The start of the season hasn't been kind to the Los Angeles Lakers through two games, though much of the cracks we're seeing were already showing through preseason. Their defense has been horrible, as evidenced by the 80 points in the paint they gave up to the Sacramento Kings. The starting lineup, though, let the game get out of control early on.
Giving up 132 points in 48 minutes isn't ideal, but it was a 12-0 run the Kings rattled off in the first minutes of the game where this disaster began. Yes, the defense deserves plenty of blame, but scoring just four points until the 7:30 mark in the first quarter was another glaring problem. A 16-4 hole right out of the gates for a starting lineup still learning how to play together was way too deep to overcome, and the Lakers were exposed on both sides of the ball from there on.
There were turnovers, poor choices and the kind of possessions we're beginning to expect from this unit. Ball pressure on Russell and the Lakers' backcourt completely jarred the offense early on. We see that in this possession, as the first action -- nothing else besides standing in place has happened through the first half of the shot clock in this one -- doesn't come until the 12-second mark. D'Angelo passes it to Kobe in the corner, who then takes a screen from Hibbert, but DeMarcus Cousins switches and just waits until the three-point shot comes:
The Lakers forced a switch on Kobe, sure, but what exactly are they doing with it? Settling for a three-point shot while the shot clock winds down? That's not ideal. We're seeing this often, especially with the starting lineup. The Lakers might get "mismatches," but they're either missing opportunities or doing nothing with them.
Here's an example from later in the game of Kobe electing to try and take Cousins, which causes him to miss a wide-open Clarkson curling around. The worst part might be that he ultimately just passes it to him anyway, but by that point it's too late:
Further proof of them looking that bad against Sacramento? The Russell, Clarkson, Kobe, Randle, Hibbert lineup played 11 minutes against the Kings and was on pace to score just 68.6 points per 100 possessions. It's early, but the Lakers' starting five execution is a construction zone right now. Get your hard hats on folks.
Pick and plop
The Lakers could definitely use an increase in pick-and-roll reps for D'Angelo Russell, but it's not just for his own sake as a ball-handling point guard. They also need the rest of the team to get comfortable with their roles when it's time to set a screen.
This pick-and-pop sequence between Randle and Russell is a perfect example of the kind of experience they still need to gain together. D'Angelo is already very capable of creating with the pocket pass, but the Lakers need to figure out what to do once the ball skips to the screener:
This simple action forces the Kings' defense into an obvious breakdown with a shift to block Randle's path to the basket. D'Angelo is open on the perimeter with Sacramento's defense collapsed around the paint. There's space in the Lakers' offense, but they don't make use of their weakside advantage. This play ends with Julius backing down into Rondo and being called for a charge:
This represents several problems the Lakers are facing right now. Decision making while they're still early in the feeling-out portion of the season isn't going to be perfect, especially from the young players. Another issue is finding ways to make Randle effective when he gets the ball from mid-range. The Kings obviously knew how to react to this, and he left a juicy opportunity on the table.
On that note
Decision making will be something we talk about a lot this season. The slow, methodical offense the Lakers are running in their structured sets might create advantages, but putting that kind of responsibility on a group of young players means missed opportunities and playing against the shot clock often.
This possession is an example of both of those factors. The offense doesn't complete its first action until 13 seconds are left in the shot clock, but eventually does create a window to score with an off-ball screen from Kobe Bryant for D'Angelo. That's the spot the Lakers need to strike, but Russell instead backs off, picks up his dribble, then sends an entry pass in to Hibbert with five seconds left:
On one hand, yes, the Lakers did generate an opportunity within their offense. On the other hand, they take so long to get to this point that Russell has to take advantage of it, or their offense turns into bailout mode against the buzzer. Can you expect a young player like D'Angelo to pull up and take this shot when it's there?
It's fair to question what exactly the starting lineup is trying to accomplish on offense, but it's also just two games into the season. You can only hope for signs of improvement every step along the way. We'll see what kind of adjustments the team makes against Dallas, which is hopefully more than just manning up and being rough like sandpaper.