The Los Angeles Lakers full-scale reclamation project began in earnest the moment Kobe Bryant walked off the Staples Center court for the last time.
Replacing the out-of-touch Byron Scott with Luke Walton was the first step in a long remodeling process. Scott couldn’t resonate with his younger players. He let a 38-year-old Bryant hijack the offense, to the tune of 1,113 field goal attempts in 66 games. He made Russell, the second overall pick in the 2015 draft, feel like a shell of himself. Scott was a short-term stopgap when the Lakers needed a coach that prioritized long-term development.
This season, Walton has loosened the reins on his young point guard. And now, under Walton’s tutelage, the Lakers love playing basketball again.
Suffice to say, the early returns in the first year of the Luke Walton Era have exceeded even Lakers fans’ wildest expectations.
Small sample size aside — and it is a tiny sample — the Lakers have a better record than the Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Pelicans.
Los Angeles is scoring 107.1 points per 100 possessions this season, just a shade below the Spurs (107.3 points per 100 possessions). The team’s scoring efficiency climbs to 109.3, a top-five mark, when D’Angelo Russell is on the floor. So that’s good.
Defense remains a work in progress, to say the least. For starters, the Lakers have allowed a league-high 32.1 attempts per game in the restricted area and opposing teams shoot a sizzling 65.7 percent. Both marks are dead last in the NBA. It’s basically impossible to field a league-average defense while allowing a high volume of shots close to the basket because, well, close shots go in the basket more often than far-away shots. (Analysis!) Los Angeles, a team propped up by its youth, is far from being respectable on the defensive end.
And that’s okay — learning the nuances of NBA-caliber defense takes time. It isn’t easy for younger players, accustomed to skating by on their athletic ability, to process the NBA game in real-time without making mistakes.
Los Angeles hasn’t just feasted on cupcakes though. Three of its seven wins were against quality opponents — Golden State, Atlanta and Houston — and a 4-1 record at home is a positive start for a team projected to win 24.5 games by the Vegas oddsmakers.
The end of the Kobe Era coincided with one of the worst stretches in franchise history so maybe, just maybe, the Lakers are on the path to being great again.
Vegas line: Spurs by 6.5
Game prediction: Spurs by 8.
For the Lakers fans' perspective, visit Silver Screen & Roll.
As always Tony must dominate Fisher.
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