Lakers: Stats Reveal Reasons for Early Season Struggles


The Lakers’ 2-9 start is easily explained when diving into the stats.

The Los Angeles Lakers have started the season with two wins and nine losses, and the schedule is going to get much harder before it gets any friendlier.  There are many theories on why this team is struggling, from Byron Scott’s coaching to Kobe Bryant’s ball-dominance to the slow start of the young players, especially D’Angelo Russell.  Regardless of the causes, the Lakers’ anemic record is the product of a poor performance in many important statistical categories.

To begin with, the Lakers rank near the bottom of the league in assists per game. Bryant is leading the team in assists, but is averaging only 3.5 per contest. This is the same Bryant who is also leading the team (by far) in shots per game; therein lies the problem, because it means Bryant is dominating the ball when he’s playing.  The two starting guards, Russell and Jordan Clarkson, are averaging fewer than five assists per game combined, which is atrocious.

In contrast, the Los Angeles Clippers have three players who are averaging more assists than Bryant and two others who are averaging the same as Bryant. For the Lakers, no one else is even close to dishing out three assists per game.

These stats points to the fact that there is no ball movement in the Lakers offense. Most possessions end with a player going one-on-one before putting up a poor, contested outside shot. No NBA team can win that way.

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  • In the NBA, 45 percent or better is a good shooting percentage, especially for players who are positioned on the perimeter. A player shooting less than 43 percent on the season is not doing well, and no professional basketball player should ever be shooting 40 percent or less. By way of comparison, the Warriors are shooting nearly 50 percent from the field as a team. 

    Clarkson is shooting a very sound 47 percent from the field so far, but what does it say when the next two Lakers who shoot the most – and by far – are Bryant and Lou Williams convert at rates of just 33 percent and 32 percent, respectively? Players who shoot in that range shouldn’t be playing in the NBA at all, yet the Lakers have two such players who account for 27 combined shots per game on average. Throw in Russell’s 10 shots per game, at a 39 percent average, and it is easy to see why the Lakers’ struggles are not confined to defense.

    To make matters worse, Bryant and Williams are taking the first and second most three-point shots on the team, a combined 12 three-point shots per game, and are making only 23 percent and 22 percent of them, respectively. Someone who shoots that poorly, assuming they are in the NBA at all, shouldn’t even be attempting a three-point shot. Russell takes the fourth most three point shots on the team and is making only 31 percent.

    When one considers that 38 percent or better is strong three-point shooting, and 34 percent is the lower end of acceptable, the Lakers are one of the poorest three point shooting teams in the league.

    The net result of these poor offensive statistics is that the top scorer on the team is averaging fewer than 17 points per game; that player is Bryant, whose stats are worse than anyone’s in Los Angeles.  No team could be expected to make the playoffs with such poor and inefficient scoring.

    On the defensive side of the ball, the team is allowing an average of 106 points per game, which ranks 26th in the league. Rebounding has been a particularly troubling area. The team has no one who is even close to averaging double-digit rebounds.

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    Julius Randle is leading the team in rebounds with eight per game, but the starting center, Roy Hibbert, is averaging fewer than seven rebounds per game and fewer than five defensive rebounds per game. This illustrates why Laker opponents have put on an offensive rebounding clinic so far this season, which has been a crucial factor in why the team has won only two games.

    While Hibbert is blocking a solid 2.4 shots per game and is a big physical presence clogging the lane, there is no rim protection when he is not in the lineup. No one else is even close to averaging one block per game. When Hibbert is out, Scott tends to play Brandon Bass at center, which simply has not worked.

    Another interesting statistic for the Lakers is minutes played. Bryant and Clarkson lead the team at 30 minutes per night. This is too many minutes for Bryant and too few for Clarkson. While Scott started the season limiting Bryant’s minutes to fewer than 30, they have steadily increased in recent games to the point that he played 36 minutes in his last contest, after which he was so sore and exhausted that he couldn’t even make the trip with the team to the next game. He has already missed three recent games.

    Clarkson, on the other hand, should be playing closer to 35 minutes per game. He is the team’s best player right now, he is young, and he never seems to tire. There are games when he is really locked in and making his shots in the first quarter, but Scott never stays with him when he has the hot hand.  Instead, he robotically sticks with his rotation, removes Clarkson after an allotted number of minutes, Clarkson cools off when he returns, and in the end the reserves play almost as much as the starters.

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    Randle is averaging 28 minutes per game while Russell is playing just under 25 minutes per contest.  Williams, off the bench, is playing more minutes than Russell. Randle and Russell are 20 and 19 years old, respectively, and they should tire less easily. The problem is, Russell has not played especially well so far and, in recent games, Randle has been regressing. Still, if the future depends on developing these two players, Randle and Russell should probably be on the court at least 30 minutes a night each, or more.

    Thus far, the Lakers have relied heavily on Williams, who is playing more minutes than Russell and is a fixture on the court at the end of games. The problem is, aside from his propensity to get to the free throw line, his shooting has been awful. He has become the go-to guy at the end of tight games, presumably at Scott’s direction, and so far Williams has not delivered. He is never going to be a lock-down defender, nor is he known for his assists and rebounds; so unless his shooting touch returns soon, he should not be playing the minutes he is getting at Russell’s expense.

    In the end, the stats don’t lie. The Lakers have no one who is close to the top-10 in any major statistical category, except blocked shots where Hibbert is currently ranked eighth.

    On offense the Lakers are shooting poorly, getting mostly contested outside shots, and are not getting many assists, which suggests they are especially weak at the point guard position. Their points-per-game average has greatly diminished in recent games, as well.

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    On defense, no one is close to averaging double-digit rebounds, which is why the team is getting killed on the offensive boards each game. Combined with an increasing number of unforced turnovers in recent contests, leading to easy scores for the opposition, it is easy to see why the Lakers have won only two games.