We are halfway through November, which means the NBA season is still in embryonic development.
The same could be said for the new-look Los Angeles Lakers after ditching the old guys (most importantly, coach Byron Scott and future Hall of Fame guard Kobe Bryant). Moving on into the future with a cast of youngsters, led by 36-year-old head coach Luke Walton in his first full-time gig.
Walton has his team playing fast and hard, elements that have been missing from the Hollywood hoops scene the past few seasons. In fact, they’ve already won seven games (7-5), last season they didn’t win their sixth game until Dec. 30. Julius Randle recorded his second career triple-double (17 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists) in their 125-118 win over the Brooklyn Nets last night.
The latest NBA.com power rankings has them toeing the line of mediocrity, which compared to last year’s 17-65 washout, has media folks clamoring over the #Lakeshow like it’s 1999:
This Lakers team is just so much fun: pic.twitter.com/CGm9usVsCb
— SB Nation (@SBNation) November 11, 2016
Let’s break down some of this early hype with a little good news, bad news.
These ‘baby Lakers’ aren’t as mature and polished as the Kobe-Shaq, or even Kobe-Gasol teams of old. This 2016 social media, millennial-driven, version likes to run the floor and shoot often. A 2015 lottery pick, D’Angelo Russell is loving the loose reins Walton has on him and pushes the tempo at will.
They currently rank top 10 in pace (9), scoring average (10) and per game point differential (1).
Statistically, the Lakers own the best bench in the league and it’s not even close.
Led by combo guard Jordan Clarkson–who started the majority of the season last year–the Lakers’ bench is accounting for nearly half of the team’s offensive production, scoring just over 51 points per game. They outscore their opponents by 16 points per 100 possessions when at least four bench players are in.
Veteran guard–and former Sixth Man award winner–Lou Williams provides some experience as well as clutch shooting. Both Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance Jr. are long, athletic forwards that can defend, rebound and fill lanes in transition.
It’s rare that a bench unit is able to sustain, and for the most part, surpass the efforts of the starters.
Yet, that’s exactly the case in L.A. thus far.
When your coach is still young enough to lace em’ up with you in practice to show you how it’s done, chances are you have an inexperienced team. With inexperience, comes inconsistency.
At times, though still early, the Lakers have looked like a playoff team. They beat the two-time defending Western Conference champs at home on Nov. 4, holding the high-scoring Warriors (lead NBA with 116 points per game) to 97 points. Nearly a week later, the team forfeits a season-high 125 points to Andrew Wiggins and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Keep an eye on the defensive end with this young team as that’s first to slip when a season starts spiraling out of control.
To say the Lakers have benefited from a favorable early schedule wouldn’t be a stretch.
Looking at their last five opponents, they’ve shared a combined record of 12-37.
Up next, seven of their next 10 games feature teams with top 10 scoring averages. This includes the San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls (twice) and the Warriors (twice).
We will know a lot more about the wet-behind-the-ears, Mamba-less Lakers in the upcoming weeks.