Well, the LeBron era is officially underway in Los Angeles and this new chapter wouldn't be complete without the early struggles that seem to bother each and every squad the King joins. L.A. find themselves win-less after three games and as usual it is hard to lay the blame squarely on James' shoulders. A combination of poor defense, lack of floor spacing and the hellscape that is the Lakers center depth are to blame. Pair these deficiencies with the fact that the longest tenured Laker is Brandon Ingram in his third year and the picture becomes clear, this is a team with a lot of improving to do. That isn't to say there haven't been bright spots like a 37 point performance from Kyle Kuzma or the seemless and unexpected fit of Javale McGee but after this small sample we are left with plenty of questions about what this Laker team needs to become to find success in the wild wild west. Here are my 3 takeways from their rough but entertaining start.
Before the brawl that ended with suspensions for both Rondo and Ingram, coach Luke Walton's starting lineup consisted of Rajon Rondo, Brandon Ingram, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, LeBron James and Javale McGee. In ways it made sense, this season is about winning and the stability that veterans bring can be invaluable right? Meh, not really.
First, it's time to drop the Rondo hype. Sure, he isn't exactly being touted as a second star to LeBron but fans have had to talk themselves into Rondo with the focus on his IQ and grit and as a weird result he has become overrated among some fans. The fact is Lonzo needs those starter minutes. In his rookie season much was made of Lonzo's poor shooting and deservedly so, the dude couldn't hit a shot all year but compare him to Rondo and I'll take Zo any day. The difference being that Rondo simply refuses to shoot open shots and with Lonzo's stroke looking much improved it's hard to say the two are even close in that regard.
Second, what the hell is wrong with KCP? If we find out he's incarcerated again I'll give him a pass but last I checked his criminal days were behind him and he should be shooting the ball like a free man. To make matters worse there is this kid from Villanova who's pretty damn good just waiting to take over. Josh Hart has been nothing short of impressive in this young season. Moving Hart into the starting lineup over KCP would be a wise move for coach Luke but many fans are treating this roster malfeasance as a much bigger problem than it is. If you hadn't noticed from watching, just take a look at the box-score, Josh Hart is getting far more minutes and the switch to starter would say more about KCP's declining value than Hart's current favour with coach Luke.
Where are the bigs?
Let me get this out of the way first... Javale McGee>Anthony Davis.
In all seriousness Javale McGee has been a pleasant surprise for Los Angeles. His mobility and ability to finish at the rim have been an absolute blessing for a team absolutely devoid of any kind of interior talent. In his limited minutes McGee has provided a lot of value and has easily outperformed the expectations of fans such as myself but his limited minutes are just one small problem when it comes to the center position. Ivica Zubac was slotted as the next man up at the five and I believe that funeral just ended. Last night LaMarcus Aldridge was busy hammering the finals nails into that coffin as he demonstrated the absolute ineptitude of the Laker big men and their lack of rim protection. Don't get me wrong, LMA is a beast and defending him is no small task but to rack up fouls like Zu and Javale did was embarassing.
The fix doesn't look like a quick one but the Lakers may have found a glimmer of hope in two-way man Johnathon Williams out of Gonzaga. Williams came in and provided movement and engagement in a defense that lacked any real resistance to the Spurs clicking offense. While Williams isn't the cure to this defensive illness at the very least he can be an energetic 3rd string big. What can really help is a free agent signing or some unforeseen deadline deal. Don't get any ideas, Magic, Joakim only looks good on instagram.
Pace and... Space?
It's no secret, the Lakers want to play fast and three games in they have the 3rd fastest pace in the league. This is great, what coach Luke has preached is certainly being practiced, that's a positive. Now, if we could only make a shot.
Much was made of the Lakers decision to surround LeBron with play makers this summer as the blueprint of his former squads was one of high efficiency shooters who leaned on James to orchestrate. Much is still being made of that decision and for good reason. This is how it usually works: LeBron draws loads of attention, shooters get open, make shots and draw their own attention, LeBron finds some freedom, dominates and the cycle continues. Sounds sexy, I know. Cut to a reality where the shots aren't falling and things really start to break down. Luckily it hasn't been a complete trainwreck due to LeBron's willingness to get out and run. The Lakers have been absolutely incredible to watch in transition and if a guy like KCP finds his touch and they start utilizing Kuzma like the wing that he is, things might start to flow a little smoother. In this young season it seems that the idea is there but the execution is lacking. As with any LeBron team, the wins will come. Only this year the margin for error is smaller than ever in the superior western conference.
I love hate (more hate) Lance.