The Los Angeles Lakers surprising start led to some potentially outsized expectations for the young team. The purple and gold have been better than many predicted they could be, posting the 10th most efficient offense in the NBA just one year after posting the 29th. The team was also competent on defense for a time, although two-straight games against the Golden State Warriors nuked their defensive rating down to 29th (which is still technically an improvement on their 30th ranking last year).
The bottom line is that the Lakers have looked good, and much improved from a 17-win campaign last season. The team fell out of the playoff bracket after their Friday night loss to the Warriors, but could they get back into it? Could the Lakers shock the world and sneak into the postseason just one year after having the second-worst record in the league?
According to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, it doesn’t matter (via Sam Amick of USA Today):
“I want the basketball to be fun for our players and for our fans, something that’s fun and exciting to watch,” Kupchak said. “And I want the team to get better as the year progresses. I don’t know what that means in terms of wins and losses, but if we’re a better team a month from now, or three months from now, or five months from now, than we are today, and we’re fun to watch, I think our fans, our partners, will be on board, and I think we’d have something to build on. And once again, I don’t know how many wins that is. I really don’t.”
The Lakers have definitely hit the milestone of being fun to watch. They may be inexperienced and they don’t always get stops, but when they do, the Lakers have been deadly. The team uses their young legs and bench depth to pick teams apart in transition, scoring 1.11 points per possession after grabbing a defensive rebound while scoring in an average of 11.9 seconds, both of which rank as the seventh best marks in the league.
On the rare occassions the Lakers do manage to generate a turnover (14.7 percent of the time, which ranks 20th in the NBA), they are even better. The team scores within an average of 8.6 seconds off of turnovers and averages 1.34 points per possession on those plays, which rank fifth and second in the league, respectively. When they figure out their defense, they’re going to be good AND fun.
Kupchak seems to be taking the right approach. There is no reason to start putting undue expectations on his surprising squad. Most thought the Lakers would be one of the worst teams in the NBA this year, and their competency and how late they’ve stayed in the hunt for a playoff seed are wins in and of themselves.
There are more important questions for the Lakers than wins anyway. How is their young core meshing with their free agent additions? Can D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle stay healthy? Is Brandon Ingram continuing to make the right plays on both ends of the floor as more teams get tape on him? Is Jordan Clarkson best coming off of the bench? Is the team improving as the year goes on, or being figured out when teams start to gear up for them more? How does Luke Walton manage adversity that will come for the team?
We have some idea of the answers to some of these questions after the first month of the season, but nothing definitive just yet. It sounds like Kupchak is trying to figure that out, rather than attempting to calculate how many games the Lakers win this year.