I love basketball.
It’s the simplest, yet possibly most important thing for any professional. Love what you do. The Lakers are loving basketball again and new head coach Luke Walton is showing he was the right man for the job just seven games into his tenure.
Last season, the word “love” might have been uttered once or twice and it was all for the Mamba. Last year the Lakers had to play for a man who crossed his arms, rarely praised his young players and continued to let a man who was shooting 35 percent from the field go unchecked.
As a result, LA was dead last in almost every important offensive category on a per game basis (points, assists, FG%, 3pt%) and managed to get to 29th in offensive rating. It wasn’t any better on the defensive end with the Lakers ranking 27, 29 and 28 in opponent points, FG % and forcing turnovers. LA was 11th in opponent 3pt%, but even that couldn’t put the team out of dead last in defensive rating. The Lakers lost 46 games by double digits. 14 of the 46 losses were by 20 points or more. That was last season, a season where there was no love and no coaching.
Seven games into the 2016-17 campaign, the Lakers are already showing massive signs of improvement. The team is third in points per game and sixth in FG%. Despite shooting the three-ball poorly and failing to rack up a ton of assists, the Lakers are 9th overall in offensive rating. On defense, the team is the best in the league at guarding the three-point line. The Lakers now force turnovers at the fourth-best rate in the NBA. A defensive rating at 20th in the league isn’t exactly great, but it’s better than dead last. The Lakers have lost three games, but only one has been a double-digit setback.
Look past the raw numbers and Walton’s magic has already worked. Nick Young, who was in trade rumors for the majority of the summer (there was doubt he would remain on the team), is suddenly showing energy on both ends of the floor in a STARTING ROLE.
Julius Randle, a prized lottery pick whose skillset was questioned a space-driven league, is shooting 60 percent from the floor and creating opportunities for others on offense. Walton has emphasized defense and the Lakers are responding with solid play and key stops at that end.
One play showed just how far the Lakers have come under Walton in seven short games. In Phoenix, the Lakers had just survived a Suns run to open up a seven-point lead. Randle and Phoenix center Tyson Chandler had gotten into it the past few possessions and now the young power forward had an isolation situation with Chandler. The crowd was on it’s feet, begging Randle to take the 1-on-1. Instead, Randle whipped a bullet pass to a wide open Jordan Clarkson for a triple. After the game, Walton said he was debating calling a timeout to avoid Randle going 1-on-1. Randle responded by saying he learned to make the unselfish plays. Walton has the Lakers playing team basketball. That’s something nobody could say last season.
There are still things to clean up and the Lakers aren’t necessarily a playoff team. They were 1-3 before this recent winning streak. It’s been hard enough getting to above .500, but it’s even harder to stay there.
The Lakers have a team and a coach ready for that challenge. Walton said he won’t measure this team by wins and losses, but he’s already shown improvement by that standard (it took the Lakers 18 games to get four wins last season).
Last season, it was about the Mamba (and rightfully so). This season, it’s about loving basketball.