The Los Angeles Lakers decided to make big changes this past offseason, firing head coach Frank Vogel, who had just won a championship with the organization two years prior.
They replaced Vogel with Darvin Ham, a long-time assistant of the Milwaukee Bucks who had never been a head coach in the NBA.
Ham is now 23 games into his Lakers tenure, and although that is still way too soon to judge him and the team, some of his positive and negative qualities as a coach are starting to emerge.
The Lakers currently sit at 10-13, which is obviously not where they want to be with championship aspirations in mind. Considering the team started out 2-10 though, it’s clear that they are making progress and headed in the right direction.
But with that, let’s analyze the positives and negatives we’ve seen from Ham so far.
Unquestionably the best aspect of Ham’s coaching ability that he has shown so far is his ability to relate to and empower his players.
Ham is a former player himself, which means he has been in the same position as a lot of the players on the Lakers, especially the role players.
Part of the reason why the Lakers were so bad in 2021-22 is that the players did not buy into what Vogel was preaching, and their effort level on the floor reflected that.
That has not been the case this season with Ham though, even after the 2-10 start. The Lakers have played extremely hard on a nightly basis, fighting back and staying in games even if they fall behind early.
In addition to effort level, Ham has also gotten the most out of the Lakers’ talent. The two players who come to mind in this regard are Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook.
Ham said all offseason that he wanted Davis to take over as the Lakers’ No. 1 option. On a team with LeBron James, many people laughed off Ham talking up Davis as much as he did.
It has worked though as Davis is playing the best basketball of his career in recent weeks. Ham is a big reason for that, convincing Davis to play the center position full-time which has opened up the paint to allow him to go to work down low.
And then there’s Westbrook.
One of the first things Ham said at his introductory press conference was that Westbrook is a future Hall of Famer and one of the greatest point guards of all time and that he would find a way to make him work.
Again, Ham was laughed at for his comments as after Westbrook’s first disastrous season in L.A., the expectation was that he would be traded or playing elsewhere by the start of the 2022-23 season.
The Lakers were unable to find a Westbrook deal though as he is still on the team. And Ham has been able to do what Vogel couldn’t with the former MVP: get him to buy into a bench role.
Westbrook was hesitant at first but in recent weeks has been thriving as the Lakers’ sixth man. Ham has found a way to get through to him, allowing him to run the second unit with the ball in his hands, playing with pace and creating open looks for others while he’s on the floor.
Ham and Westbrook seem to have a very strong relationship, which has made the latter more open to criticism and change. And that has worked to the Lakers’ benefit so far this season.
Although there have been a lot of positive aspects of Ham’s tenure, it hasn’t all been great. The Lakers are still below .500 at 10-13, after all.
My biggest criticism so far of Ham has been his rotations. His current starting lineup includes both Patrick Beverley and Dennis Schroder, two smaller guards who cannot shoot.
There are numerous lineups every night where Ham plays three and even four-guard lineups. The Lakers have often struggled on the glass as a result.
Now, not all of this is Ham’s fault. He was given an imperfect roster that is very guard-heavy and light on the wing.
Still though, continuing to start Beverley, who is shooting 27.1% from the field and 22% from 3 is indefensible at this point. Guys like Austin Reaves, Troy Brown Jr. and Wenyen Gabriel have all earned more playing time and also provide the Lakers with at least a little bit of size on the wing.
It’s still early in the year so Ham’s rotations are a work in progress, but that is the one thing I’d like to see him clean up to give the Lakers a better chance to win night in and night out.