The Los Angeles Lakers Face a Glaring Problem That Has Nothing to Do With Russell Westbrook or Escalating Injuries

Every Los Angeles Lakers game seems to be followed by a series of pointing fingers. Some are pointing at Russell Westbrook, the maligned point guard whose impressive numbers are often canceled out by questionable turnovers. Others look to LA’s injury list, which has already included LeBron James and other important role players. But there is another problem the Lakers face that has reared its head in every game. And until it’s corrected, the Purple and Gold will continue to struggle.

The Los Angeles Lakers have a rebounding problem

Yes, Westbrook’s turnovers have been an issue. So have injuries, with overall defense becoming a concern as well. But the simple act of rebounding has seemed to elude the Lakers.

Through five games, LA is averaging 44.6 rebounds per game. That number ranks 22nd, with its 9.0 offensive rebounds sitting 24th. So it’s not as if Frank Vogel’s squad is historically awful when it comes to catching the ball around the basket. The main issue, however, comes on a game-by-game basis.

The Lakers have been outrebounded in each of their first five games. With a noticeably smaller lineup, the Golden State Warriors outrebounded a bigger LA team 50-45 on opening night, which included a 26-19 difference in the second half. Three nights later, the Phoenix Suns outrebounded LA by one but held the home team to just 19 boards in the first half.

During Sunday’s win over the Memphis Grizzlies, the Lakers were beaten badly on the boards 49-36. In an overtime victory against the San Antonio Spurs, Gregg Popovich’s club lost the game but won 59-56 on the glass. And then on Wednesday, in a 26-point collapse against the hapless Oklahoma City Thunder, LA had 40 rebounds to OKC’s 42.

Why are the Lakers struggling around the glass?

Beyond simply counting the number of rebounds per game, advanced stats give more insight into LA’s issues.

Defensive rebounding percentage gives an estimate into how many available defensive rebounds a player (or team) grabs when they’re on the court. In five games, the Lakers have a DRB% of 74.8, better than only three other teams. Their ORB% isn’t much better, ranking 25th at 19.4%. That means LA is approximately securing only three out of four rebounds on defense and just under one in five rebounds on offense.

One issue could lie in boxing out, or lack thereof. According to NBA.com, the Lakers own the league’s lowest defensive box-out win rate at 62.2%. For reference, the Boston Celtics lead the league at 95.3%. Between both sides of the court, LA averages 7.4 box-outs per game, exactly half of the Indiana Pacers‘ league-leading total.

Anthony Davis and DeAndre Jordan, LA’s two starting big men, need to improve when it comes to boxing out. With both players outside of their athletic primes, fundamentals will need to be emphasized more than ever. That should also go for everyone else on the roster who finds themselves watching shots instead of crashing the boards.

The Los Angeles Lakers Won a Championship With Rebounding

In 2019-20, the Lakers secured title number 17 with LeBron, AD, and a complete team capable of everything. That included rebounding, which they did better than nearly every other team on the path to a title.

Both of LA’s offensive and defensive rebounding percentages sat in the top-seven, with their ORB% ranking fourth. The Lakers also cracked the top-10 with 15.9 box-outs per game, a huge leap above the 7.4 they average in 2021-22.

While boxing out and crashing the boards will help, the return of LeBron and Trevor Ariza will also be beneficial. When the 6-foot-9 James comes back, he’ll be able to crash the glass in an effort to secure rebounds and jump-start the offense. Ariza, who underwent ankle surgery during the preseason, is another long player on the wing who gives the Lakers a boost in size. When those two come back to join Davis and Westbrook in the lineup, LA will have one less excuse to be among the worst rebounding teams in basketball.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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