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Whither the Lakers and LeBron?

October 19th, 2018 · No Comments · Lakers, NBA

A sample size too small even to call a sample size, but that never stops us from expressing enthusiasm — or confessing alarm — about a team we have been studying.

In this case, the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers of LeBron James. The Lakers who Are Back. Relevant Again. In Theory.

The Lakers who are 0-1 in an 82-game season after a 128-119 defeat at Portland on Thursday night.

And here is what we found worrisome.

LeBron seems to be playing 1-on-5. He looked like he could still be the best player in the game, but his 26 points seemed hard-won and often singular in their creation.
The only thing less impressive than LeBron’s teammates in the starting lineup … was the four young guys — the Lakers’ future — whose fingerprints were all over the two Portland surges that enabled the Trail Blazers to wipe out a 10-point first-half deficit, and pull away from a one-point game in the final minutes.
A useful statistic on a player’s contribution to a team’s performance is the plus-minus stat — which measures scoring while an individual is on the court. If your team goes on a 10-0 run to start a game, the five guys on the court are each “plus-10” in the statistic.
The four Lakers who started the game, with LeBron, three of them with lots of miles on the odometer, seemed competent, according to plus-minus: Kentevious Caldwell-Pope, plus-8; Rajon Rondo, plus-7; Brandon Ingram, plus-4; JaVale McGee, minus-1.
Compare that with the mostly young second team whom, we must concede, did not have as many minutes with LeBron: Kyle Kuzma, minus-12; Josh Hart, minus-13; Lance Stephenson, minus-15; Lonzo Ball, minus-15.
The overarching idea, in Lakerland, is to bring along the younger guys, who struggled on opening night, so that they can become the heart of the team in future seasons. But bring them along steadily, so that the club’s chances of reaching the playoffs do not decline precipitously.
Kuzma often looks effective, Hart even more so, and Ingram should benefit by playing mostly with the veterans. But Lonzo Ball, for whom so much is hoped/expected, may not be an NBA starter, let alone a star, off what we have seen.
Lonzo is still using that same horrible, across-his-body shooting stroke, and getting the same results he did last season — lots of bad misses, which leads to defenders sagging off him, knowing he cannot shoot. And, remember, Rajon Rondo, for now the starting point guard, is by no means a volume scorer, and is not expected to score from deep. (Or even regularly from the free-throw line.) But, at the moment, he looks like a far better option than Lonzo.
The Lakers do not have a three-first shooter. At all. And it showed, as the Lakers opened 0-for-15 from deep, and finished 7-for-30. Dreadful, alarming numbers.
Lakers coach Luke Walton is coaching an up-tempo game, trying to get shots in the painted area, and the Lakers scored something like 60 points in the lane.
But the modern NBA calls for shots worth three points, and the Lakers are bereft in that area. Kuzma might make some. Hart, too. Maybe KCP. But after that, the Lakers are going to the rack, and good luck with that, in 2018.
One question. Does Walton actually prefer that offense? Did he install it on his own? Or did he realize that top Lakers executives Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka had given him a roster missing even a couple of above-average three-point shooters? We assume the latter; Luke Walton knows what he is looking at, and it could cost him his job before the season is over.
The biggest disappointment is Lonzo Ball, and at some point the Lakers probably will set some sort of outer limit for giving him quality minutes, even while he is being abused by opponents. (And, just saying, has anyone else noticed that Lonzo’s invasive father, LaVar, has pretty much disappeared? LaVar’s war of words with LeBron James, before the latter joined the Lakers, has ended, and Lonzo has expressed his respect for the NBA veteran. And peace has fallen over Staples Center.)
Which takes us back to LeBron, and what to expect from him this season.
If these Lakers are not very good, or even mediocre, should James kill himself trying to drag this team to a winning record? He led the NBA in minutes played the previous two seasons, and should the Lakers risk him with another burdensome minutes total for a team that is not very good?
As for LBJ and losing teams … it has happened once in his previous 15 seasons. When he was 19 in 2002-03, a rookie. The Cleveland Cavaliers went 35-47, and their second-best player was a young Carlos Boozer.
So, the question for LBJ is … does he run himself ragged again, in his age-34 season, leading the league in minutes-played for the third season running — and they still don’t get into the playoffs?
Or at some point does he accept the Lakers’ fate and try to bring along the young guys (as much as they can be brought along)? Minutes go up for Lonzo, Kuzma, Hart and Ingram. Basically, The Process gets another season, this time with LeBron on board to keep fans chilled out and vaguely optimistic for subsequent seasons.
Realistically, great players do not surrender their ascendant role in the league for the sake of developing kids. LeBron could still score 25 a game, with solid peripherals … but at the cost of another 10,000 miles on the odometer in a lost cause.


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