As if the trip to China wasn’t already complicated enough for the Los Angeles Lakers, it would appear it might have had a negative impact on the team itself from a basketball perspective. Much has been made of how well L.A. has defended thus far this season, but the offense is still pretty far behind, and some in the organization apparently feel like that ill-fated trip might’ve had something to do with that.
In his latest newsletter, Marc Stein of the New York Times offered up an interesting detail about how some people around the Lakers feel that the trip impacted the offense now that the season has started:
On the other side, James and Davis are meshing fantastically, even though almost everyone you speak to in Lakers circles is convinced that the offense is woefully behind where it will ultimately land because the team lost considerable practice time during its chaotic trip to China last month.
“For two weeks in, it’s not too bad,” said Danny Green, L.A.’s veteran swingman.
As things stand currently (small sample size caveats notwithstanding), the Lakers are currently ranked 15th, right at league average, for points scored per 100 possessions (106.7). This is with their shooters having been pretty erratic thus far and, as those around the Lakers point out, inconsistent practice time throughout training camp. The offense is almost the definition of “fine,” and there are reasons to believe it could very easily improve.
Compare that to the defense, though, and you can kind of see the point being made here. This season, the Lakers have allowed only 97.9 points per 100 possessions — lowest in the league. Shouts to Dwight Howard and LeBron James playing out of their mind on that end of the court.
Luke Walton also made a similar point about the Sacramento Kings’ trip to India having an impact on his ability to implement his offensive system. It’d be worth listening to him on that front if we weren’t four years into his career without such a system to be seen.
Still, theoretically, it makes sense that flying halfway across the globe would further limit the amount of time spent working on offense during a training camp that Vogel said would be mostly focused on defense anyway. There are only so many hours in the day, and when practices get cancelled because of a lack of venues overseas, that limits time further.
What should be pointed out, however, is that this doesn’t really matter. The Lakers might have complaints about having to fly out to China and the impact that had on their practice time, but they are where they are right now. And to their credit, they have still played well despite the altogether fair gripe, unlike Walton’s Kings.
Frank Vogel and his coaching staff deserve a ton of credit for prioritizing defense and hammering home those principles just in case the offense fell behind early. This is a similar approach as most good teams, especially nowadays given the amount of player movement. Let the defense get you out in transition for easy baskets and then, over the course of the season, implement various aspects of the offensive system.
Thus far, this approach has paid dividends and, if shooters start hitting shots and Vogel is able to get the Lakers to run his system, then the team can turn another corner while arguably ahead of the curve. Given all the drama and practical issues that came with flying out to China, that’s quite the accomplishment.