To put it nicely, LeBron James tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers has gotten off to an underwhelming start. LA lost their first three games of the season which included Brandon Ingrams meltdown against the Houston Rockets, which resulted in multiple players getting suspended. Despite the 0-3 start, the Lakers went to win seven of their next 10 games and are now back into the playoff mix.
Rockets vs Lakers fight with Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram ejected | NBA Highlights YouTube
But is this comeback a sign of things to come? Or is it just the result of an easy schedule. Well, it's a bit of both.
Out of the Lakers seven wins, five of them have come to teams who did not make the playoffs last season and many of them by a narrow margin. They beat the Portland Trailblazers and Minnesota Timberwolves by four, and also the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks by one. How could a LeBron lead team struggle so mightily in the beginning of the season? When you add a guy who some think may be the greatest to step on the floor, you'd think that the team would improve let alone compete.
In reality, the Lakers haven't seen much change since adding LeBron and in some areas have even gotten worse namely defense. LA currently ranks 26th in points allowed which is just one spot worse than last season. But last season a "LeBronless" Lakers gave up 109.6 ppg, while this season they are giving up 115.5 ppg. Even though there is only a one spot difference, LA is nearly six points worse of defense. What's also funny about this, is that last season the Cleveland Cavaliers were also ranked 26th in points allowed and if you don't follow basketball that team also had LeBron James on it.
It isn't just the defense end of the court, where the Lakers are struggling. On offense, LA are 18th in three-point percentage, 25th in turnovers and 29th in free throw percentage. In order to survive in today's NBA, you need to be able to execute from the free throw line and the three-point line. Over the last few seasons, the Golden State Warriors have been in the top 15 in free throw shooting and three-point percentage. They are the pinnacle of the modern day NBA and since their dynasty began the rest of the team has tried to replicate their formula. But the Lakers are trying a different approach.
Instead of loading up their team with a bunch of three-point shooters, they opted to sign grinders like Rajon Rondo, Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee. For the most part, they have been nice additions. McGee is having a career season and Rondo has stolen minutes away from former number two overall pick Lonzo Ball. But both of these guys were not going to make or break LA's success. Not even LeBron was to be solely relied upon to drag them to the playoffs. In fact, the front office was relying on the young core of Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram to hopefully progress enough to become marquee players. But so far this season that hasn't really been the case.
Head of basketball operations Magic Johnson and Lakers fans all assumed that guys like Ingram and Ball would take a big leap forward this season. So far Ingram hasn't really improved since the previous season. He still hovers around 15 ppg and is still so skinny that he is a miss match on the defensive end. With Ball, the glaring flaw with his game was that he couldn't shoot the basketball and to a degree has shown some improvement. But his increased shooting percentages haven't been enough to warrant him more playing time than Rondo. Hart and Kuzma seem to be the only ones who actually improved, both taking big jumps in ppg, field goal percentage and minutes. But neither Hart or Kuzma has shown to be able to become the difference in a game. Which is where LeBron comes in.
I know earlier I went on a bit of a tirade about his defense, but on the opposite end of the court he has definitely played up to his reputation. Outside of his free throw percentage, he is putting up MVP type numbers. But if James' previous championship seasons have shown us anything it's that in order for a LeBron lead team to make a run he's going to need other elite level players.
So does Magic trade some of these young prospects for a proven star? Or does he hold out and wait? I don't know. But what I do know is that something's got to give. The West has been viciously competitive for the past decade, and if the Lakers want to even make the playoffs, they'll need to find some sort of consistency.
They can't just keep relying on beating up on weaker opponents. Especially when you share a division with the Warriors.