The Los Angeles Lakers lost again in Kobe Bryant's final game in Memphis on Wednesday night. It was the team's 48th loss in 59 games, the second worst record in the league. While there were still some positives, mainly Jordan Clarkson setting a career high by knocking down six three-pointers, and D'Angelo Russell setting a career/season high of his own with eight assists, the latter young guard realizes that the Lakers' problems lie on the other end of the floor.
"[Memphis] ran their offense to perfection. We have trouble communicating for a full possession," Russell told reporters after the game. "We never really had all five guys locked in on defense, always either one or two guys sleeping." The inattention Russell observed from the Lakers was at least in part responsible for the team being outscored 54-30 in the paint, with Memphis scoring repeatedly on a parade of cuts to the rim.
Russell wasn't blameless in this, but he also isn't wrong to call out the team for something that has been a season-long issue and a major factor in the Lakers' last ranked defense giving up 109.4 points per 100 possessions. And while Russell has his faults as a defender, he has not been the primary issue on that side of the ball for Los Angeles. Opponents have scored 109.2 points per 100 possessions when Russell is on the court, which isn't great, but is substantially better than the rates of some of his fellow wings like Clarkson (111.5), Lou Williams (111.4), and Bryant (113.5, the worst defensive rating on the team).
The makeup of the current Lakers' roster does not suggest the team will see any substantial improvement this season, but there is reason to hope that if Russell is already realizing how much of an issue their communication is that the team can progress as he and Clarkson grow (and better defensive personnel is added around/behind them).
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.