What Is Wrong With the Lakers’ Starters?

In what has turned out to be a surprisingly good season for the Lakers, they will try and secure a playoff spot for the first time in four years. While the bench is trying their best to make that happen, the starting lineup is still missing something.

Consistency, consistency, consistency. This is the main issue with the Lakers’ starters.

From a statistical standpoint almost all of them are having  a good season. They are learning how to play and thrive in Walton’s system, and we have seen very good results. What they are lacking is the ability to do it night in and night out.

Russell is the unquestioned leader of the team and one of its main scorers. However, aside from his usual struggles on the defensive end, he is not always the offensive leader the team can count on. On too many nights, his 3-point shot doesn’t fall and he forgets how good a mid-range and post up player is.

Julius Randle has shown improvements from last year, especially in terms of playmaking and transition play. Much like Draymond Green, he is trying to act more as a facilitator, creating for his teammates. He tends to disappear in set plays and has finished more than a few games in single digit scoring.

The biggest disappointment of the season by far has been Luol Deng, the highest paid player of the team. The aging former All-Star is not doing bad as veteran and glue-guy for the young Lakers, but he is struggling on the court, missing open shots and looking uncomfortable at the 3 position. His 6.5 points per game and 33.1 percent field goal percentage are both career-lows.

So far, Timofey Mozgov and Nick Young have been the most consistent starters, bringing every night the same energy and defense.

Trading places

Typically, the better team’s starting lineup usually shows their superiority and takes the lead during the first minutes. The bench then, has just to stay afloat until the return of the starters.

The Lakers’ situation is the exact contrary.

Comparing the starting five with the usual backup unit of Black, Nance Jr., Ingram, Williams and Clarkson, we can see how inferior they result in many key fields.

When the reserves are on the court it becomes obvious how the following team stats improve.

Turnovers go down by 1.3. Plus/Minus increases from 0.5 to 3.1.

Far more significant are the raises in Net Rating (2.1 to 16.7), Point Differential per 100 Possessions (2.8 to 14.9) and PIE (49 to 60.9).

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The numbers also reflect the well known defensive improvement. Defensive Rating jumps from an awful 110 to a respectable 94.4. Opponent Points per Game precipitate from 32.6 to 19.3, with a consequential reduction of every relative stat (Opp. Field Goal Percentage, Opp. 2nd Chance points, Opp. Fastbreak Points and Opp. Points in the Paint).

It looks like Black and Nance Jr. are also performing better under the boards, allowing almost half the rebounds opponents get against the starters (7.7 instead of 13.4).

Anyhow, keep in mind that this particular unit plays an average 5 minutes less than the starters.

It is not a problem of individual production that separates this two groups, but the collective effort, especially on the defensive end. A cohesive unit manages to cooperate to fix a single player’s mistake. A non cohesive one sinks all of its components.

Therefore, Mozgov’s defensive numbers don’t look so good, since he plays in a lineup where defense is pretty bad and perimeter players are often beaten, forcing the big man’s rotation.

If the starters could cope with opposing starting lineups all the time, the Lakers would immediately become a lock for the playoffs and a high-ranking team in the weakened Western Conference.

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