If I told you before the start of this season that the Los Angeles Lakers would be 17-21 after 38 games and trailing the Los Angeles Clippers by a 12.5 games in the Pacific division, you'd have laughed and called me ignorant.
How could the new home of three-time defensive player of the year Dwight Howard and 10,000-assist man Steve Nash, when combined with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol fail so miserably? The starting lineup—on a healthy day—features at least three future NBA Hall of Famers.
How exactly could a team of Kobe, Dwight, Nash and Gasol not run the league? Until recent injuries to both Gasol and Howard forced some barely notable Laker names onto the floor, the answer hasn't been as clear. Now it is.
The Lakers bench is not nearly good enough to compete with the younger, deeper teams that run the Western Conference. Despite injury woes to the stars and an average age of 28.9—good enough for fourth oldest in the league behind Miami, the Clippers and the Knicks—the Lakers have not been able to sustain any kind of winning streak. They simply are not deep enough.
It is a bit difficult to make great use of the team statistics out there, as two different Lakers coaches have been forced to employ many different starting lineups through the season's first 38 games. However, what the statistics do show is that neither coach has been able to count on a consistently productive performance from reserves, regardless of what starting lineup is on the floor.
Lets have a look.
The Lakers, especially under current head coach Mike D'Antoni, are looking to score in bunches. D'Antoni's system involves consistent offensive pressure and the release of open shooters who can convert at a high percentage.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, the age of the starting lineup—Nash (38), Kobe (34), Metta World Peace (33), Pau (32) and Dwight (27, but an older 27 with eight years of NBA wear and tear on a big man's knees)—limits their explosiveness enough to negate the importance of having a quality bench.
Jodie Meeks, Antawn Jamison, Darius Morris, Chris Duhon and Earl Clark are not a strong enough second team in terms of scoring to keep the Lakers first-team offense fresh.
The Lakers rank No. 26 in the league in bench scoring, currently averaging 26.5 points per game.
Dwight Howard is the best rebounder on the team and averaging 12.6 per game, followed by Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, an injured Jordan Hill and Kobe Bryant. To top it off, Steve Nash is the best rebounding point guard on the team with a current average of 2.9 per game.
Of course, Nash's numbers could be due to the fact that he plays more minutes than the other guards. However, the fact that nobody off the bench is chipping in a legitimate rebounding effort is a major concern for a team that doesn't defend well. Losing Jordan Hill was an especially big blow in this category.
Coach D'Antoni does not have a legitimate big man to employ off the bench, so if both Pau and Dwight are off the floor, his second unit struggles mightily.
Currently the Lakers rank No. 22 in the NBA in bench rebounding with an average of only 13.5 boards per game.
The Lakers bench is bad on both offense and defense, contributing to a low bench efficiency rating of 30.4, good for a rank of 25 in the NBA.
The Lakers are undoubtedly an offensive team. But without a semblance of consistent defensive effort for a full 48 minutes, the team will fall flat as it has.
In the past two games against Cleveland and Milwaukee—during both of which the Lakers emerged victorious—Kobe has taken it upon himself to slow the opposition's best offensive threat. While this may work during the regular season, it is not a strategy that L.A. can rely on for a full season and potential postseason run.
Why? It's not efficient. It is not the best use of your best player. At this stage in Bryant's career, it cannot be the most effective expenditure of his effort. The Lakers haven't played badly because they're old, which they most definitely are.
They have played badly because their best players are also their oldest players who cannot afford to let the bench stay on the floor for extended periods of time.
Los Angeles lacks the support necessary to maintain and bolster a starting line chalk full of superstar talent, and that is why they have struggled so far.