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Lakers Mailbag: Lonzo Ball’s shooting struggles, rotation adjustments when Larry Nance Jr. returns

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Lonzo is struggling from outside, but Brook sure isn’t! Mail time!

Los Angeles Lakers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers are 5-5 to start the season, and with a few plays going their way, could be even better in the win-loss column. That’s nothing to fret over at this point, with the squad playing better as a unit than expected and becoming a joy to watch. A joy!

Individually, however, we’re starting to see a few patterns. One of the more concerning ones, especially after national media spotlight burned bright during the Lakers’ loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on TNT, is Lonzo Ball’s struggles on offense.

On the other hand, as Ball’s problematic scoring has come under scrutiny, Brook Lopez is starting to find his rhythm after a rather slow start to his Lakers career. He’s now the team’s leading three-point shooter, making 18 of his 45 attempts (40%).

The team has a big road trip on the horizon, so before they head out to the East coast, let’s check whats in the mail!

As always, drop me questions on Twitter or SSRMailbag@gmail.com.

Is Lonzo’s shooting a big problem?

When a point guard is shooting 23.4 percent from outside (4.7 3PA) I consider that a big problem, no matter who it is. I am a firm believer that, to be effective, a point guard has to be a threat from outside, and thus far, Lonzo simply hasn’t been.

The good news? It’s not even close to being case-closed for Lonzo. Rookies typically struggle adjusting to the NBA three-point line, and Ball is barely 10 games into his career. There’s all the reason in the world to wait and see how it plays out. Look at Brandon Ingram, who spent the offseason working on his shooting mechanics and is currently shooting 38.9 percent from deep.

So, in the short term, yes it’s a big problem. Once Lonzo finds his groove from outside his game, and the Lakers’ offense, will feel much more complete. If it doesn’t improve over the next few years then it’s time to start really worrying. For now, let’s do our best to let it marinate.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Lakers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

What do Lakers need to do, or continue doing, to be a playoff team this year?

The Lakers playoff conversation has to begin with continuing to be a good defensive team. They’re currently ranked as the seventh-stingiest defense, allowing 101.2 points per 100 possessions. You’d be crazy to think the Lakers will maintain that through 82 games — the top three last season were the San Antonio Spurs (100.9), Golden State Warriors (101.1) and Utah Jazz (102.7) — but it’s possible.

They really need to improve on offense, though. Even with one of the best defense’s in the league, the Lakers have a negative net rating (-1.4) because of their 27th ranked offense (99.8 points per 100 possessions).

Offensively, the pace they’re playing at is fine. As they grow more comfortable together, the amount of ugly turnovers should lower on a nightly basis. They’re also scoring efficiently in the paint. It really feels like this will come down to their offense finding a way to consistently knock down threes.

The Lakers have made 74 threes this season, 28th in the NBA, at a 31.4 percent clip (29th). I hate to oversimplify it, but if I’m picking areas of opportunity right now, that’s the largest.

What do you think happens to the rotation when Larry Nance Jr. comes back?

Head coach Luke Walton hasn’t admitted it yet, opting to say matchups could change up his strategy with the starting lineup while Nance Jr. is out, but at this point Kyle Kuzma has about a month to make a case for himself to remain in the front five. The other determining factor will be how well Julius Randle continues playing as first-big-off-the-bench type that can play minutes as a small-ball five.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Los Angeles Lakers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I think Nance Jr. is a bit in-over-his-head as a starter. He’s playing great minutes (23.1 minutes, 10.5 points, 1.5 steals, 6.7 rebounds and 61.4 percent shooting), but much like how Luke is trying to focus Randle’s minutes for high-energy bursts, Nance Jr. is probably best suited for that kind of treatment as well.

Kuzma is the best fit out of all of the bigs next to play beside Lonzo, which is an important distinction between the three. Considering Lonzo’s own three-point shooting struggles, it makes sense that the Lakers would want to surround him with as much floor spacing as possible.

So, I think in a month-or-so when Nance Jr. returns, he’ll work his way in as part of the bench rotation alongside Julius, with Kuzma hanging on as the starter barring a horrendous stretch over the next few weeks.

Brook has been a surprisingly great anchor on defense. It also seems as if KCP has been the glue guy for our defense we've been missing for years.

Do you think their presence is the reason we've gone from last to top-10, or do you see improvements from everyone?

What a great question, and something I just dove into in-depth right over here. The Lakers’ defense is legitimately good right now, and we can only hope that continues:

I’ve talked about the defense a LOT in the aforementioned article, and a bit here, so I’ll cut to the chase regarding Brook and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. I agree wholeheartedly that Lopez has been a surprisingly good defensive center for the Lakers. The front office has been kicking the tires on big men whose supposed calling cards were defense (Roy Hibbert, Timofey Mozgov, Dwight Howard), but Lopez funnily enough performs like the most capable of being that anchor in recent years.

Caldwell-Pope has had fantastic defensive sequences as well, and there’s no doubt that having a veteran player to lean on has helped the Lakers’ defense overall. Individual defense matters, just as team defense does, and he fights against his matchup consistently.

But, as you allude to, it looks like an overall team improvement that really is driving this new feel. They’re rotating as a unit while understanding the principles Luke wants them applying, and the results speak for themselves.

Speaking of Lopez...

Is trading Brook near the end of the year still on the table?

Los Angeles Lakers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Trading Lopez will remain on the table until it isn’t. It’s painful to consider, especially because he’s the team’s best outside threat while playing solid defense, but that card should remain an option from a logic standpoint. He’s an unrestricted free agent, and there will definitely be teams interested in adding Brook if he continues playing at the level he has been over the last two weeks.

The question becomes; does it behoove the Lakers to trade Brook? Consider one of the toughest humps any interested team would have to get over to acquire Lopez — the Lakers won’t want to take on additional long-term salary while sending out Brook’s expiring $22.6 million.

Now, also consider how well the Lakers are playing, and their effort to prove they’re a legitimate basketball team again to prospective star free agents. Adding to that, Lopez is looking more-and-more like a good contingency plan if they wind up without the multiple stars they’re hoping for.

Trading Brook should be an option if the incoming pieces makes sense for the Lakers, but I don’t foresee them wanting to scrap him just to break down a twenty-piece into some fives and ones.