After an exhilarating victory in Phoenix, the Los Angeles Lakers sit one game below .500 as they look ahead to their next game against the Portland Trail Blazers. Forecasting the foreseeable future should forge feelings of optimism among Laker fans, as the team plays 6 of its next 7 at home. At this point in time, things appear to be on the upswing in Los Angeles.
But for every optimistic take on how things are transpiring, there is always a glass-half-empty objection waiting to trump any enthusiasm. And when you are a team sitting near the .500 line, it is clear that the bad is essentially outweighing the good.
Furthermore, the land of mediocrity has quickly become a dreaded place in the NBA. To steer out of this territory, the coaching staff needs to honestly assess what is working and what is not working thus far into the 2023-2024 campaign.
What is working (and isn’t working) for the Lakers so far:
As far as things that have not worked, the bodies of the Laker players have not been able to overcome the everlasting battle with setbacks. Jarred Vanderbilt, the team’s top perimeter defender, has not played since the preseason opener.
Gabe Vincent, the team’s most noteworthy offseason addition, has only played in 4 games so far. Rui Hachimura, Taurean Prince, Anthony Davis, and most recently Jaxson Hayes have all missed time with injuries. We knew that injuries had the potential to wreak havoc on this team, but they will have to fight through them collectively as the season wanes on.
On the flip side of that, one thing that has worked early on as the injuries have piled up is the depth that this team possesses. In particular, Christian Wood and Cam Reddish have undoubtedly had much larger roles early on than anticipated.
Wood might not be putting up big scoring numbers as he has in the past, but he currently leads the team in 3-point percentage and has been a solid secondary rim protector behind or beside Anthony Davis. His lateral agility has also been very useful against some of the larger wings like KD and Kawhi Leonard. He has done well in limited minutes matched up with those guys, but Cam Reddish has been the go-to wing defender for Darvin Ham through 9 games.
Everyone has seen the outline of a stopper in Cam, but now it looks like that outline is truly beginning to take shape. His offense has not been the prettiest, and there has definitely been a moment or two already when fans have wanted him gone. However, he has shown capable of bouncing back from those moments.
Cam’s most noteworthy memory through his brief tenure as a Laker thus far was his missed shot in Miami. That individual moment has been part of a greater collection of bricks from the entire team, as shooting is another major area that has not been working.
The team is currently 28th in the NBA when it comes to 3-point percentage, only standing ahead of the lowly Blazers and Hornets. Struggling shooters like D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves, and Gabe Vincent are going to need to re-discover their strokes quickly, or the front office will begin seeking outside help swiftly.
Speaking of help, the big guys tasked with providing backside assistance have done their part to ensure that rim protection is an area that has been working to this point. Despite the team sitting in the bottom half of the league in terms of Defensive Rating, they are currently 2nd in the NBA in blocks per game.
Anthony Davis, the NBA’s current leader in blocks, has everything to do with that statistic. If he can sustain his current defensive performance throughout the season, this could finally be the year that he takes home some individual hardware. While he is clearly the anchor of this defense, he is not the only one capable of babysitting the basket.
Christian Wood, Jaxson Hayes, LeBron James, Rui Hachimura, and Taurean Prince have all shown the ability to disrupt opponents’ shots. As previously mentioned, Jarred Vanderbilt has not even logged a regular-season minute thus far. He has more than exemplified the ability to alter shots both at the rim and on the perimeter. Even D’Angelo Russell seems to have improved a little bit in the form of swatting and swiping shots. AD is the key, but he has help.
Where the squad’s commitment to rim protection has been positive, things have not been working when it comes to a commitment to boxing out and crashing the glass. The Lakers currently rank dead last in the league in terms of opponents’ second-chance points.
A quick glance at the composition of this roster should spotlight a team that is bigger than most. The Lakers are a big team across the board, although they are not the most explosive. Regardless of athleticism, boxing out is a fundamental skill in the game of basketball.
Branching off of that, rebounding is a crucial element to winning in the game of basketball. It is going to be impossible for this team to win a championship if they are unable to keep their opponents off of the offensive glass. Not even the best defense in the league can win games if they are not defending their opponents from the offensive boards.