Loss to the Bulls highlights Lakers issues
November 25, 2021
Last Monday, a cascade of chanting rang down from the upper bowl of Staples Center. After chiding the referee for allowing gameplay to resume before he put on the shoe he lost, Anthony Davis picked up his second technical foul and was tossed from the game. Fans were upset at the referees, but fans should have been upset at the Lakers, not the refs. After the 121-103 drubbing from the Chicago Bulls, it begs to ask who these Lakers are and what is their identity?
But who are the Lakers, if nothing more than ill-fitting and disparate puzzle pieces that require LeBron James to make it work? Without him, the Lakers are again floundering offense in need of leadership.
Russell Westbrook has yet to find his stride with this team and appears not to fit. In addition, the amalgamation of three-point shooters has not coalesced.
The allure and shine of winning free agency have worn off. What's left is a collection of guys that have historically had gaudy numbers but failed to win. They lackadaisically compete and appear to be unbothered with the results. They play with no passion. Thus far, the Lakers have shown no sense of urgency. Alas, the Lakers look disjointed and disinterested. Like zombies meandering looking for their next meal, the Lakers aimlessly wander, waiting for LeBron and the reinforcements to return from injury.
"We sucked," Davis intimated in just the game prior, after losing to the Minnesota Timberwolves. "No defense. Can't score. That's not just this third quarter, it's every third quarter we've played this season. We come out slow, lackadaisical offensively and defensively. We got to get it together. Why? I can't tell you. But we got to do a better job."
The Lakers leveraged their future in Davis. But, so far, it doesn't appear that was a wise long-term investment. Yes, Los Angeles has won one title in an abbreviated season with Davis. But without James, the Lakers look paltry, if not putrid, when they initiate the offense through Davis.
Davis is not a perimeter player. Instead, he may find himself as an agile guard that can dominate games from beyond the arc. Davis is a low post nightmare that eschews contact. In the post, Davis, the perpetual mismatch is a walking bucket. He is a big man that can handle the ball. His midrange shot is pure, and when he cares to clamp whomever, he defends, he erases that player from the gameplan. Davis has the elite talent and tools to be the game's marquee player, but what will it take for him to take that next step? What must occur for Davis to dominate every time you step on the court? The collective basketball world waits for him to assume the mantle as the face of the league.
But despite his talent and prowess, head coach Frank Vogel continuously plays Davis on the perimeter. Yes, the game has become a nightly barrage of chucking up three-point attempts. However, last year's NBA Finals showcased two teams that specialized at knocking down midrange shots. And although Los Angeles is third in the league at midrange attempts, the Lakers struggle at putting the ball through the net.
The only salve Los Angeles has in their immediate future is the return of LeBron James.
The Bulls have a formidable 1-2 punch in DeMar DeRozan and Zach Lavine. They also have a tremendous starting back court when you add Lonzo Ball to the mix.
The Lakers are not without their own dynamic duo. Russell Westbrook and Davis should be enough to compete on a nightly basis. Westbrook has an MVP, is a stat-stuffing monster, and has a maniacal motor. Panelists selected both Westbrook and Davis as two of the 75 NBA's greatest players. Yet somehow, their styles of play at times do not mesh.
Westbrook is a turnover monster. He is the league leader with 80 and touts a paltry 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio. In the era of advanced analytics, Westbrook has a plus/minus of -2.6, and Davis' plus/minus is +2.6. So, Los Angeles' starting point guard makes the Lakers worse with him on the floor.
In 2017, the Lakers drafted a point guard second overall whose skillset is beginning to come into full bloom. Unfortunately, Lonzo Ball, whose court vision, IQ, and defense make him a desired conductor, torched the Lakers. Ball went seven of 10 from three and finished the night with 27 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds and outplayed Westbrook. Los Angeles could have attempted to recruit Ball back home but opted to go with Westbrook.
What makes things worse after the loss to the Bulls is that Los Angeles could have opted to go with DeRozan, another Angelino that grew up hooping throughout the city and has a plus/minus of +3.9. His game fits perfectly for any team. DeRozan can create without the turnovers. He is an efficient midrange scorer. As a Kobe Bryant disciple, he relished the opportunity to play under the pressure of winning in Los Angeles. James recruited DeRozan over the summer, and when the Compton kid thought he would be heading to Los Angeles, news broke of the Westbrook trade.
Even with Davis and Westbrook not leading the team to wins without James, coach Vogel is equally culpable. Vogel's rotations have been horrid, and the defense, his specialty, has been shoddy. Yet, despite the defensive woes, Los Angeles is tied in the tenth spot in team defense.
Los Angeles' primary issue is starting hot after the half. And against the Bulls, the Lakers were outscored 37-25 after the break. Vogel's squad has repeatedly looked unmotivated and listless after the half. The return of James will help the team reset and find focus.
Follow Eric on Twitter @elambsquared and IG @elamb5quared.