At 4-23, this Los Angeles Lakers season hasn't been pretty, no matter which way you cut it. Whether it's been Kobe's inconsistent play, Byron Scott's inconsistent coaching, the young players' inconsistent production and inconsistent rotations, the uneven nature of the year thus far has been maddening, fascinating and horrifying all at once. That's what's so interesting about the 2015-2016 Lakers -- we all knew it would be a very different season, but because of the wide rash of variables, we weren't quite sure exactly which way the dominoes would fall.
With one-third of the season gone, however, we've definitely got a sense of just how some preseason predictions will turn out. What has been surprising thus far? Who's been a disappointment? Is the team where we all thought they'd be at this point? Let's take a look at the season thus far, laying out the Lakers' progress report through the first 27 games of the season.
Who has been the most pleasant surprise?
Two of the rookies, Julius Randle and Larry Nance, Jr., have been more impressive than their young ages let on, to be sure. Even Jordan Clarkson, who has grown as a player since his "break-in-case-of-emergency" on-court exposure last season, could qualify. However, the most pleasant surprise in a year full of unpleasant developments? Metta World Peace: active NBA player.
The man formerly known as Ron Artest was unexpectedly brought back into the fold this offseason after stints in China and Italy and nearly 18 months away from an NBA squad. At age 35, most figured that the 2003-2004 Defensive Player of the Year had seen his final days in the league, that coming in an unsuccessful 27 game cameo with the New York Knicks after being waived via the amnesty provision by the Lakers in 2013. At first, the thought of MWP coming back to LA was a fun rumor during the dog days of the August and September offseason. Then, as myth became reality, we entertained it as a fanciful feel good story, a solid news beat during training camp that would eventually lead to the veteran's inevitable release. However, as it appeared more and more likely that World Peace would claim the team's final spot on the roster, the unbelievable notion that the small forward that looked washed up three years ago would now be openly welcomed back into the organization.
It hasn't just been the fact that MWP is on the roster that's surprising. It's not even the fact that he's at times, looked like a decent NBA contributor (.395 from long range is no joke). It's that World Peace, once suspended for a total of 86 games for fighting fans in the stands, was now counted on as a reliable veteran presence and a good influence on the team's young core. But even more shocking? That it's by all accounts working.
The former Ron Artest, now an upstanding member of the community and mentor to the NBA youth. What a world.
Who has been the most disappointing?
When the team is 4-23, there usually isn't just one disappointment, but many. However, if we were to narrow it down to just one player, there's no doubt that it'd have to be Kobe Bryant.
To be fair, head coach Byron Scott has been much maligned, but it's not as if many outside observers thought he was a Coach of the Year candidate anyway. Even Roy Hibbert, somehow looking worse than what we thought was merely just a down year last season, doesn't trump the Black Mamba here. Sure, D'Angelo Russell has been somewhat disappointing when viewed through the lens of his pedigree, too. The second-overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft hasn't looked nearly as good as Kristaps Porzingis, nor as offensively polished as Jahlil Okafor, but as a 19-year-old point guard, how much could truly be expected of him?
We've covered this ad nauseum on Silver Screen & Roll as of late: Kobe Bryant is having a catastrophically horrid season. Even after a six-game stretch shooting nearly 50 percent from the field while averaging five rebounds and four ssists a game, KB24 is still registering career lows across the board. Among qualified players, he's still throwing around a shooting line that would make him one of the very worst in NBA history.
It's not that anyone expected Kobe to be great this year -- I'm not sure how many even thought he'd be merely good. However, I don't know anyone that thought that Bryant would be arguably the most harmful presence on an NBA floor this season. Between his defense, his shot selection, his shot quantity and overall role in the offense, it's hard to argue that Kobe's season has been anything besides the most disappointing aspect of the Lakers this year.
Should the Lakers regret taking Russell with the number two pick?
No, they shouldn't, but it will take more than 1/3 or a season to decide that once and for all.
New York forward Porzingis is one of the front runners for the Rookie of the Year award, with a far more polished offensive and defensive game than anyone thought possible at this stage of his career. Justise Winslow has looked more explosive off the bench for the Miami Heat. Even Jahlil Okafor, with his off-court problems and lackluster D, has looked like he'll be an offensive force for years to come.
With D'Angelo Russell? The Lakers have gotten flashes of potential, but they seem to be few and further between than the men drafted after him. He's shooting less than 40 percent from the field overall and just 31 percent from long range. His assist-to-turnover ratio isn't much higher than 1:1. He doesn't make highlight plays very often and hasn't had long stretches of on-court dominance. He looks like, well, a 19-year-old kid trying to play in the NBA.
But that's what he is. A 19-year-old playing the most difficult and demanding position in the league against men with years of experience in the most competitive basketball league in the world. Expecting him to look as impressive as rookie big men or an athletic small forward isn't a fair comparison. No, Russell hasn't been terribly impressive this year. But that's not to say that the Lakers should reconsider their decision just yet. It'll take far more time before they'll know the answer.
Should this be the role Kobe Bryant takes?
Yes and no. From a leadership standpoint, absolutely. Bryant seems to have no problem acting as a mentor to his young teammates from afar. Whether it be explaining the nuances of the just completed play, walking toward the huddle or chatting with them on the bench pointing out facets of the game, it certainly appears that Kobe Bryant: Veteran Mentor has manifested itself more than ever before. Perhaps the best example? The Mamba, one of the most feared end-of-game killers in the history of the league has been voluntarily sitting out fourth quarters for the benefit of others. There aren't enough italics in the world to emphasize how huge that is.
On the other hand, he's taking 17 shots per game, which is almost as many attempts as D'Angelo has years. That's not right.
It feels like Kobe's leadership qualities have finally caught up to his stature within the game. However, his game has been depleted to the point where it needs to be commensurate to his physical ability.
Will this be the worst Lakers team of all-time?
At this point, probably.
The sheer mathematics of it are daunting. This year's squad is a franchise-worst 4-23 to begin the year, placing as one of the league's most challenged teams on both ends of the floor. Through 27 games the year before, even last year's team -- the reigning worst Lakers team ever -- was 8-19. Yes, a team even more devoid of talent than this putrid squad, was four-wins better.
In order to merely tie last year's record of 21-61, the Lakers would have to rip off a 17-38 run to end the season. On the surface, this doesn't seem like a horribly difficult proposition -- after all, that's 21 games under .500. However, 17 wins are almost as much as last year's team won all year. Can these Lakers pull that off? Even though the 2015-2016 team is undoubtedly more talented than last year's edition, there hasn't been a whole lot to suggest they should be better.
We're most likely looking at the worst Los Angeles Lakers team ever. Whether or not it's surprising isn't really the question here.
Should this team be this bad?
At this point, no, they shouldn't be. Not at any point.
The Lakers have a lot going against them this season. Kobe is on his retirement tour and the franchise is under a lot of pressure to play him in front of throngs of adoring fans wanting to pay tribute. The young players need on-court experience, despite a plethora of mistakes on both ends of the floor. The team is disorganized from a personnel standpoint, with role redundancies and mismatched offensive pieces.
But the facts are that this team has experienced veteran players with value and enough talent that a 4-23 record should be considered a disgrace. The Philadelphia 76ers are 1-26, but that's with almost no positive point guard play to organize the scoring attack, zero active players over 25 years old and several guys that have no place on a NBA roster. The Lakers are stocked with vets like Roy Hibbert, Nick Young, Lou Williams and Brandon Bass. Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and D'Angelo Russell are inexperienced, sure, but they are surrounded by mentors with decades of experience in the game. The Lakers have some depth and don't have anyone in their rotation that's even questionably a D-League-caliber player.
Instead, we're looking at the team with arguably the league's worst defense and one of the very worst offenses. This team has too much talent and experience, even with all the youth on the team, to be this bad. More than anything, this is an indictment on not just how Byron Scott is coaching this team, but about the pieces that the front office has assembled together.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino