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Analyzing the Los Angeles Lakers' Recent Struggles: A Comprehensive Look at Factors Affecting Their Performance

Teo Choi

LeBron James, disgruntled after a no-foul call, complains to the referee.

The Los Angeles Lakers this season have been a disappointment, to say the least. After coming off a conference-final loss to the Denver Nuggets and what seemed to be an outstanding offseason, retaining key players and signing new ones, expectations were high for the Lakers.  


However, the dysfunctional team has not been underperforming for the whole season. For the first 23 games or so, the Lakers were beginning to show their true potential. They had a respectable record of 14-9 and had just come off an incredible In-Season Tournament, becoming the inaugural champions. They were expected to cruise through the season as clear contenders. Then, suddenly, it just all fell apart. As of the time of writing, the Lakers are 21-22, the tenth seed in the West, and barely scraping the surface of the Play-In. They went on multiple losing streaks, and their game just seemed to be off.  


The Lakers’ struggles do not stem from a singular discrepancy but rather multiple minor holes in general. First off, injuries. Now, injuries simply cannot be an excuse for a team to be bad, but you still cannot discount them. Gabe Vincent sustained two knee injuries this season and has been sidelined for quite some time. So far, he has played 5 out of a possible 42 games. Rui Hachimura, a big part of last season’s playoff success, has been injured five separate times, with a concussion, two nose injuries, a wrist injury, and a calf injury, respectively. Last season’s defensive anchor, Jarred Vanderbilt, also has only been able to play about half of the games. However, the Lakers’ main stars, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis, have been surprisingly healthy, despite James’s old age and Davis's injury history. With a top duo in the league, they should have won games. Then why have they been this bad? 


Another reason is their terrible coaching staff. A sophomore head coach, Darvin Ham, has been under heavy criticism for his bone-headed rotation strategies and lack of control over players. According to Shams Charania, an NBA analyst for the Athletic, “There is currently a growing disconnect between Darvin Ham and the Lakers locker right now.” Darvin Ham’s extreme rotational changes and lineup changes frustrated the players too. Several players have been complaining about the fluctuating rhythms of the teams. If you see the coaches that LeBron James has won championships with, Erik Spoelstra and Ty Lue, they garner the respect of the young and upcoming players, but also the key veterans. Darvin Ham seems to lack that.  


A third reason, and the greatest one, is their noticeable downgrade in the level of playing. The team currently has the 23rd-highest offensive rating, 12th-highest defensive rating, and 20th-highest net rating. If you compare this to the 2020 Lakers championship team, you see the stark difference. The Lakers' three-point shooting has also been abysmal, attempting the 5th least three-pointers. All of this, along with an offense concentrated only on Anthony Davis and LeBron James, has resulted in the clunky offense they possess. Defensively, they were quite good, with players like Davis, Reddish, and Vanderbilt holding it down to that end. But offensively, they just have not been fluid enough.  


Prior to the season, everyone thought this Lakers team was the deepest of them all, with a great combination of stars and role players. But you can see how big the gap is. 39-year-old LeBron James and Anthony Davis have carried the team, while Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, Jarred Vanderbilt, and D’Angelo Russell, four of the main guys who championed their previous run, do not seem to produce on that level anymore. New signings like Cam Reddish, Taurean Prince, Jaxson Hayes, and Christian Woods are just not playing as expected.  


Finally, the team lacks motivation. LeBron James seems more interested in watching his son play, and other members do not seem hungry. This Lakers team has the most to prove, and show that they are still perennial contenders, but that just has not been happening. They rank 3rd to last in offensive rebounds and 6th highest in turnovers. They just have not been playing quality basketball.  


However, the future is not too bleak for this team. They could make big trades during the deadline and flip the team over like they did last year. There are mentions of big-name players like Dejounte Murray and Zack Lavine. They could fire Coach Ham and change the system they play in. One thing guaranteed is that Rob Pelinka and the Lakers front office will make moves. Whatever they do, the Lakers must become a whole different team, whether it's identity or playstyle. They have much to prove, and it will be interesting to see how the rest of their season goes.


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