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Katherine McCabe / Gavel Media

What's Wrong with the Lakers?

When asked about the Lakers' recent struggles after a loss to the Bulls on Monday, November 15, Anthony Davis summed it up quite eloquently:

“We suck.”

Many preseason analysts and fans touted Los Angeles as the favorite in the West and a surefire championship contender. The offseason acquisition of 2016-17 MVP and nightly triple-double threat Russell Westbrook certainly turned some heads. And soon-to-be hall-of-famer Carmelo Anthony decided to join as well for good measure. The big four of LeBron James, Davis, Westbrook, and Anthony have a combined total of 44 all-star appearances. Los Angeles was just the latest addition to the NBA superteam club, and after a down year by their standards, the Lakers seemed likely to make some noise come playoff time.

However, the Lakers currently sit at 23-24, good for eighth in the Western Conference. Granted, the Lakers are 47 games into an 82 game season. Nevertheless, their dismal start has left many scratching their heads.

“No defense, can’t score. That’s not this third quarter. Every third quarter that we’ve played this season, we come out slow, lackadaisical offensively and defensively. We got to get it together,” Davis said after the blowout loss to the Bulls. “Championship team? That’s not us right now. We’re not winning a championship the way we’re playing. We got to be better, and we got to care more for our wins at home, wins in general.” 

“That was embarrassing.”

Offensively, the Lakers haven’t been as good as they could be considering the number of scoring threats they have. The numbers haven’t exactly wowed either. Los Angeles currently sits ninth in the league in points per game with 109.3, led by Anthony Davis with 23.8. The rest of their offensive stats are middle-of-the-pack. They are at least respectable in assists, field goal percentage, and three-point percentage.

Defensive, however, is another story. 

The Lakers are allowing 112.3 points per game, good for 28th in the league. In fact (and this is not an exaggeration), Los Angeles currently ranks in the bottom half of the league in every major defensive metric. For a majority of these stats, they find themselves within the bottom 10, including opponents'…

-Points per game

-Field goals made per game

-Field goals attempted

-Field goal percentage

-Three-pointers made

-Three-pointers attempted

-Three-point field goal percentage

-Free throws made

-Free throws attempted

-Rebounds per game

-Assists per game

To say that the Lakers are struggling defensively would be an understatement. Bluntly, they have been nothing short of abysmal. They have held just one opponent to under 100 points. That was the Rockets, who are statistically the worst offensive team in the league. Even with the return of LeBron and the continued meshing of these superstars, the Lakers will continue to be a middling team without getting their defensive numbers up.

So that’s it then? The Lakers are bad defensively, and this is the root of all their problems. As they continue to mesh together, they’ll play better defense and the Lakers will be hosting banner 18 before we know it. The struggles of this .500 team will seem like a distant memory come June.

Right?

The underlying issue with the Lakers is one that many teams in the modern NBA have struggled with: reliance on one or two superstar players. Even with the return of LeBron and the continued chemistry build-up of this team, the fact of the matter remains that there is little to no depth beyond these four. The offseason saw the departures of many key role players, who now are proving their worth on other teams. Alex Caruso, who left for Chicago this offseason, is averaging 2.5 steals per game. His defensive presence is not only missed in L.A., but it has also helped the Bulls rise to the upper echelons of the Eastern Conference. Kyle Kuzma, who was the subject of ridicule from fans across the country, is averaging 13.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, all while helping Washington to the best record in the Eastern Conference. He is alongside Montrezl Harrell, another former Laker, who is averaging 17.8 points per game. 

To compound the issue, the age of the Lakers is another worrying factor. The Lakers big four have 44 combined all-star appearances, but the only way to accumulate that many is to play for a long time. Davis is the youngest at 28 years old, followed by Westbrook (33), James (36), and Anthony (37). While these players continue to defy time, the fact of the matter is that they are older, and are going to need more rest in order to avoid injuries and play at their peak levels. Head coach Frank Vogel is going to have the daunting task of balancing workload for his veterans, performing a precarious high-wire act where player health is not sacrificed for wins, and vice versa.

Despite their defensive woes, the Lakers are facing a much more daunting challenge at hand. Yes, LeBron is coming back. And yes, I highly doubt that come May, the Lakers are going to be at home watching their former bench players compete in the playoffs. Make no mistake, the Lakers are not scrubs. However, the construction of this roster is one that is not built to last, both within this season and beyond. 

Even if the aging Lakers can fix their defense and start competing with the likes of Golden State and Brooklyn, a tremendous amount of pressure is going to be put on these four stars, both physically and mentally. Their age may make it difficult for them to play 82-plus games this year at full-strength. Younger teams are hungry to usurp King James, and they have the stamina and bench to do it. LeBron and the Lakers may prove us wrong again if they hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy come June, but that scenario seems much less realistic than it did a few weeks ago. The Lakers may fix their leaky defense, but Father Time is undefeated, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts showing himself at the end of this season.

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New Hampshire born and raised! New York sports 'till I die though.

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