NBA Handicapping: Expect the Lakers to Struggle All Season
by Trevor Whenham - 11/20/2014
The Lakers are in the midst of a two-game winning streak, but don't confuse yourself in any way by thinking that that means that they are good. They aren't. In fact, they are terrible. And they are going to remain terrible all year. There is nothing to blame but the team itself for its predicament. By deciding to ante up for Kobe's latest huge contract two years ago - and sending Dwight Howard fleeing as a result - the team led themselves inevitably to where they are now.
Now they are stuck, and it means that this is going to be a very long season. So, what are the issues (or some of them, anyway - this is just a short article)? And where are the opportunities for bettors?
Kobe: You could write a book - or a whole library full of them - about Mr. Bryant. In a world of complex athletes, there are few that can touch Kobe. He's an enigma, and he's an increasingly unlikeable one as his career has progressed. His ego couldn't fit into seven airplane hangars, and that is above all else what is cursing this team. The base problem is simple - he recognizes that the team has problems, but instead of realizing that he is at the heart of them he thinks that he is the only one that can fix them. He could be working to make his team feel better and play better, but instead he marginalizes them and tries to do it all himself.
It has led him to embrace shooting - from anywhere at almost any time - to a reckless extent this year. That would be fine except for one problem - he's not taking quality shots, so he's missing a whole lot more than he scores. On Wednesday night against the Rockets, he missed more shots than any other player on either team took, and that is far from a rare occurrence these days. What's even more striking is that his recklessness actually increases when the game is out of hand - he's looking to rain down the shots in garbage time. Why? Well, he argues it is to get the team back into it, but the more compelling argument is that he is looking to pass Jordan in the all-time scoring race and inch closer to the two leaders.
Whatever the reasoning, the fact is that Kobe cares about his shot far more than he does about his team. As a result, the rest of his team clearly doesn't play their best with him - there are six lineups that have been used with him on the bench that are outscoring their opponents, while the team is getting badly outscored with Bryant playing. It's uncharitable and even ghastly to say, but the best thing that could happen to this team right now is for Kobe to get hurt again.
Priorities: You have to question at this point if the team has any interest in getting better in any hurry. Milling any last juice out of Kobe from a marketing perspective is a good thing, and him scoring points and breaking records will help more than him being a good teammate on a bad team. More significantly, Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor is really, really good, and the draft class at the top is generally strong, so losing now means a new potential superstar joins the team next year. Add in the returning Julius Randle, and suddenly the future is a bit brighter than it is now.
Return of Nick Young: It may just be a coincidence, but the two-game winning streak coincides directly with the return of Nick Young from a thumb injury. He is far from a great player, and certainly not an efficient one, but something about his return, and his decent play in both games, has helped this team. It remains to be seen if his calming influence remains (doubtful), but it is something to watch. At the very least, it is the one positive thing that has happened to the team this year.
Coaching: I don't think much of Byron Scott as a coach. Whether you like him or not, though, you can't ignore his one fatal flaw - he is an enabler. He is willing to step aside and let Kobe run the show. Kobe is acting like a playground bully, and Scott is standing aside and letting it happen. It means that the team is wildly inefficient. It means that players who actually can be useful - like Ed Davis above all -- are marginalized and underutilized. It means that this team is never going to go anywhere with Scott in charge - just like the Cavs in his last stop.
Betting performance: Perhaps the biggest crime of this team this year is that they are all but useless from a betting perspective. At 6-5-1 ATS they have neither covered nor failed to cover consistently enough to make a profit. Bad teams like Detroit and Philadelphia treat bettors right - bet against them consistently and make a profit. L.A. is just messing with us. I could probably find a way to blame Kobe for that, too.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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