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Breaking Down Frank Vogel's First Month In 2021/22: Should He Be On The Hot Seat?

Breaking Down Frank Vogel's First Month In 2021/22: Should He Be On The Hot Seat?

Heading into the 2021-2022 season, the Lakers were the popular pick among many experts to come out of the West. Fast forward to the quarter mark of the season, and things haven’t gone to plan in La La Land.

The Lakers are 10-11 versus the 8th easiest schedule in the league. To make matters worse, the Purple and Gold have only two quality wins against teams with a plus-.500 record, a 126-113 victory against the 13-8 Charlotte Hornets, and a 120-117 win versus the 12-7 Miami Heat (without All-Star Jimmy Butler).

Fans in Hollywood have been giving head coach Frank Vogel pressure for the Lakers’ struggles, but how much is he to blame?

We’ll go over the Lakers’ three major weaknesses this season—the starting lineup, dumb mistakes, and the defense—and evaluate whether Frank Vogel is responsible.


The Starting Lineup

The Los Angeles Lakers played the season’s first triple-overtime game versus the Sacramento Kings, and while Buddy Hield’s heroics soaked up the headlines, the Lakers’ starting unit cost them the game.

During the first quarter, the Lakers starting group of Russell Westbrook, Avery Bradley, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and DeAndre Jordan only managed to put up six points before Frank Vogel had enough and called a full timeout at the 6:57 mark, subbing out Russell Westbrook and Avery Bradley.

The starters ran a clinic on what type of shots not to put up in this modern version of the NBA. Have a look at their misses:

11:41: LeBron James misses a 16-footer

11:09: Avery Bradley misses a 3-pointer

10:15: LeBron James misses a 3-pointer

9:13: Anthony Davis misses a 16-footer

7:47: Russell Westbrook misses a 3-pointer

7:30: Russell Westbrook misses an 18-footer

7:04: Anthony Davis misses a 16-footer

They took one attempt at the rim during the Lakers opening stretch, an ill-advised hook shot from DeAndre Jordan that happened to go in. The rest of their attempts were from the outside. Most were from the dreaded dead zone, 16-feet out to the 3-point line.

During the start of the third quarter, it was more of the same. The Lakers scored four points with their starters on the floor before Frank Vogel inserted Carmelo Anthony for DeAndre Jordan.

The Sacramento Kings game was a microcosm for the Lakers season. The Purple and Gold have struggled with the combination of Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan, and whoever else has started (LeBron James, Avery Bradley, Kent Bazemore, and Talen Horton-Tucker).

The Lakers have no space at the beginning of the first and third quarters with three non-shooters in Westbrook (31.2 3P%), Anthony Davis (16.7 3P%), and DeAndre Jordan (0.0 3P%) on the floor together.

The recipe is out on how to defend the Lakers’ starters:

- Pack the paint because AD, LBJ, Westbrook, and Jordan all want to score inside.

- Rush out to the three-point line when LBJ, Westbrook, and AD pass out of the crowded lane.

- Wait patiently for someone to take a contested three-pointer or a mid-range jumper.

Verdict: This is Frank Vogel’s fault.

According to Cleaning the Glass, DeAndre Jordan has one of the league’s worst on/off offensive splits. The Lakers are -14.4 points per possession, with the former Clippers big man (4th percentile). Combine Jordan’s offensive limitations with Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis’s poor outside shooting percentages and Vogel’s asking for problems.

The Lakers cannot continue to spot opposing teams with the lead at the beginning of the first and second halves. What squad can win like that? Frank Vogel has to find a starting combination that works. Even if that means benching DeAndre Jordan or asking Russell Westbrook to play a sixth man role.


The Dumb Mistakes

Let’s go back to the Lakers’ Friday afternoon overtime contest with the Kings. According to my unofficial count (although I took notes during the game), the Lakers lost 20 points from unforced errors during the first four quarters of the game.

- DeAndre Jordan bumbled the ball out of bounds three times for gimmes at the rim with nobody around him.

- LeBron James missed one uncontested layup at the rack.

- LeBron James made three entirely unforced turnovers by mishandling the ball on the dribble or throwing the ball to nobody.

- Malik Monk threw the rock out of bounds twice under no pressure.

- Russell Westbrook made one unforced error on a bad pass.

DeAndre Jordan and LeBron James combined to give away eight points off botched layups, and the Lakers gave up 18 points off of turnovers to a Kings team that is ranked 25th in the association in steals per game. Combine the Lakers’ mistakes with their eight missed free throws, and it’s easy to see why they lost the game.

The Kings contest was not an outlier.

The Lakers are second to last in the league in turnovers in front of only the lowly Houston Rockets, a squad tanking harder than the Philadelphia 76ers during “the process.”

LeBron James and Russell Westbrook have understandable high turnover percentages; both players live with the ball in their hands. But, DeAndre Jordan has a 17.4 turnover percentage (20th percentile), and Dwight Howard has a 24.5 TOV% (0 percentile) while rarely dribbling the rock. Jordan and Howard have lost the ball on easy attempts at the rim more than any big man pair in the league.

Verdict: This is partially Frank Vogel’s fault.

The Lakers are one of the oldest teams ever to play in the association, yet they’ve collectively dumped games by making bonehead play after bonehead play like a team full of rookies. Can we fault Frank Vogel when LeBron James dribbles the ball off his foot, or when Russell Westbrook randomly throws the ball out of bounds? No, of course not.

But, we can blame Frank Vogel for continuing to doggedly use DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard, despite their defensive limitations and the way they seem to always make unforced errors.


The Defense

The Lakers defensive stats are ugly:

- 20th in defensive rating (109.0)

- 29th in opponent points per game (114.5)

- 19th in opponent effective field goal percentage (52.3%)

- 17th in opponent three-point percentage (34.5%)

- 27th in opponent offensive rebounds per game (11.5)

The Lakers have struggled to get stops thus far, but they’ve been undermanned the entire season.

During the Lakers’ previous two seasons, LeBron James was one of the best overall defenders in the association. In 2020, the Lakers were 8.7 points better on defense with LBJ (96th percentile), and in 2021 they were 6.0 points better with him (92nd percentile). This season, not so much. LeBron James has struggled, allowing his assignment to shoot -0.4% worse than their average (a poor mark for “The King”), and the Purple and Gold are 4.3 points worse on the less fun end with him on the floor.

LeBron James has missed more than half of the Lakers’ action early on due to injury. He will need time to get back into game shape and find continuity with a primarily new roster. As the season goes on, LeBron James should pick things up on defense.

Talen Horton-Tucker was one of the best perimeter defenders in the league last season. THT finished 22nd in the league in defensive rating (minimum 15 MPG), behind his quick feet, strong frame, and ridiculously long wingspan. He’s taken part in only eight games this season and has looked out of sorts at times on the perimeter. He also needs a few more weeks to get back in the flow of things.

Trevor Ariza and Kendrick Nunn have yet to suit up for the Lakers. Last season both players started in the playoffs for a Miami Heat squad that finished seventh in the association in defensive rating and was coached by the excellent Erik Spoelstra. Ariza and Nunn know how to get it done on D, and once they return, will help turn up the perimeter pressure for the Lakers and take some stress off AD at the rim.

Verdict: This is not Frank Vogel’s fault.

Frank Vogel is a defensive guru. The Lakers ranked number one in defense last year under his tutelage, and going back farther, Vogel’s Indiana Pacers squads were some of the best ball-stopping units we’ve seen over the previous 20 years.

Frank Vogel didn’t suddenly forget how to coach defense. This is a roster problem. Vogel has had to depend on famously bad defenders Carmelo Anthony, Wayne Ellington, and Malik Monk for long stretches of games. Once the Lakers are fully manned, and in game shape, the closing group of Russell Westbrook, Talen Horton-Tucker, Trevor Ariza, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis should be one of the best defensive units in the NBA.


A Final Prediction

It looks ugly in Hollywood. Still, the Lakers are 6-4 with LeBron James on the court.

As the season progresses, LBJ and THT will round into form, and that will help. Trevor Ariza and Kendrick Nunn are due back soon from injury; they’ll help too.

The Lakers will also gel and cut out many of the silly mistakes that have plagued them through the first quarter of the season.

There are some fundamental problems on the Purple and Gold that won’t be fixed as easily. The starting unit is a jumble of ill-fitting parts, and the Lakers’ two centers, DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard, have struggled on both sides of the ball.

Frank Vogel has shown a willingness during his time in LA to take risks with his rotations. During the 2020 playoffs, he benched Dwight Howard for the Houston Rockets series and he also started sixth man Alex Caruso in the Finals against the Heat.

Frank Vogel will give this starting unit with Westbrook, Davis, and Jordan more time to get it together, but in the end, if they don’t make it work, he won’t shy away from benching DeAndre Jordan, asking Anthony Davis to start at the 5, or even taking a more major step in asking Russell Westbrook to come off the bench.

In the end, the Lakers will slowly round into form, creep into the top-10 in defense, and Frank Vogel will keep his job.

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