It was easy to get caught up in the Los Angeles Lakers unexpectedly fun and successful 10-10 start to the season. The team was moving the ball, running opposition that wasn’t ready for them right off of the court, and playing with a type of joy and enthusiasm that wasn’t seen with any consistency over the last two years.
The team’s current eight-game losing streak has put something of a damper on that enthusiasm for both the team and some of their fanbase. Injuries have piled up and opposing teams have gotten the message they have to be ready to play or risk getting embarrassed by the young Lakers, and it’s led to a losing streak that currently equals the Lakers’ longest of last season.
But before the Lakers took on the Sixers (a team that knows a little something about losing), Lakers head coach Luke Walton reiterated that this season is not really about this season:
Luke Walton says he thinks the team, including the coaching staff, lost sight of the main goal for this season: the process of improving.— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) December 16, 2016
It's more important, Walton says, to focus on the little things they need to improve than it is to think about winning at all costs.— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) December 16, 2016
This is encouraging to hear from Walton after recent losses have led to uncharacteristically strong rhetoric from the young coach, who suggested the team “gave up” and was “soft” after recent losses to the Sacramento Kings and Brooklyn Nets, respectively.
And some aren’t going to want to hear it, but Walton is right. If someone had said at the beginning of the year that the Lakers would start off 10-18, the majority of fans and analysts would have said that was about in line with their expectations for the year. Most just would have predicted the wins would have been a bit more spaced out.
It doesn’t matter that the Lakers are last in the league in defensive efficiency and steadily dropping in offensive efficiency after a difficult couple of weeks, the important thing is to see how they respond to it as the season moves along. As long as they get better, that should be the main goal of a team with so much youth on the roster.
Are the Lakers as good as their hot start? Probably not yet, but they also aren’t as bad as they’ve played recently either. The team is going through a rough patch of their schedule right now, and they have made a bunch of mistakes they need to learn from.
Given how quickly they picked up Walton’s teachings going into the year, it seems safe to bet that once the Lakers get a little healthier (which is currently happening right now), they will be able to fix some of their issues with the offense being too stagnant and players being overextended defensively due to injuries requiring them to play more minutes.
This season is just a test drive for the prototype Lakers. They’ve shown some of the awesome things they can do, but there have been a few crashes and malfunctions along the way. They are still working on sorting out all these glitches, and they have plenty of time to do so before they’re actually unveiled for mass consumption in their final form.
Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.