On a day where Lakers’ fans sit and reflect on losing games, I think it’s also a good thing to examine what is actually possible with this team. I’ve said this before, but my outlook on what this team can achieve really hasn’t changed this season. The Lakers are championship contenders, and in my eyes still headline a group that includes Cleveland, Orlando, Denver, Dallas and Boston. To me, these six teams have some combination of the talent, experience, and coaching to win 4 playoff series and hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in June. But, in order to get there, all of these teams would have to have some things break right.
For the Lakers, I think that means some outside shooting to show up. In the comments, Zephid gave us all a little reminder that this theme isn’t too different from last season:
Hmm, let’s look at some numbers.
Player A: 20%, 28%, 35%, 34%, 35%, 32%, 48%.
Player B: 50%, 30%, 33%, 20%, 33%, 35%, 51%.
These are the monthly splits for the 3 point shooting percentage of each player, with the last number in each row being that player’s percentage in the playoffs. Player A is Trevor Ariza; Player B is Lamar Odom.
Moral is we were plagued by poor shooting all throughout the regular season last year, too, but these guys turned it on when it counted. Outside shooting is our Achilles’ Heel, but it is not a certainty that it will down us in the playoffs. I’m not saying I know for certain that these guys will turn it on come April, May, and hopefully June, but I am saying that it is a distinct possibility, one that shouldn’t be lost in all the “woe-is-me.”
I would add to those stats that the one player that didn’t have a down year (last season) shooting from 3 point range was Fisher. Sure, we all remember the horrid slump that Fish went through at the end of last season where he shot 25% on threes in April and 20% in May. But if you look at his game log from last year and look at his month by month percentages, you see 50%, 43%, 44%, 43%, 38%, 42% before that late season fall off and then you see a 44% in June. This year, that has not been the case for Fish as he has struggled like everyone else. And with Fish joining the others with inconsistency behind the arc, our overall offense has been much less efficient. But, putting that to the side, I agree with Zephid in that it is still quite possible that the Lakers shooters find their way in the post season and make some shots. Is that likely at this point? That’s a question that each fan or analyst can answer for themselves. But I don’t think it’s too optimistic to think that with better execution and tighter, team specific game plans, that we’ll see improvement in the playoffs as the minor details get beaten to death in practice and the film room where the exploitable tendencies of the opponent are focussed on mercilessly.
One other quick point on this Lakers team. The ball can move better and I expect it to as the regular season comes to a close and the playoffs begin. A lot of that will rest on Kobe’s shoulders, but what else is new? Kelly Dwyer has an excellent take on what he’s seeing with this current Lakers team, and I suggest you go read it (seriously, go read it). Besides the even handed analysis that Dwyer provides, I would only add this: the Lakers are in search of balance on offense. The players know it and I think the coaches know it too. When it comes right down to it, there are factors that I think will aid in achieving this balance but the players that are available to play must execute the offensive sets better – that is how balance will come.
I know it’s easy to point fingers as fans. It’s even easier when the players (seemingly) start to do it themselves. But just know that Pau is not wrong when he’s saying that Kobe could shoot less (just like Dwyer’s not wrong when he says the same thing). But in order for Kobe to shoot less and for the team to not rely on his shot making so frequently, the ball needs to move more. Not only into the post, but out of the post as well. And not only from the strong side post to the strong side wing, but from the strong side post and wing to the weakside wing via skip passes and ball reversals. The ball must change sides, pressure releases must make themselves available by getting open, and it all must happen faster and with less hesitation. Players are holding the ball and sometimes that’s because they’re probing the D too much and sometimes it’s because the weakside man isn’t open, but those are correctable things and I think with some greater emphasis on those areas we’ll see a difference.