Lakers problems: It’s all about the defense

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Pau Gasol cannot find his place in the Mike D’Antoni offense. Steve Nash is still clearly not fully used to his new teammates. The Lakers lack shooters. With all the talent the Buss family is paying a pretty penny (well, many pennies) for we all expected an exceptional offense from the Lakers. So it’s been better than a lot of people realize (sixth in the NBA in points per possession) but inconsistent.

However, their offense not why the Lakers are two games below .500 more than 30 games into the season.

Their real problem is the defense. It is 17th in the NBA. They struggle in areas that good teams — like the Clippers on Friday — can exploit.

Don’t think it’s all about the defense? Look at the loss to the Clippers Friday night — Gasol was nonexistent on offense, they missed a lot of shots and the Lakers still put up 102 points. Problem is they gave up 107. Or to put it another way, they scored 107.5 points per 100 possessions in the game (slightly above their season average), but they gave up 113.8 per 100.

There seems to be a “once Dwight Howard gets healthy everything will be just fine” feeling around the Lakers and their fans. And that would certainly help. But it’s not the only issue and who knows what that timeline is anyway. I went back and re-watched every point the Lakers surrendered the last two games (thanks NBA.com) and it’s clear the issues are bigger than any one player.

Los Angeles is surrendering 42 points a game in the paint, seventh most in the NBA. That’s an easy one to say is all about Howard, but it’s really about rotations.

source:  There is a great example in the Clippers game Friday, with just over 2 minutes left in the first quarter. The Clippers are taking the ball out under the Lakers basket, CP3 gets free  on the left baseline off a Ronny Turiaf pick that takes Darius Morris out, essentially making this a pick-and-roll situation, so Jordan Hill comes out to help — but nobody helps Hill. Look at the spacing in the photo. Turiaf rolls, takes the bounce pass and dunks. Hill had to help or CP3 would have had a layup. Metta World Peace doesn’t move and the other Laker defenders — Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol — have to stick with their men out on the weak side.

The reason the Lakers give up so many points in the paint is often this — they struggle mightily with the roll man in the pick-and-roll. The Lakers perimeter defenders can’t stay in front of the ball handler, the big man helps and everything breaks down. The roll man shoots 57 percent when he gets the ball back against the Lakers, according to Synergy Sports. That’s 28th in the NBA.

There are other issues. The Lakers are 23rd in the NBA in defending isolation according Synergy. Also the “old and slow” Lakers struggle with teams that can push the ball in transition, something the Clippers did well. If your big men can run the floor well — and the Clippers’ bigs can — you can get easy and spectacular shots.

All of this is not simply solved. Howard getting healthy would certainly be a big step in the right direction. But right now Kobe is gambling and roaming again, and exposing the defense when he does. Gasol can look as lost on the defensive end as he does on the offensive end at times. (Although, to the people telling me on twitter Gasol was THE problem, on the season the Lakers give up 104.5 points per 100 when Gasol is on the floor, 110.7 when he sits. He alone not issue.)

On top of it all, is Mike D’Antoni the coach that can fix it? The Lakers weren’t defending for Mike Brown and he had the reputation of a defensive coach. The Lakers seem to be listening to D’Antoni, but that’s different than executing.

You see it is flashes — six minutes here, 8 minutes there. There are moments the Lakers show they can defend. But because of focus and physical limitations it never lasts.

Until it does, it doesn’t really matter what happens with the Lakers offense, they are not going to get near the level they expected before this season.

Andre Iguodala: I broke my leg last year, but Warriors called it just a bruise

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Kevin Durant was reportedly in agony about not helping the Warriors deep into the playoffs. His teammates were reportedly frustrated he hadn’t returned.

Did Durant – who tore his Achilles just 12 minutes into his return after a month-long absence – feel pressured (internally, externally or both) to rush back?

Durant has yet to speak publicly on the saga, but Golden State forward Andre Iguodala can relate. He missed the final four games of last year’s Western Conference finals against the Rockets and first two games of the NBA Finals with what the team called a “left lateral leg contusion” (fancy word for bruise).

Iguodala on The Breakfast Club:

We have a really good training staff. I’ll give credit where credit’s due. Our training staff is one of the best in the world. And I feel like they got him back. The tough thing is, when you’re an athlete and you’re hurt, everybody is looking at you sideways. And then it being his teammate is harder, because everyone is feeding stuff in our head. “When is KD coming back? When is KD coming back?”

Last year, it happened to me. I missed last three games of the Houston series. It goes to Game 7. We barely get out of that series. And now they’re looking at me like, “When are you coming back?” And I had a fractured leg. But it’s being put out there like, “You’ve got a bone bruise.” I’m like, “Nah, it’s fractured.” So, I’m fighting with the team. I’m fighting with people. I’m fighting with the media. And then my teammates ask me every day, “How you feeling? How you feeling?”

So, with K, he’s getting it from everywhere, too.

What do they always say in sports? “Oh, he’s a tough guy. He plays through injuries.” You’re validated as an athlete if you win a championship or how tough you were. If you sit out, it’s like, “Ah, he’s not tough.”

This is a damning assessment of the Warriors. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but Iguodala is alleging at least one of two things:

1. They misdiagnosed him.

2. They downplayed the extent of the injury publicly.

It could have been both.

A misdiagnosis is obviously troublesome. But downplaying the extent of the injury brings its own problems.

As Iguodala said, that only increased chatter about his return. With so many people talking to him about coming back, it’d be only natural to feel pressure to return. Iguodala is exactly right: Playing through injury gets players praised as tough.

Golden State misleading the public about the injury would also cause issues as the NBA embraces gambling. That opens the door for certain bettors to get inside information.

This sounds a lot like the Durant situation.

The Warriors can talk about how much they care about their players. But a pattern is emerging of injured players being put into peril.

It might be too late with Durant, but Golden State must address this.

The strangest All-NBA ballot

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Remember those odd All-NBA votes? Dwyane Wade, Luke Doncic, Danilo Gallinari and Andre Drummond on the second team, Marvin Bagley III on the third team.

One voter – Kennegh Lau of BesTV, a Chinese outlet – is responsible all those. His ballot:

First team

G: Stephen Curry (Warriors)

G: James Harden (Rockets)

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

F: Kevin Durant (Warriors)

C: Joel Embiid (76ers)

Second team

G: Klay Thompson, Klay (Warriors)

G: Dwyane Wade (Heat)

F: Danilo Gallinari, Danilo (Clippers)

F: Luka Doncic, Luka (Mavericks)

C: Andre Drummond, Andre (Pistons)

Third team

G: Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)

G: Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)

F: Marvin Bagley III (Kings)

F: Pascal Siakam (Raptors)

C: Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

A couple other standout All-NBA votes: Michelle Beadle of ESPN voted Eric Gordon third team at guard ahead of Kemba Walker, Bradley Beal, Klay Thompson, etc. Richard Walker of the Gaston Gazette voted Domantas Sabonis third-team forward ahead of LeBron James (who played more minutes than Sabonis!).

There are outlier votes for every award. You can dig through all the results here. Massimo Lopes Pegna of La Gazzetta Dello Sport (an Italian newspaper) apparently submitted his All-NBA team as his All-Defensive team (though it doesn’t exactly match his actual All-NBA team). Beyond that, these votes aren’t necessarily wrong. The consensus isn’t always right.

But All-NBA voting has taken heightened importance with its super-max connection. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake. Ballots like Lau’s will increase scrutiny on the system.

That’s an overreaction. There are 100 voters so no single ballot carries too much importance. Again, it’s OK for someone to stray from the consensus.

It’d still be good to reconsider the salary incentives of All-NBA, though. The players who had the best regular seasons – my All-NBA criterion – aren’t necessarily the ones who deserve the highest salaries in years to come. It’s a flawed link, and that goes far beyond Lau’s ballot.

Magic Johnson ready to welcome D’Angelo Russell back to Lakers

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In 2017, then-Lakers president Magic Johnson traded D'Angelo Russell to the Nets and delivered a biting sendoff: “What I needed was a leader.”

Russell wasn’t ready to run a team on the court. His work ethic and maturity off it left plenty to be desired. Most infamously, he alienated his teammates by recording and posting a video of Nick Young discussing sleeping with women other than his fiancé.

But Russell went to Brooklyn and became an All-Star.

So, with rumors swirling about Russell returning to Los Angeles in free agency, Johnson is changing his tune.

Johnson, via Bill Oram of The Athletic:

“Now he’s ready,” Johnson said. “He’s much more mature. I said the only thing, he was immature back then. He could always score, but the guys would never play with him because of what he did (with the Young video). But now all those guys are gone and he’s on another level now.”

This is peak Johnson – talking about players on other teams (no longer tampering), spinning the story to make himself look good and directing the Lakers’ roster without having to take responsibility for it.

There is truth to what Johnson is saying here. Russell is more mature now. It would have been difficult to keep him in a locker room with teammates who didn’t trust him.

But Johnson is also the one who moved Russell rather than betting on his talent. With the right nurturing, Russell could have become a star in Los Angeles in the first place. The Lakers wouldn’t have to use all their cap room to sign him now. They could have already had him.

It’s a little disingenuous for Johnson to present this as him being right all along.

Magic GM John Hammond: ‘We have no idea’ when Markelle Fultz will play

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Markelle Fultz has played just 33 games, the most recent one in November, since the 76ers drafted him No. 1 overall in 2017. Philadelphia traded him to the Magic in February, and he didn’t play at all for Orlando last season.

When will Fultz return?

Magic general manager John Hammond on 96.9 The Game:

He will not play in summer league with us. We didn’t think there was any way that he was going to do that. We didn’t plan on him doing that. So, probably not the place for him right now.

But overall, I can just say that he’s doing well.

He’s working extremely hard. He’s in good shape. His weight is good. His overall body-fat percentage is very good. So, if you look at him, you say, “Wow, he looks great.” So, it’s just a matter of him just continuing to get more comfortable, continuing for him to get himself in a position where he’s ready to step on the floor and help us.

And look, we have no idea when that’s going to be. We’re hoping much, much sooner than later. But once again, we’re trying to do this the best we can, and that’s have that word of patience.

We want to have patience with him and get him ready and put him on the court when he can be most productive.

Patience is probably the right approach, because I don’t know an alternative. But I’m also not sure where patience gets anyone.

Fultz’s issues run so deep. It doesn’t appear time is solving anything. Does Fultz have a long-term injury that’s actually healing? Does he have a mental block that’s actually being addressed? It’d be nice to see some signs of progress.

Unfortunately, that won’t happen in summer league. The next opportunity for Fultz to publicly display his ability will likely be training camp.

But the way this has gone, I have no expectations of Fultz being ready for that, either.