Settling in with the league's third worst point differential, perhaps the worst overall defense in the NBA and a crippling injury situation with several key personnel ruled out for the season, it would appear that the 2014-2015 Lakers are deserving of the West's worst record.
Do you feel like the Lakers are underachieving? In what way? Or do you feel that their record indicates exactly what they're capable of?
Whether you believe the Lakers are underachieving depends on how one defines it. This may seem like a cop out answer, but it really depends on whether or not one considers the coaching context when defining the standard of achievement for the Lakers to over or under shoot. Not to blame Byron for everything wrong with this mismatched and defensively inept roster, but his questionable minutes management and outdated offensive schemes have almost assuredly led to a worse performance than this roster would have produced under a more competent coach (*cough* D'Antoni *cough*).
So in terms of just looking at the roster and projecting wins, this Lakers have probably slightly underperformed. But when factoring in the man deciding how to deploy those rotation pieces? The Lakers are about where they should be expected to be.
The Lakers are absolutely underachieving, but their record is still only two or three wins away from where it "should" be. We all knew the Lakers would be bad, but to have just four wins through November is stunning. Some of their losses -- like their recent one to the Minnesota Timberwolves -- are unacceptable. They should be bad on defense, but to be the worst defense in the NBA is something different. Giving up 113.7 points per 100 possessions makes the 107.9 defensive rating they put up last season look they were coached by Frank Vogel or Tom Thibodeau.
Offensively this team is right outside of the top-10 in offensive rating, which conflicts with everything my eyes have told me while watching this 4-13 team. How are they in the upper-half of the NBA here? It's honestly hard to tell, but the Lakers are heavily leaning on mid-range jumpers to "fuel" their offense, and for now it's getting them by. The problem, putting numbers aside, is that their offensive and defensive schemes seem either broken or ignored. There's little to no flow to this Lakers team, and the reliance on Kobe Bryant to do just about everything in order to pull off a win seems like something that will come back to haunt them once they're deeper in the season.
TL;DR: The Lakers defense is woefully underperforming, the Lakers offense has numbers that point one way but visual evidence that points the other. Maybe this team should have a couple more wins, but really, it's close to where it should be.
The Lakers' record is more or less in line with how I envisioned them performing thus far. They can't defend anyone, have won a few games on the back of a superlative offensive effort led by Kobe Bryant and others, and are among the worst coached teams in the league. Indeed, Byron Scott seems determined to eke out however many wins he can by riding Kobe into the ground, the consequences down the road this season be damned, so the fact that the team is essentially in line with expectations points to how poor the underlying foundation is. Kobe isn't going to be producing in, say, February so long as Byron insists on playing him extended minutes and that's the simple reality of a 36-year-old's playing curve.
That some of these games are close might lead one to declare some notion of optimism, but that simply doesn't jive with the reality of the team's approach, both from a system and rotation perspective. Whether it's all the chucking from mid-range -- which the Lakers have quietly been able to deal with so far since it limits turnovers and they've been very good on the offensive boards, but this falls apart the moment those mid-range shots stop falling -- or how the team fails to defend, over the course of a year, you will invariably lose the grand majority of games you play since that's not a sustainable strategy.
The bottom hasn't quite fallen out on the Lakers' season yet, held open by Kobe's effort and the play of some players we see as likely trade chips. As one might easily infer from this, that moment will be quickly forthcoming.
The Great Mambino
This Lakers team isn't underachieving, but rather, is exactly where I thought they'd be to start the year. As with most of my commentary on SS&R, it starts and ends with defense. The Lakers are a willing defensive unit, but lack the preparation, scheme and key personnel to adequately defend on a night to night basis. LA has horrid rotations and over-commits in help situations, leading to an enormous amount of wide open three-pointers every game for their opponents. They regularly allow opponents to waltz freely through the lane, sometimes seemingly stepping out of the way and waving a red cape leading to the rack. Guys like Kobe Bryant and Carlos Boozer are no longer equipped to defend their positions and other players like Wesley Johnson, Jeremy Lin and Nick Young often look confused and lost amongst the scheme. I believe that this generally comes down to coaching and lack of basketball IQ. If that's the case, the Lakers are definitely deserving of their record, as their defense is largely dictating whether or not they win or lose games.
Perhaps even more important, LA is playing in the Western Conference, with one paltry win in fourteen attempts. I can confidently write that 13 of the 15 teams in the West would have an excellent chance of making the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, with perhaps even Minnesota having a chance against such inferior competition. The Lakers thus have such a diminished chance of winning each and every night, simply because of their geographical location.
Until LA starts playing more Eastern Conference teams, I can't envision them being better than this. Underachieving? In some ways, they may be overachieving.