Some would describe the beginning of the season as sluggish for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Los Angeles Lakers are not enjoying the most groundbreaking start to the 2020-21 NBA season. While the Lakers are first in the Western Conference with a 7-3 record, all three of their losses have been to teams with a .500 record or better.
While they beat one of those teams — the San Antonio Spurs — twice, the Lakers have had a fairly easy go at things thus far. Their wins were against a Dallas Mavericks team that started the year really slow, a 2-6 Minnesota Timberwolves team with no Karl-Anthony Towns, the Spurs, the Memphis Grizzlies without Ja Morant or Jaren Jackson and the Chicago Bulls.
Most of these games have been low-scoring and closely contested. The Lakers are obviously not playing the same high-level brand of basketball that they were playing in the NBA Playoffs just three months ago and Anthony Davis and LeBron James have been sort of taking it easy.
Should this be a cause for concern? To quote Lake Show Life staffer Ronald Agers following the team’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs:
"“Well, let’s get this point out of the way quickly. The Los Angeles Lakers are not championship contenders. Will they make the playoffs? Yes. Will they be a top-three seed? Absolutely. Are they good enough to repeat the way this team is constructed? Nope.”"
I definitely can see where Ron is coming from, but I respectfully disagree. We should already know that this team knows how to turn it on and off like a five-year-old flipping their bedroom light switch.
Case in point: the Los Angeles Lakers looked terrible in the Orlando bubble before the playoffs began. Then they looked like an entirely new team that did whatever they wanted.
These Lakers are still championship contenders and I would still consider them the favorites to win the NBA Championship. They are not the only team that is seemingly sluggish to start the year. The Clippers got historically blown out by Dallas and just blew a huge lead to the Warriors and the Bucks are only 5-4.
Of course, you have the teams that are flourishing, such as the 7-2 Philadelphia 76ers who, ironically, have the same number of wins as the Los Angeles Lakers.
It has not been pretty, but it is almost by design. It is clear that this is a Lakers team that is playing this regular season at 90% with the stars playing at 80%. And despite all that, the advanced numbers still indicate that the Lakers are doing just fine.
I know that advanced statistics do not tell the entire story and blindly following them can be dangerous. However, all three statistics mentioned are very important and are mentioned for a reason.
SRS (simple rating system) takes into account a team’s point differential and their strength of schedule to create a “simple” way to rank the teams. It is simple but it can reveal who is benefitting from an easy schedule.
The Lakers, despite having the seventh “easiest” schedule thus far, are ranked sixth. The teams ranked higher are the Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks — all, ironically enough, Eastern Conference teams.
Net rating takes the team’s offensive and defensive rating and subtracts them. The Lakers are second, only behind the Bucks. Net rating is a really good indicator of who the top-tier teams in the league truly are. The last title-winning team in the league to not rank in the top five in net rating was the 2011 Dallas Mavericks, who are one of the greatest playoff stories in NBA history.
Effective field goal percentage essentially tells us how efficient a team is at shooting the basketball by accounting for the fact that threes are worth more than twos and free throws are worth one.
Ranking in the top five in both statistics is a great indication that the Los Angeles Lakers are elite on both sides of the basketball.
Simply put: the Los Angeles Lakers are fine. The start might be sluggish for their standards but it is clear that they are still among the league’s best teams. Just wait until they get going.