As the Lakers continue to look to round into form in the early stages of the season, one of the more glaring issues for the team continues to be turnovers. Through the opening six games, Los Angeles is averaging 17.2 turnovers per game, ranking 27th in the league.
While the newness of the roster can attribute to the lack of familiarity and some of the turnovers, the Lakers have struggled to keep control of the ball which has set them back offensively this season. Head coach Frank Vogel commented on the turnovers after Friday’s win over Cleveland and was certain to spread the responsibility for the miscues.
“The turnovers were just we’re still learning each other, and we’re still trying to figure out what it takes to execute great ball security,” Vogel said. “It’s not all on the ballhandler. When we’re not spacing appropriately and we’re screening poorly — like we had to call a couple timeouts to clean up and fix — the ballhandler is going to be put in a bad position, and some of it was that and we’ll continue to look at the other things.”
Vogel’s comments are particularly noteworthy for a couple of reasons. For one, a head coach is always going to look to protect his players, particularly his star players. When he says “ballhandlers,” he’s more or less alluding to his two superstars in Russell Westbrook and LeBron James.
The reason he may be singling those two out could be their gaudy turnover numbers this season. Westbrook leads the league in turnovers per game at 5.7 while James is fourth-worst in the league at 4.8 per game. Together, the two account for nearly two-thirds of the Lakers turnovers.
James is aware of his turnover problems for the Lakers and believes that is one of the biggest things holding the Lakers back.
“Turnovers. I mean, when we don’t turn the ball over, we’re a pretty good team,” James said. “When we turn the ball over it definitely takes the sails out of us and we’ve got to do a better job of that. Especially me.”
While Westbrook has taken a lion’s share of the blame for the turnovers early in the season, interestingly, it’s James’ teams and not Westbrook’s that have had more turnover issues in recent season.
In each of the last two seasons, the Lakers have averaged 15.2 turnovers per game, ranking them 28th in 2020-21 and 22nd in 2019-20 in the league. Comparatively, the WIzards ranked 20th with 14.4 turnovers per game while Houston ranked 15th with 14.7 turnovers per game in 2019-20.
Obviously, there are a lot of mitigating factors in those numbers for both the Lakers and Westbrook’s sides but it provides some needed context. Individually, Westbrook has only once averaged more than 4.8 turnovers per game. Similarly, James has never averaged more than 4.2 turnovers per game in his career.
All of this adds more credence to Vogel’s comments that the turnovers are largely a result of a lack of familiarity. It also should lead to some optimism that James, Westbrook and the Lakers will be able to figure things out in regards to the turnovers, which could help take the team to the next level.