The Lakers only had 72 days between their title-clinching, Game 6 win against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals and their season-opener against the LA Clippers. It’s the shortest turnaround in modern sports history, and it made it hard to predict how the team would start out of the gate.
So far, the answer is “almost shockingly well.” The Lakers currently have the 4th-best offense in the league, and are in sole possession of the best defense and overall net rating, outscoring teams by 10 points per 100 possessions so far. With an 11-4 record that is tied with the Clippers for best in the NBA, it’s safe to say that things have gone pretty well for them so far.
But earlier this week, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel found it a little harder to grade where his team was at.
“It’s hard to answer that from the standpoint of I wasn’t sure what to expect from our guys that played in the Finals last year,” Vogel said. “I wasn’t sure what the short amount of time would mean for those guys. Would that cost us some games early? It hasn’t had a major impact on our guys (though), so I’m happy about that.”
That said, he knows there is still room for the best team in the league to get better.
“Watch our games, watch our tape. We’re still winning, but there are a lot of ways we can improve,” Vogel said.
To Vogel’s point, the Lakers won the game against the New Orleans Pelicans they played right after he said this, but promptly choked away a huge lead in their next game against the Golden State Warriors. Most of their metrics may be good, and their record is even better, but the bad news for the rest of the league is that Vogel is right. The Lakers do have obvious areas they can get better.
They’ve averaged the 11th-most turnovers in the league (15.2). They’re middle-of-the-pack in free throw percentage (75.4%). As my friends Tim and Tom have pointed out repeatedly on their “Lakers Exceptionalism” podcast, their second-most-used lineup is getting outscored at a rate that would translate to 32.2 points per 100 possessions, meaning that the Lakers are basically getting blown out for 5.4 minutes per game. That may not sound like a lot, but it translates to the Lakers essentially tying one hand behind their back for half a quarter. These are things they can easily fix, either with lineup, schematic or effort adjustments (or all three).
More than all that, this team is clearly not even fully engaged consistently yet, and have essentially sleepwalked to the best record in the league. Just imagine how much they can improve when they lock in on a regular basis.
“I’m happy with where we’re at, but I really didn’t know what to expect with such a unique offseason,” Vogel emphasized.
None of us did. But one thing we all can expect is continued improvement as the schedule normalizes and players begin to ramp back up.