A major storyline entering the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2014-2015 season was the fate of the starting backcourt. Kobe Bryant was returning to the court after playing in just six games last season due to injury, while Jeremy Lin was looking to bounce back after two seasons with the Houston Rockets that ended with him being benched in favor of defensive-minded Patrick Beverley.
While the Lakers have struggled to a 5-13 record, head coach Byron Scott has received plenty of production from his starting guards. Bryant has dispelled any notion that his injury and competing at age 36 were signals that his days as an elite player were over. He leads the NBA in scoring (25.2 points per game), and has averaged 5.1 assists, an uptick from his 4.8 career average. However, Bryant is shooting just 39.1 percent from the field, which is the lowest among the top 20 scorers, though his field goal percentage isn’t far off from No. 2 scorer James Harden (40.5).
While Bryant has seen his shooting percentage dip, Lin has seen his own field-goal percentage rise. Lin shot 44.1 percent and 44.6 percent in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014, respectively, but is currently shooting 47.2 percent. His three-point shooting and free-throw shooting have improved in L.A., as well.
After two seasons next to Harden in Houston, Lin has experience dealing with a high-scoring guard. Playing alongside Bryant has not impacted his scoring average much. In fact, Lin has seen his scoring average (12.4 points per game) remain almost identical to last season (12.5). Meanwhile, Lin has also raised his assist numbers (5.1) a full point from last season (4.1).
Lin also hasn’t seen a scoring drop off after experiencing some back pain in late November. The 26-year-old has scored in double digits in his last six games, averaging 14.8 points per game in the span.
The statistics of two players mean little to the Lakers’ current state. The Lakers share the second-worst record in the West with the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder, who recently welcomed back superstar duo Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Meanwhile, the Lakers are just one win better than the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Hope may not be completely lost. The Lakers have won consecutive games, and have seen an improvement with swingman Nick Young back in the lineup. Since Young’s return on Nov. 18, the Lakers have a 4-4 record after a 1-9 record without him.
But there is still plenty that needs to get done. Only a dramatic boost from other areas, particularly rebounding and defense, could reverse the team’s fortunes. They are 11th in rebound differential (-1.4) in the West, and 14th in opponent field-goal percentage (47.8).
In a road win over the Detroit Pistons, power forward Jordan Hill scored 22 points on 10-of-15 shooting, and grabbed 13 rebounds. The Lakers will probably need more games like that from their big men if they have any interest in making a serious push for a postseason berth in the deep West. They will also need to start defeating teams in their conference instead of beating up on the East. The Lakers have a 4-0 record against the East, and a 1-12 record against the West.
An important stretch is coming up for L.A. for their very tough road back to respectability. After two road games against the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics, the Lakers have home games against the New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, and then road games against the San Antonio Spurs and the Timberwolves.