I live in Los Angeles, and while driving around Tuesday I flipped on some sports talk radio in town — specifically the Lakers’ flagship station ESPN 710 — and was treated to 15 minutes of Lakers’ fans freaking out. The hosts were trying to be reasonable noting that rebuilding is a process and what mattered was the development of Julius Randle (who has looked good), D'Angelo Russell, and Jordan Clarkson. But some fans would have none of it — Laker exceptionalism is alive and well among parts of the fan base, and this team is going to stink for a second straight season.
Some fans are freaking out. Kobe Bryant says go ahead if it makes you feel better.
I know that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has to make his team sound competitive and say things preseason like they can make the playoffs. However, that seemed to set expectations far too high in some quarters — this was never a playoff team in the West. Those fans feel let down. I thought this team could win 31-32 games, but right now that looks optimistic.
While Kobe’s shooting and the offense are garnering most of the attention right now, the Lakers’ bigger issue is the defense by far (as noted in Five Takeaways today). As in, the Lakers aren’t playing any of it.
The Lakers are giving up an average of 113 points per 100 possessions so far this season, ranking them dead last in the NBA. Teams are shooting 48.6 percent overall against them (second worst in the NBA) and the Lakers are last in the league at creating turnovers (11.6 percent of opponent possessions end in a turnover). The Lakers’ pick-and-roll coverage is a disaster in style for the bigs they have on the roster. Roy Hibbert isn’t a defensive savior used that way, the Laker defense is only two points per 100 possessions better when he plays (and is still allowing 112 points per 100 with him on the court).
This will be Byron Scott’s fifth straight team to finish in the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency (going back to his Cleveland days). If you’re going to say he doesn’t have the talent on the roster, I will note that last season’s Sixers were 13th in the league in defensive efficiency. And that right now the Timberwolves, Celtics, and Magic are all in the top 10 in defensive efficiency.
It’s going to be a long campaign for Lakers fans.