4. Improve the Los Angeles Lakers’ overall offense
The team’s three-point accuracy is a major reason why the Lakers have increased their points per game to 115.4 (seventh in the league) from 113.4 (11th) last season.
Still, the Los Angeles Lakers’ offense is not yet clicking on all cylinders. Once AD steps up his overall game, increasing his scoring average and offensive proficiency, the offense should be even stronger. The team should also be able to better incorporate newcomers Harrell and Gasol into the offense. In Harrell’s case, he can be utilized more frequently in the pick and roll in which he excels.
As for Gasol, his contributions are under-appreciated by many fans. Because he is a three-point threat, he draws his defender away from the paint, something last year’s centers couldn’t do. That opens up lanes for drives to the hoop from LeBron, Schroder, Davis and others.
The team can also make better use of Gasol’s first-rate passing skills. He averages 2.1 assists in just 19.7 minutes per game and can increase that number once his teammates start cutting more to the basket to receive his on-target passes for easy lay-ups.
Additionally, in Schroder, the Lakers have another player who can create his own shots, another feature Pelinka wanted to add to the lineup this season. Although so far Dennis is only shooting 42% from the field and 34% from deep, he still represents a scoring threat while also averaging 4.8 assists.
It seems that Schroder plays his best when LeBron is resting on the bench. That might cause Coach Frank Vogel to re-think whether Schroder should continue to start or instead reprise his sixth-man role, possibly switching places with Matthews.
Finally, there is new fan-favorite Talen Horton-Tucker, who effectively spent his entire season last year in the G League. Given a chance in the NBA this year, he has displayed strong offensive skills. However, to no one’s surprise, the 20-year-old has been a woefully inconsistent “rookie”. Still, he will continue to grow and will make significant contributions as the season moves along.
5. Maintaining the Los Angeles Lakers’ strong defense
The complaint heard over and over nowadays from Lakers fans is that Gasol is too slow, that the Lakers should have kept Dwight Howard and/or JaVale McGee, and that the team is desperately in need of greater rim protection.
That viewpoint vastly overrates the contributions that Howard and McGee made to the championship team last season. Their offensive limitations are obvious. But additionally, neither was a lock-down defender.
There is far more to NBA defense than shot-blocking. But even if that’s the stat you want to rely on, the Lakers last year blocked 6.6 shots per game led by McGee with 1.4 shots and Howard 1.1.
So far this season, the Lakers are once again blocking 6.6 shots per game. No, that’s not a typo. They are blocking the same number of shots this year as last year. As for Marc Gasol, despite his limited jumping ability, he’s currently blocking 1.6 shots a game. That’s right: so far Gasol has blocked more shots than either McGee or Howard did.
Although Harrell is admittedly not much of a shot-blocker, he makes up for it in other ways. In particular, he is one of the league’s most adept bigs at taking charges, which automatically result in turnovers.
But let’s get beyond blocking shots because good defense involves so much more. McGee was consistently pushed around in the post by stronger players while Gasol is one of the strongest post man-to-man defenders in the NBA. Partly as a result, the Lakers have held opponents to a lower shooting percentage in the paint this year.
Gasol has a very high basketball IQ. He understands defensive strategies and communicates to his teammates how to best defend certain offensive sets. Davis, who was the defensive player of the year runner-up last season, has said that Gasol has helped him be an even better defender.
On the perimeter, KCP, Schroder, Caruso, Matthews and the young THT are all above-average defenders. And Kuzma continues to improve at that end. Most importantly, their team defense is beginning to gel as the players get more comfortable with one another.
It was feared the Lakers might suffer a defensive drop-off this season. But that hasn’t been the case. Last year they surrendered 107.6 points per game and limited opponents to a 44.8% field goal percentage. This season they’re giving up just 104.4 points and holding teams to 44.1% shooting.
But before we automatically crown the Lakers as repeat champs, let’s understand that all of their stats have been accumulated against a weak schedule. So far, they’ve played only three teams with winning records, all within the first four games of the season. They beat Dallas (which was without Kristaps Porzingis) and lost to both the Clippers and Portland.
Meanwhile, their 10 other victories have come against Minnesota (minus Karl-Anthony Towns), San Antonio twice (both times without LaMarcus Aldridge), Memphis twice (with Ja Morant out), Chicago, Houston twice (with an uncommitted James Harden), Oklahoma City and New Orleans.
The Lakers set a team record by winning their first seven road games. But on Thursday they embark on an 11-day, seven-game road trip that includes matches against three strong Eastern Conference foes, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Boston. Those games should provide a better barometer of how good the Lakers truly are.
But for now, it appears that the team has met all five goals and deserves to be considered favorites to successfully defend their NBA crown.