Narratives in the NBA often turn into runaway snowballs pounding down the mountainside. After the Lakers lost to the defending champion Warriors on opening night and then lost again to the consensus number-one contender Clippers during their second game of the season, the narrative on the Purple and Gold has grown into a 50-ton avalanche. But if Lakers fans close their eyes and take a deep breath, they'll see this isn't the disastrous start to the season the national media will have you believe.
As Lonnie Walker pointed out during his locker room media interview after the Lakers' second loss of the season, the Warriors and Clippers have been playing together for nearly half a decade. At the same time, LA's other team and Golden State, finished inside the top 10 last season in defensive rating and opponent's three-point shooting and are once again loaded with excellent perimeter defenders this year.
So is it a surprise that a Lakers squad featuring a brand new rotation while playing under the pressure of two national TV games struggled to put the ball through the net from distance? Digging deeper, is it a surprise that Russell Westbrook, a player who's spent his entire career saving his legs to stat pad on the offensive end, shot 11.1% from beyond the arc while playing inspired defense? Is it a surprise that Kendrick Nunn has struggled to connect from deep after missing the entire 2021-22 season? Is it a surprise AD is shooting 27.8% from deep through two games after racking up some of the worst long-distance shooting numbers in NBA history over the previous two seasons?
These aren't surprises.
But here's a guarantee.
Russell Westbrook will not shoot 11.1% from deep throughout the season. Nor will JTA continue to shoot 14.3% from distance. Similarly, Lonnie Walker won't hit 16.7% from beyond the arc, and Pat Bev won't make 18.2% of his long-range attempts. They will settle down and get their clichéd sea legs under them. And when their three-point shooting trends upward toward the mean, the league had better watch out because everything else the Lakers have done looks championship-level.
Here's a breakdown of the Lakers' key defensive statistics during their first two games of the 2022-23 season:
- LA is allowing opposing teams to shoot 38.5% from inside the paint
- LA is allowing opposing teams to shoot 23.1% off corner threes
- LA is creating 21.5 deflections per game
- LA is contesting 59.5 shots per game
The Lakers land inside the top 10 in all of the above defensive metrics while playing against two of the top shooting teams in the league. AD is roving the paint like a Gumby-armed wolverine again. This season, Lonnie Walker, Pat Bev, LeBron James, JTA, and Russell Westbrook have not only provided inspired perimeter defense, but also a more intelligent and communicative brand of defense than we have seen from the Lakers over the past two years.
On the fun side of the ball, the Lakers are whipping the ball around the court to the tune of 54.0 potential assists throughout their first two games. Lonnie Walker looks like a legitimate third option, an explosive and shifty scoring threat with the ability to blow by opposing defenders with ease. AD is back! LeBron is still choking out Father Time. And despite Westbrook's putrid shooting, he's holding on to the ball (2.5 turnovers per game), and he's not over-dribbling like last season.
The Lakers face a tough upcoming slate of games in the loaded Western Conference, including matchups with the Nuggets, Timberwolves, Pelicans, Cavs, and Clippers. So don't be surprised if the Lakers don't win ten games in a row. The Lakers play in Hollywood, but this isn't a cheesy Hollywood movie. This is real life. And in real life, it takes time for a new roster to coalesce and build the type of chemistry and confidence it takes to pull off a multi-game winning streak against playoff-quality opposition. Still, if the Lakers continue to build on their defensive efforts and playmaking while their three-point shooting percentages rise from the poorest numbers we've ever seen, the Purple and Gold will slowly begin to rack up wins and (with or without a Westbrook trade) they'll be right in the thick of the playoffs at the end of the season.