The Los Angeles Lakers are now 0-3 following a heart wrenching 143-142 overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Monday. It’s far from the start fans were hoping for, but any rational person understands that this team is going to need time before they star firing on all cylinders.
However, if you’re one of those rational people looking for a healthy reaction to the Lakers dropping three consecutive games to start the season, I regret to inform you this isn’t the article for you.
Three games into the season, the Lakers are one of four teams without a win and while there is probably a sensible explanation for all of it, it’s way easier to overreact to three games. It’s also more fun.
So without further ado, here are my three overreactions from the first three games of the season. I’m sure you will agree with all of them and the comments section will be a symbol of peace and tolerance.
Honorable mention: Johnathan Williams is a star
There is no concrete evidence to support this, just a gut feeling, like when you’re looking for a place to eat on Yelp and you see a restaurant that speaks to you despite it being only two and a half stars.
Johnathan Williams was tasked with guarding LaMarcus Aldridge — who was cooking the Lakers all night — in the first meaningful NBA game of his career, and he did a decent job. Ivica Zubac, who has been in the league for three years now, lasted less than five minutes.
It’s super, super early, but I’m sticking to this take just in case I’m right.
KCP needs to get his s**t together
During the second half of last season, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was one of the Lakers’ most reliable players. It’s one of the reasons fans didn’t lose their minds when he was offered a one-year deal worth $12 million this summer.
Through three games this season, he’s been far from a picture of reliability.
In three starts with the Lakers this season, Caldwell-Pope is averaging 4.7 points on 26.7 percent shooting from the field and 16.7 percent from the 3-point line. He is one of seven players averaging less than 5 points while playing more than 20 minutes per game.
It’s a small sample size, but he’s given fans no reason to believe that this is just a shooting slump. He’s just been bad.
His struggles offensively would be less of an issue if he was his usual self defensively, but he hasn’t been able to return to form on that end either. So far, the Lakers are allowing 125 points per 100 possessions with Caldwell-Pope on the floor, per basketball-reference.com.
Considering his team’s have only allowed more than 110 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor once in his five-year career, it’s safe to assume he won’t be that horrid on defense going forward, but the Lakers need him to get it together sooner rather than later.
If he continues to struggle at this rate, head coach Luke Walton might be forced to pull him from the starting lineup in favor of Josh Hart, who has looked like a bona fide NBA starter this season (more on that later). In a contract year, that would be less than ideal for the 25-year-old.
The first unit needs a facelift
Through three games, the Lakers’ starters have been fine, just fine.
The starting lineup of Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram, LeBron James and JaVale McGee has a net rating of 1.6. It’s the only lineup that has played at least five minutes together that has a positive lineup rating, per stats.nba.com. That’s sufficient! Adequate, even!
However, on Monday night against the Spurs, the Lakers showed that the status quo isn’t the best they have to offer.
In the absence of Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram, who are serving suspensions for their role in the skirmish in Houston, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma were asked to step up in their place. They did that and then some.
In their first starts of the season, Ball and Kuzma combined for 51 points on 58 percent shooting from the field, 14 rebounds and 9 assists. Kuzma made up 37 of those points, one point short of his career-high, while Ball put together his most complete game since returning from injury.
It’s no coincidence both players looked their best when playing with the first unit or, to put it in more accurate terms, playing alongside LeBron James.
James has always been at this best when he’s surrounded by shot makers. While Ball still has a little ways to go in that regard, Kuzma is a scorer, if nothing else.
It’s for that reason that Josh Hart is a natural fit with the starting unit as well. In two out of three games this season, Hart put up a cool 20 points off the bench. Caldwell-Pope has yet to reach double figures or make more than 40 percent of his shot attempts in a game.
It’s a really, really small sample size, but the five-man lineup of Ball, Hart, James, Kuzma and Johnathan Williams posted a net rating of zero in their five minutes together. That net rating jumps to 3.6 when you replace Williams with Ingram.
It’s understandable that head coach Luke Walton wants to build units where the talent is spread out, but at the very least, Ball and Hart should replace their predecessors in the starting lineup. If Walton is hesitant to change his starting five this early into the season, Ball, Hart ad Kuzma need more reps with James on the floor.
LeBron James needs to be better
LeBron James reminded everyone on Monday night that he’s still the baddest man in the league. Well, sort of.
James hit a game-tying buzzer-beater with less than 10 seconds on the clock against the Spurs and everyone rightfully lost their mind, myself included. He also made some big plays in overtime that put the Lakers in a position to win.
However, leading up to that trademark performance from James, he looked as mortal as he’s looked all season.
In the first half against the Spurs (18 minutes), James scored just 4 points on 25 percent (2-of-8) shooting from the field. He did everything he could outside of scoring to get his team going, but he still ended the half with a box plus-minus of -5. He was, statistically, one of the worst players on the floor.
He figured it out eventually, putting up a monster stat line of 32 points, 14 assists and 8 rebounds, but his late effort wasn’t enough to get the Lakers their first win.
It shouldn’t be James’ sole responsibility to get the Lakers a win, but when his team is down three points going into the fourth quarter, the expectation for him is to come in and carry them to the finish line because that’s what superstar players do. He almost did, but those missed free-throws were killer.
James has been fantastic. He will continue to be fantastic, but he can be better. If the Lakers want to make any noise in the Western Conference this season, he needs to be better.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.