LOS ANGELES — As Lakers guard Russell Westbrook went up for a 3-pointer against the Clippers, his home crowd groaned before the ball even left his hand. The shot clanked off the rim, justifying the fans’ apprehension.
Westbrook missed all six of his 3-pointers in the sport on Thursday. It was a microcosm of the 2 biggest issues facing the Lakers this season: Westbrook and shooting. Time and again on Thursday night, the Lakers faithful remained subdued because the team kept shooting. And missing. And shooting. And missing some more. There have been enough bricks that the Lakers could offer themselves up as an infrastructure project.
Through the primary two games of the season, the Lakers have shot an almost unfathomable 19 for 85 from 3-point range (22.4 percent). That was the largest consider a blowout loss to Golden State within the season opener on Tuesday and in a 103-97 loss to the Clippers on Thursday night.
In a league where deep shots have evolved from being quirky additions to being the driving force of up to date scoring, the Lakers constructed their roster without enough players equipped to maximise that type of play. This summer, the Lakers let more formidable shooters like Wayne Ellington and Malik Monk walk, and as an alternative opted to usher in the athletic guard Lonnie Walker IV and Dennis Schröder, neither of whom is thought for perimeter prowess.
It’s not that the Lakers are in a shooting slump. If someone put tap dancing shoes on a flamingo, one wouldn’t say the flamingo was struggling to be Fred Astaire. It’s that — as LeBron James factually noted after Tuesday night’s drubbing by Golden State — the Lakers just don’t have many good shooters. They weren’t built for this.
“We’re getting great looks, but it surely is also teams giving us great looks,” James said. “To be completely honest, we’re not a team that’s constructed of great shooting. That’s just the reality of the matter. It’s not like we’re sitting here with a number of lasers on our team.”
And yet the Lakers have launched a bevy of 3s. The penetration skills of Anthony Davis and James have generated open looks outside for other Lakers, but each Golden State and the Clippers also constantly dared the Lakers to shoot.
“They need to provide us those shots?” Lakers Coach Darvin Ham said Thursday. “We are going to accept it wholeheartedly. That’s the way in which we wish to play. We would like to play fast, physical and free.”
He added: “We see these guys making shots in practice and shootaround. They’ve got to do it on game floor. It’s so simple as that.”
The Lakers climbed back from multiple deficits on Thursday to maintain the sport close down the stretch. But they weren’t in a position to sustain their periods of strong play. After the sport, James was asked about his “laser” comments.
“I like the way in which we’re playing basketball straight away,” James said. “We’re really sharing the ball offensively. We’re moving bodies. And I feel we’ll begin to knock down shots.”
James does have good reason for optimism, but it surely has to do with the opposite side of the ball. Within the loss to Golden State, the Lakers had a defensive rating of 107.0, which would have been good for fourth within the N.B.A. last season, a undeniable fact that guard Patrick Beverley identified after the Thursday morning shootaround. The Lakers were even higher on Thursday with a rating of 100.0. When the Lakers fell into deficits against the Clippers, they turned up the defensive intensity and compelled several turnovers to get out in transition to get back in the sport.
“I’m definitely not going to take a seat here and harp on what we are able to’t do each game,” James said. “That’s not leadership. What I do know we are able to do: We will defend our ass off.”
The Clippers turned the ball over 22 times Thursday, contributing to a number of the Lakers’ 15 fast-break points. That is where Westbrook’s skills may be useful to the Lakers. He had five steals Thursday, and as he is thought to do, immediately focused on pushing the ball down the ground off those forced turnovers.
But Westbrook stays a lightning rod for criticism, at times unfairly. He missed all 11 of his shots against the Clippers, much to the chagrin of the group. But through one other lens, Westbrook played the precise style of game that the Lakers need from him.
“We’ve all had bad shooting nights,” James said. “I’ve had bad shooting nights. Everybody on this league has had bad shooting nights. Who cares? I believed he played an excellent game. Defensively, he was in tune. He was locked in. He pushed the tempo. He just didn’t make any shots. That’s OK.”
A key criticism of Westbrook last season was his penchant for turnovers and for enjoying uncontrolled. He had just one turnover on Thursday while quarterbacking the offense. Westbrook has also been bashed for his shot selection. He has, to date, focused on taking fewer shots of upper quality. Just about all of his 11 shots on Thursday were strong looks.
Westbrook is just not the problem for the Lakers; that will be roster construction. But when the 33-year-old Westbrook can’t be not less than a passable shooter, defenders won’t must pay him much attention, leaving James and Davis with less room to operate. And if the Lakers want someone aside from Westbrook to be their start line guard, there aren’t many higher options on the bench. (And Westbrook has grumbled about coming off the bench.)
The Lakers and Westbrook are, for now, stuck with one another. Nevertheless, Westbrook’s frenetic energy might be a lift for a team suddenly reliant on fast-break points to counter its bad shooting
The Lakers are a piece in progress, and while the team lacks shooters, the 3-point shooting percentage will almost surely increase from the low 20s. That improvement, combined with their defensive effort, left Ham upbeat despite the difficult begin to the season.
“The best way we stepped on the market and scrapped, even once we did get down, to give you the chance to get back in the sport, make it a game, that’s the definition of identity constructing,” Ham said.
He added: “I’ll sleep well. I won’t be indignant or depressed. And we still have 80 games left, but we’re trending in the suitable direction.”