10 games into the season, the 6-4 Los Angeles Lakers' on-court product remains, to quote late-80's icon Nenah Cherry, "raw like sushi." They’re learning new offensive and defensive systems under head coach Mike Brown, a task made even more difficult due to the lack of practice time available during a lockout-shortened season. Andrew Bynum was suspended the opening four games. Better-than-perhaps-expected newbie Josh McRoberts has missed four games (and likely counting) with a sprained big left toe. The lack of guards capable of breaking down defenses has thrust second round rookie Andrew Goudelock -- who wasn't even a lock to make the team -- into a rotation Brown continues to (over?)tinker with like a mad scientist on a bender.
Plus, Kobe Bryant's wrist is currently being held together by skin, tape and the caressing fingers of physical therapist Judy Seto.
With all that in mind, when asked to grade the team, the consensus was fairly forgiving.
“Right now, I think a ‘B’ is a good grade,” said Pau Gasol. “At this point, a fair grade. I think it's a good grade because I think that's where we are right now at this point in the season and the situation that we have. I think it's a work in progress to get to a higher grade, which is by working and getting deeper into the season."
If El Spaniard is among the "students" being graded in this scenario, then his coach would be the teacher doling out marks. But "Professor" Brown, meticulous and studied as he may be, wasn't so specific in addressing the same question.
"I don't know. I haven't really thought of it [that way]. Definitely a passing grade. But I'm not sure what that is just quite yet."
Derek Fisher, asked to break the tie, echoed Brown's assessment.
"We're 6-4, you can try and analyze the reasons why, but it's a results based business. Out of 10 games, only winning six, that means we have quite some way to go. So that's passing, like Coach said, [but] it's 60 percent."
In other words, it's like those "pass/no pass" classes we all took in college.
"We're doing not necessarily the best that we can do, but we're working our way through a lot of changes," said a matter-of-fact Fisher. "Different circumstances. Different personnel on and off the court in terms of coaches as well as players. We're just figuring it out, but I think we're committed to one another and we're committed to the process. And even with some of these early struggles that we face so far and probably will continue to face for weeks to come, it's not shaking our confidence in what our end goal is, and that's to still be a championship caliber team."
If the Lakers would like to feel worthy of a "B+," a straight "A," or even just a prouder version of "pass," it would help tremendously to cut down on the turnovers ASAP. Sunday's win over the Grizzlies featured a honkin' 27 , and the Lakers are averaging 16.7 on the season, which doesn't just represent the NBA's third-worst figure. Those turnovers often equal defending in transition, which does no favors for a squad among the slowest in the league. In Brown's mind, this is the biggest reason these Lakers have a penchant for winning ugly, despite generally progressing in a direction he likes.
"Overall, for the situation, we're probably a little further ahead than I expected," said Brown. "What's setting us back right now is an area that I didn't think we'd have a ton of problem in, which is the turnovers... If you take the turnovers and our defense in transition out, and part of our poor defense in transition is because of the turnovers that we're having. If you take those two areas out, we're probably a little ahead of, right now, where I expected."
So how does one go about making coughing up the ball less of a habit? According to Gasol, it requires treating the rock like Gollum does a certain ring.
“Just being aware we commit too many and the ball is a precious thing. So we’d rather attempt a shot and miss a shot than have a turnover and give the opportunity to the opponent to run out on us and score easy baskets."
The turnovers are also a product of the aforementioned learning curve, one Brown says particular affects even veteran guards like Kobe, Fisher, and Steve Blake. Exacerbating this matter even further are the new adjustments Andrew Bynum is making on top of the X's and O's.
"Our guys, especially our guards, they have to go from what they used to look at as reads and what's open or what may have been open, to now something completely new to them," said Brown. "And so it takes a little bit of time, I think, to get that down. And in terms of [Bynum], the last couple of games, he's been getting double teamed. He just has to get used to being double teamed, and kicking out of the double team to help his teammates be better and help himself get better, and not turn the ball over being at a rush or forcing a bad pass."
Pau also pointed out the importance of never skipping steps.
"Sometimes we’re just trying to make that perfect pass or that layup pass. That scoring pass. And we just have to be a little more patient, " the forward explained. "Just trying to get that assist pass instead of that set up pass. So again, it’s just a matter of taking things a little slower and being patient.”
"I think we're trying to make the right play or the home run play every time, instead of just making the easy play," agreed Matt Barnes. "Like I said, [improvement] comes with more time on the court with each other."
The overall process hasn't been pretty and the despite being 6-2 over dropping the opening pair of contests, the young season has often resembled a roller coaster. Still, there's plenty of optimism about what's behind them and even more about what lies ahead.
“It definitely can get better on both sides of the floor," insisted Gasol. "I think defensively, we’re better than offensively right now, but we’re starting to figure some things out. We just have to be a little more accurate, a little more sharper. And again, just make sure we don’t give as many opportunities to the opponent of getting easy scores on us. I think that’s the main problem.
"But other than that, I think we’re working. We’re rebounding well. We’re holding our opponents at a low percentage shooting. We’re 6-4. We can be okay with that continue to work so we can be better."