You can officially add the Orlando Magic to the list of recognized Lakers’ kryptonite this season.
With their 108-104 victory on Sunday, the Magic join the San Antonio Spurs as the only teams who have now beaten Los Angeles twice, which makes up half of the team’s eight losses thus far.
The Lakers continued to have no answer for Orlando’s talented front court, specifically their offensively skilled big man, Nikola Vucevic.
In their two matchups, Vucevic has had his way with the team as he is averaging 33.5 points and 14 rebounds against the purple and gold.
ADVANCED BOX SCORE RECAP:
Game MVP: Nikola Vucevic: 31 Points | 15 Rebounds | 7 Assists | 34.3 Control% | 65.9% TS% | +14.1 AuPM | +10.9 Points Added | 12.7 Box Creation
Lonzo Ball’s Strong Finishes
Lakers’ fans have to be pleased with Lonzo Ball’s recent play on the offensive end. After consecutive lackadaisical games on the team’s recent road trip, Ball has strung together two of his most aggressive performances of the season.
After challenged by his team to be more willing to look for his own shot, and take it to the rim, Ball responded against Cleveland and in the team’s contest with the Magic.
Serving as the screener for LeBron James on offense, Ball has been the beneficiary of his passes. Once defenses blitz James on the initial screen action, Ball has done a good job slipping for opportunistic chances at the rim. Which is an area he has quietly improved in early into his sophomore year.
Ball was in the mere 6th percentile among point guards in scoring efficiency within four feet as a rookie according to Cleaning the Glass. This season, Ball has jumped into the 55th percentile in thanks to a seven percent increase in FG% in the paint.
Turnovers Are Not Fun
Although the Lakers have had a nice stretch of wins of late, the team continues to be sloppy with the ball. Exemplified in their 23rd ranked 15.3 percent turnover rate, this is beginning to become a harmful trend.
In the month of November thus far, the Lakers have had a 16.6 percent turnover rate which is only behind Dallas and Atlanta for worst in the league. Although expected for a young team with significant roster turnover, there has been little to no improvement.
This high frequency has also dually disarmed the team’s running game. The Lakers’ transition frequency has dipped this month, and turning the ball over has only magnified their weakness in defending their opposition on the break.
Not So Charitable At The Stripe
As if the turnovers were not an issue enough, the Lakers have also continued to struggle mightily at the line. Currently 25th worst in the league in free-throw percentage (71.7%) as of this article, the team simply has failed to snatch easy points.
To contextualize their shooting woes, among players who currently average at least one free-throw attempt a game, the Lakers have only one (KCP) that shoots better than 73.5 percent at the line.
Of which, has played a role in the team’s dire 106.5 offensive rating this month.
All things considered, the Lakers have been fortunate to win these recent games considering their failures in two essential areas of the game.
Is It Time To Start Worrying About Kyle Kuzma’s Offense?
Kyle Kuzma is undoubtedly one the most popular Lakers. Which makes sense considering he plays with a charismatic swagger, has a fun personality and puts up points. However, Kuzma continues to have a tepid sophomore season after a promising rookie campaign.
Benefiting the most from off-ball cuts with James on the floor, Kuzma’s finishing at the rim has encouragingly improved. He has jumped from 32nd percentile among “Bigs” to the 51st percentile this season finishing within four feet of the basket.
Yet beside this improvement, there has been noticeable drop off everywhere else across the board:
Is It Time To Start Worrying About Kyle Kuzma’s Impact?
Kuzma’s defense also continues to be a glaring issue. On the season, the Lakers post a 103.1 defensive rating with the 23-year-old off the floor. When he is on, the team has a defensive rating of 110.9.
To his credit, he has given more effort of late which is a good start considering he is currently one-dimensional. When the forward is not consistently scoring the ball, he really is not offering much to the table at the moment as his rebounding, shooting foul rate and assist percentage have all seen significant dips to start the season.
The season is still plenty young, as is Kuzma, so all hope should not be lost yet. But if nothing else, the second-year-forward needs to start converting in at the very least to his rookie outputs.
Lonzo Ball will play more fourth quarter minutes going forward. A lot has been made of Luke Walton’s rotations as Lakers’ head coach, specifically this season, which has been somewhat warranted.
Among the roster, Ball noticeably has seen his minutes fluctuate the most.
Currently averaging only 6.1 minutes in fourth quarters this season, tied for seventh on the team (Lance Stephenson) Ball’s minutes should see an uptick with a slate of difficult guard covers on the horizon.
With upcoming opposition such as Jamal Murray, Victor Oladipo and Devin Booker, the team will need Ball’s defense on the perimeter, especially in closing time.
*Statistics and images courtesy of: NBA.com and Cleaning the Glass.
(Featured photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)