Another week, another tough stretch for the Los Angeles Lakers. With three losses to Toronto, Portland, and Golden State, the team is now just 2-12 on the season and sits in 29th place. Only the tanktastic (and winless) 76ers have a worse record, and the team doesn’t appear to be gelling as we get deeper into the season.
Golden State’s dominant win was particularly painful, as the Warriors were able to get any look they wanted against Los Angeles’ discombobulated defense. We are only 14 games into the season, but so far, the Lakers are consistently struggling on both ends of the floor.
That said, there are some individual performances that have to be noted. Let’s take a look at the Lakers who are trending up and down after the fourth week of the NBA season.
D’Angelo Russell: It appears that Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight bullying D’Angelo Russell all night in Phoenix finally woke up the No. 2 pick. Although Russell hasn’t had the box score explosions that Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, and Jahlil Okafor have had, to those watching the games the difference in his play has been night and day. Russell has been more aggressive in looking for his shot, and has taken on more of the play calling responsibilities. Coach Byron Scott asked for better rebounding and D’Angelo took the request to heart, snagging an average of 6.3 rebounds during Week 4 to go along with 12.6 points and 3.3 assists. It can’t be called a full breakout, but we are starting to see flashes of why the Lakers were so enamored with Russell on draft night.
Julius Randle: With the Lakers in the midst of a painful rebuild, they need to get the most out of all of their draft picks, and so far Julius Randle has delivered. Like any rookie (de facto or otherwise) Randle has had his ups and downs, but he was a monster on the boards this week with an average of 10.3 in 28.6 minutes per game. His much-maligned jumper has also started to come around (particularly his fade away in the paint), and he was a perfect 13-of-13 from the line, helping him lead the team in scoring with 13.3 points per game. Unfortunately, Randle’s playmaking has all but disappeared, as his drives into the paint are almost always resulting in shots rather than a kick out to an open shooter. Additionally, Randle’s screen setting and defensive rotations leave a lot to be desired, but those are all things that can be improved on as the year goes on. For the time being, Julius Randle is trending up, and hopefully he will put up a few well-rounded performances next week.
Jordan Clarkson: Yes, Clarkson’s performance against the Warriors was miserable. He shot an abysmal 2-of11 and was the victim of a Steph Curry crossover that was replayed ad-nauseum across every sports media portal. However, Clarkson was rock solid against Portland and Toronto, so he still gets a Trending Up nod for the week. His three-point shooting has been a pleasant surprise, and Clarkson’s quickness allows him to get into the lane almost at will. He still needs to do a better job of hitting the open man once he gets past his defender, but thus far Jordan Clarkson has been the most polished of the Lakers’ young core.
Kobe Bryant: After just one week on the “Up” side, Kobe finds himself back down thanks to an absolutely brutal week. In three games, Bryant shot just 24 percent from the field, including an atrocious 1-of-17 from three point range. The fact that he managed to play in three games in a row is impressive given the mileage on his body, but right now he isn’t helping the team on the court. Bryant’s usage rate of 28.5 eclipses that of any other Laker, and he continues to fire up shots as though it’s 2006. His teammates are starting to become visibly frustrated with his chucking ways, as both Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell have been spotted looking disappointed when Kobe chose to fire another long jumper rather than hit an open teammate. To make matters worse, he tied a career=low in Golden State by shooting just 1-of-14 from the field, eliciting the sympathy of the opposing Warriors, who couldn’t believe how far the player they grew up idolizing has fallen. Let’s hope that Bryant can get it together and allow himself to finish his career in a positive way.
Lou Williams: Sweet Lou just can’t seem to get his game going despite all the opportunities that having the second-highest usage rate on the team provides. His shot finally came around this week, as he connected on 47.4 percent of his shots and showed that Coach Scott’s decision to alter his rotation to allow Williams to play off the ball did help. However, Williams was consistently burned on the defensive end, and his free throw percentage (usually the strongest part of his game) dropped to 71.4 percent. There is still plenty of time for the reigning Sixth Man of the Year to get going, but it has been a bit of a rough start to his run in purple and gold.
Nick Young: The Lakers other scorer off the bench didn’t fare any better than Williams did this week. Swaggy P had started the season on a hot streak, but he came crashing back down to earth this week when his shot mostly misfired. Young doesn’t provide much else aside from his scoring (just 1.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game this week), so when his shot isn’t falling, things can get bad quickly. Let’s hope this is just a minor bump in the road, because Young has been surprisingly solid for most of the season.
The Lakers franchise: No question, these are dark times for one of the most popular professional sports franchises on the planet. With Bryant painfully struggling and no heir apparent stepping forward (yet), the organization is in dire straights. They need to right the ship quickly, but right now it’s difficult to see how that’s going to happen with so many problems plaguing the team. With chemistry and coaching issues on the floor and a restless fan base off it, Showtime has never felt so far away. Expect the team to be active at the trade deadline, and then prepare for a long, nervous wait for the NBA Draft lottery. It’s going to be another tough season, but for now all we can do is stay patient and enjoy watching the young players develop their skills on the big stage.