(Photo via independent.co.uk)
The Los Angeles Lakers are off to an 0-3 start this season and outside of the opener they’ve been outplayed from the outset then forced to try to come back from big leads all game long.
The poor start is now fodder for those that predicted gloom and doom for the Lakers prior to the season but that camp might want to hold off with their “I told you so” chants.
While it might be hard to see now there have been some positive signs from the Lakers’ first 3 games that might point to a much better season than it appears at the moment.
3-Pointers are up, just not enough of the right ones
Byron Scott was seen as stubborn last season with his reluctance to incorporate the 3 point shot as a big part of the team’s offense but he has taken a drastic change in that stance this year.
The Lakers lead the league in 3 point shots attempted at 34.3 per game but the big issue is that they are only knocking them down at a 29.1 percent rate which ranks 24th in the NBA.
Even though those shots are not falling at the moment the fact that they are launching them up shows they have officially joined the modern day style of play and it should pay off soon because as the modern NBA analytics have proven, the 3 point shot is one of the most effective on the floor outside of those right by the basket or from the charity stripe.
A good 3 point shooting team will shoot in the high 30 percent range so the Lakers have some work to get up to that point. An increase in the overall success rate of the team can easily by accomplished by those that are currently taking a high number of 3s to begin knocking their shots down at their career 3 point percentage.
Of the Lakers that rank in the top 6 in 3 point shots attempted per game only Nick Young is shooting the 3 at an efficient rate and above his career 3 point percentage. If Williams, Russell, Bryant and Kelly, who combined take 23 threes per game raise their efficiency to just their career numbers it will increase the Lakers scoring by almost 9 points per game.
A big part of the problem is that the Lakers simply aren’t getting enough good looks when taking their 3s. The Lakers take 12.3 of their three point looks with a defender within 2 to 4 feet which equates to a frequency rate of 13.9 percent, the highest in the league (both in frequency percentage and shots per game). Under these circumstances the Lakers shoot just 24.3 percent.
Opportunity to create better looks from 3
In order for the Lakers to get better looks it will require more ball movement and/or penetration into the paint and kick out to shooters which is just not happening, mainly because the Lakers have not established an identify offensively. The Lakers are neither a team that constantly moves the ball and has players in constant motion looking for the best shot or one that has a primary ball handler that runs the offense and creates opportunities for others by getting in the paint, sucking in defenders.
The Lakers rank 25th in the league in assists at 18.7 per game and their current assists leader is a player from the 2nd unit who is averaging 14.1 minutes per game: Marcelo Huertas averaging 3.0 assists per game. To further the point that the Lakers’ lack point creation and a more telling sign is that only 52.3 percent of their made field goals are assisted which ranks 25th in the NBA.
The Lakers drafted D’Angelo Russell to be their point guard of the future and so far appear committed to develop him no matter the outcome; as a result, the Lakers offense is suffering due to Russell’s inability to penetrate the teeth of defenses and suck in defenders to open up the perimeter for shooters.
Russell is currently averaging 2.3 drives within 10 feet of the basket which is a paltry number for a point guard. For perspective, Reggie Jackson leads the league in drives at 16.3 per game. Fellow rookie Emmanuel Mudiay averages 8.3 drives per game which ranks16th in the league. Even Lakers teammate Ryan Kelly, a power forward, averages 2.7 drives within 10 feet per game.
If Russell is going to continue to “run” the offense he will have to make dramatic improvements in actually running the offense and initiating the action which he has not done. If he can’t and Lakers refuse to put the ball in the hands of a more attacking and aggressive player the Lakers will continue to get poor looks from the 3 point range.
The positive here is there is opportunity for improvement which is either Russell improves at leading the offense or the Lakers move that responsibility to another player. The good news is that the Lakers have numerous players that are good at getting by their initial defenders and getting in the paint such as Kobe Bryant, Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams, Nick Young and as we are now learning early on this season, Julius Randle. These options are not ideal as none are true point guards with great court vision (Kobe excluded) or have a penchant to pass first, but it is somewhere that the Lakers can turn to if Russell does not improve.
Lakers getting to the Charity Stripe
The best shot in basketball is the one where you don’t have a defender in your face and the Lakers are one of the best in the league at getting these opportunities. The Lakers rank 6th (tied) in the league in free throw attempts per game at 30 per game and take advantage by hitting 82.2 percent of their shots which ranks 7th in the NBA.
The Lakers have potent offensive weapons on their roster that are aggressive and hard to guard which creates free throw opportunities. Julius Randle and Roy Hibbert lead the Lakers in free throw attempts at 6 per game each. Despite his age, Kobe Bryant still can create fouls and get to the line; he’s averaging 5 free throw attempts per game. Lou Williams ranks 4th on the team with 3.7 free throw attempts per game which is down from his 4.9 per game average with the Raptors last season.
The Lakers have the type of talent to maintain their current success in getting to the line and it bodes well for their prospects going forward.
Room for Improvement on keeping players out of the paint
The Lakers brought in Roy Hibbert to man the middle and protect the rim but it hasn’t translated to success in that area.
Hibbert hasn’t done too good of a job in keeping players out of the paint as the Lakers are allowing 31.7 shots per game within 6 feet and 42.7 per game within 10 feet, ranking 27th and 26th respectively.However, much of those shots are with Hibbert out of the game and he has done his part of defending shots right at the rim where teams are shooting just 47.4 percent against him.
While Hibbert hasn’t looked like the defensive force he was in Indiana he is far from the problem. Lakers perimeter players are constantly getting beat off dribble drives or picks and getting in Hibbert’s area routinely. Once in the middle the league is capitalizing, shooting 64.2 percent within 6 feet and 59.4 within 10 feet against the Lakers; that ranks 25th and 28th respectively.
The real issue is when Hibbert is taken out and is replaced with long time power forward Brandon Bass who is the center for the 2nd unit which eliminates all rim protection and the paint becomes a free for all. Unfortunately, the answer to the 2nd unit back up center is not at the end of the bench where you’ll find Robert Sacre and Tarik Black. Black would be a huge improvement in post position defense and defending pick and rolls but also wouldn’t provide much rim protection.
While this area does not look to be one where there could be much improvement, the Lakers still have Hibbert who is a premium defender at the center position and who can play better as the season goes on. The back up center spot can be improved but not easily as it would probably have to be by acquiring a player in free agency or trade.
The Lakers have a great shot to bounce back from their 0-3 start by improving in some areas that can be realistically improved.
- Increase the number of open 3 point shots by creating more havoc inside with drives in the paint and/or increased ball movement.
- Maintain their current success at getting to the line and knocking down those free throws.
- Hibbert improves interior defensive play closer to his norm
- Obtain a better defensive back up center