BY DAVID THORPE
David Thorpe has a notebook full of observations about all 30 NBA teams, which is coming for TrueHoop subscribers tomorrow. Today, though, Henry Abbott joins David in examining the Lakers and Blazers following their Sunday matchup, which left one without a win and the other without a loss.
The Lakers are the talk of the NBA again! Just not for reasons Laker fans might hope. After Sunday’s home loss to the Blazers, the Lakers are 0-3 and—despite having three of the best-paid players in league history—seem a long way from contending. Everyone is talking about their horrid shooting (21 percent from 3), but to my eyes the offense is missing any kind of structure or system.
Rookie head coach Darvin Ham is hounding his team to run, and they are. At first, that made no sense to me, seeing how LeBron is an occasional runner at best. He prefers the ball in his hands as he surveys defenses from a stationary dribble—and at 37, he knows his body well enough to avoid unnecessary racing. Ham clearly believes that they can achieve a top-10 offense by creating easy shots from fast breaks off steals or rebounds off missed shots if they’re flying downhill. LeBron has never had more athletes on a roster than he does on these Lakers.
After watching their first three games, I get why Ham is still pushing his team to push the pace: Their half-court offense is a disaster. In fact, I won’t even call it an offense: It’s a quick-shooting, poorly devised plan to create open shots and driving lanes. Playing faster and gambling more in transition seems like a great plan when LeBron is off the floor, but playing that way when he’s in the game requires everyone to be a 37-year-old racer (and a control freak).
Oh, speaking of disasters:
Playing Russell Westbrook only exacerbates the dysfunction. He can still out-quick defenders here and there, but he’s mostly unable to play above the rim as a finisher. Every minute he plays is a drag on the team’s already struggling offense, which Dunks and Threes ranks dead last in adjusted offensive rating. Sure, Westbrook is capable of having a great moment, maybe even a great half, but depending on him isn’t a strategy—it’s a prayer likely to go unanswered.
There’s only one solution: He needs to be dealt. Or benched. Permanently.
All that said, the second half of Sunday’s home game against Portland showed a different level for the Lakers. Overall, there was more cutting, more screening, more ceiling, better energy. It’s no surprise that they came back from the dead in those final 24 minutes. The way they competed on defense all game bled into how they started attacking offensively.
The Lakers still shot very poorly, but they might be one or two guys away from becoming an average shooting team. And the defense has the potential to be elite. With a more tactical approach to their half-court offense, the Lakers can still be one of the better teams in the West.
That’s if they address the real problem:
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to TrueHoop to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.