What is Wrong with the Lakers’ Offense?

Darius Soriano —  February 4, 2010

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There is no denying the fact that, so far this season, the Lakers offense has underperformed.  The Lakers only recently cracked the top 10 in offensive efficiency and that only came after strong offensive performances against weak defensive teams like the Knicks, Wizards, and Pacers.  This is in direct contrast to the last two seasons where the Lakers ranked 3rd in the NBA in offensive efficiency and were dominant on that end of the floor.  So, what’s happened?

There are several factors that are contributing to the Lakers’ slippage on the offensive side of the ball – lack of balance in the shot distribution, below average outside shooting, the integration of Artest, and an overall lack of execution. Recently, many have been pointing the finger at Kobe for our poor play on offense. I mean, he’s the leader. He’s taking the highest percentage of shots on this team.  He’s not our most efficient scorer and he’s playing with a busted hand. He should be passing to Bynum more.  He should be making sure we initiate our offense through Gasol.  So, It’s got to be him, right? Kobe is the problem.  Not so fast, says Kurt:

Some are portraying this as a “Kobe vs. Pau” thing, but the stickiness in he offense is bigger than that. Derek Fisher and the other guards are over dribbling and too quick to settle for the jumper. Bynum can be a black hole. Ron Artest feels like he needs to take his shot when he gets the ball because it doesn’t happen that often.

When the ball sticks, Kobe becomes the most likely guy to shoot because of his ability to create his own shot. Even with all the attention he gets, he gets what are a lot of good looks for him — if he gets the ball at the elbow he is almost unstoppable, even with a hand in his face. When the offense becomes stagnant, you see more Kobe. Is he shooting too much? Yes, but because the team is not running the offense so he has to create more shots, but it’s more about team execution than just Kobe.

I see the same thing that Kurt describes.  This goes back to last season too.  Too many times, the cuts are not crisp.  Too many times, screens are not set with any real intent.  When player movement stalls, passing opportunities decrease.  And when passes aren’t there the ball sticks and the guy with the ball ends up shooting.  Of course we could initiate the ball to the post more, but I’m also seeing situations where our post players are being pushed off the block and that in turn ruins our spacing and cuts down passing angles.  So, it’s not as simple as “player X needs to pass more”.  This is a team game and the Lakers run the ultimate team offense.  The Triangle is like a well oiled machine or a grandfather clock – when one part of the machine is out of synch, the results are going to be poor.

This leads to another issue that is happening every single night – the timing of the offense is just…off.  When the Triangle is run correctly, it looks like a choreographed dance.  Players should be spaced properly and moving in synch based off what the defense is doing.  Right now, that is not happening.  Too often, the player with the ball is looking for his pressure release or swing man and that player is not there (or not open) to receive the pass.  I mean, when the ball is coming up the court and the guard handling the ball is setting up on the strong side and creating the Triangle there are several options laid out to him 1). pass into post to the player in the hub of the Triangle 2). pass to the wing in the corner 3). reverse the ball to the top side guard.  If none of those options are available, the backside forward needs to recognize this and flash to the high post for a pressure release.  Too many times, that backside forward is either not flashing with the correct timing or is not getting open when he does flash.  This will lead to breakdowns, especially against teams that like to deny post entries or push our big guys off the block (hello Cleveland).

But, it’s not just the timing or the cuts or the screens.  Something else isn’t right with this offense.  Reed explains what else is ailing the Lakers:

One thing I think we really miss is three point shooting. We are 19th in 3FG at 34.6%. Last year we were also 19th, but at 36.1%. The year before we were 6th at 37.8%. This is a big deal for a few reasons. 

First, making threes is obviously the quickest way to score points. As we all know, it is as effective to shoot 33% from three as it is to shoot 50% from two. It seems like more than ever, the great offensive teams play inside to set up the three. The top 5 in offensive efficiency this year are Phoenix, Toronto, Denver, Atlanta, andCleveland. Phoenix is first in 3FG%, Cleveland second, Denver third, Toronto fourth, and Atlanta tenth. Phoenix and Cleveland both shoot over 40% from three, which, to belabor the obvious, is the same as shooting 60% from two. Many of these teams use penetration and post ups to set up open 3s. And we can understand why — simple math says it’s better to shoot 40% from three than work for higher % twos. We currently score 19.8 points per game from threes. If we shot 40%, we’d score 23.0 points per game (based on the same number of attempts) — an increase in 3.1 points per game. That alone would vault us to second in offensive efficiency.

Reed further explains why he thinks our shooting numbers are down:

I think the answer has to be that we don’t have good shooters. Or at least that our shooters aren’t shooting poorly. Given our inside presence on offense, our perimeter guys get plenty of good looks from three. We get plenty of corner three attempts. The problem is that our perimeter guys aren’t natural shooters, besides Sasha (who doesn’t play enough to count). Fisher used to be a shooter, but he’s not anymore. We don’t have anyone shooting 40% from three that shoots more than one attempt per game. We have lots of guys jacking up several threes a game that are in the low 30s or worse (Kobe, Odom, Brown, Fisher).

And this lack of reliable shooting is impacting our offense.  Since Reed is on fire at this point, I’m going to feed the hot hand:

Having elite shooting obviously opens up the offense for drives and post ups. This is just stating the obvious. We have  balance problem on offense. Too many guys do the same types of things — posting up and deliberate attacks into the paint. We don’t have lighting fast penetration or shooters that defense absolutely have to stick with. Think about what a deadly three point shooter does to a defense’s approach. When Ray Allen is out there, you have to be in his jersey every second of every play. Even when he’s not shooting well, you fear him and this creates extra spacing. Same for other elite spot up shooters. Their presence opens up the floor, lanes, etc., just because the defense has to shade a few steps their way more than they want. Even though Artest shoots well from three this year, he doesn’t create that type of fear/spacing. No one does. Other teams are happy to let him, Kobe, Brown, Fisher, etc. bomb away. Two years ago we didn’t have that problem as the Machine, Fisher, Vlad, etc. were all deadly when open. Think how defenses would react if instead of Farmar or Brown on the strong side corner when Pau has the ball in the post, someone like Daniel Gibson or Mo Williams were there. Pau would have a few extra feet and be all the more deadly.

All that said, I do believe our shooting can improve.  It can improve because the execution can get better.  What I mean is everything in this offense is related.  Better ball and player movement on offesne will create better shots for our bigs.  Better shots for our bigs will result in perimeter defenders helping off of our guards.  This in turn will lead to more open shots for our perimeter players, which should then result in more consistent shooting.  The perfect example of this was Shannon Brown’s stat line from last nights game against Charlotte.  Shannon was only 3-11 from the field, but when you look closer he was 2-4 from 3 point territory.  He also had 6 assists.  Many of his 3 point shots and the openings that allowed him to drive and create for others was based off the Lakers bigs playing more effectively and more crisp ball and player movement.  Several times, Brown ended up with either a wide open shot or a player closing down on him hard to try and run him off the three point line.  Essentially, Brown got open jumpshots because our offensive execution was better.  Then our bigs got better looks that were assisted by Shannon because he was getting into the lane after the ball was swung to him and he had proven that he could make the outside shot. 

I don’t want to paint this dire picture of the Lakers offense.  After all, many teams would like to be a top 10 offensive team. Plus, the evidence for better performances is there. There have been games this season where the Lakers have played supreme offensive basketball and reminded everyone of their capabilities on that end of the floor.  So, we all know it’s possible.  The team just needs to find that stride more often.  I do believe it will happen before the end of the season.  We’ve seen the seeds of this sprouting over the past couple of weeks.  Those aforementioned games against the Wiz, Knicks, and Pacers as well as our earlier romp of the Mavericks show me that this team can play a style of offense that is effective.  It will just take more focus on the little things (better cutting and screening) and resisting the desire to always do the easy thing (over dribble, continually running the P&R).  Like I said, I think the team will do it.  What do you think?

-Darius

Darius Soriano

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