field goal percentage: Even while taking among the fewest threes in the league, the Lakers have seen a drop in their field goal percentage from 45 to 43 percent this year. It’s obvious that Kobe has been chucking, but he's not alone. This team has struggled from the field and has to put in a lot of work to get points on the board.
Bottom Line: Something stinks here.
Despite bringing in Byron "I’m a Defensive Coach, I Swear" Scott in the off-season, the Laker defense hasn't just declined, it's evaporated. The Lakers are allowing 117.4 points per 100 possessions, per nba.com, the worst in the league by huge margin (8 points). This is the real driver of the goose-egg in the win column thus far this season and the place where the Lakers desperately need to improve.
Reason for Hope:
-Forcing turnovers: It felt like a stretch to identify any ray of sunshine here, but I guess that turnovers would be the lone bright spot to date on defense. The Lakers are just above average here (at 14.8 per game, 13th in the league), but they are least forcing more turnovers than they are coughing up.
Signs of the Apocalypse: Everything else. You can almost choose your own adventure here. To name a few:
-PPG – At nearly 117 points per game, the Lakers are giving up more points than anyone else, by a long shot. Boston, a distant #29, is giving up a comparatively stingy 109.3 points to opponents.
-FG% - The Lakers are allowing teams to shoot a disgusting 49.3 percent from the field (and 42.2 percent from three).
-FTA - They are also hacking like there's no tomorrow, giving up the second most free-throw attempts in the league (34.2).
-Rebounding- They are 25th in the league in defensive rebounding rate, allowing way too many second chance opportunities.
It’s hard to make any definitive conclusions after only five games with an injury-riddled roster, but the Lakers need to completely turn it around on defense to have a chance of competing on a nightly basis. This team is clearly a lottery team in the West, but they have too much talent to be one of the worst teams in NBA history.
By virtue of getting healthy, becoming more familiar with Scott’s system, and playing some Eastern Conference teams, they will start to look better than their historically bad start to the season. No one realistically expects this team to go 0-82, but they are certainly much closer to keeping their top-five protected pick than many of us thought before the season.