If Looking For Better Laker Offense, Don’t Look At The Pick & Roll

Darius Soriano —  May 23, 2011

This past season, the Lakers were one of the best offensive teams in the league. They may have finished the season ranked 6th in offensive efficiency (which is still excellent), but for most of the year they were in the top 5 and spent a good portion of the campaign in the top 2 or 3. If the Lakers had a weakness, it wasn’t on offense.

That said, when the Lakers flamed out of the playoffs they were clearly struggling to score the ball consistently. Of their 10 playoff games, the Lakers scored 100 points or more only 3 times and in the Dallas series they never topped 94 (with 2 of the 4 defeats producing 86 points or less).

There were many reasons the Lakers didn’t score the ball well – lack of outside shooting, the horrid slump of Pau Gasol, etc – but the fact remains that the Lakers became predicatble on offense and couldn’t execute well enough to overcome that fact. This led many to ask what the Lakers should be doing differently on offense with many saying that they should have mirrored what their opponents were doing by repeatedly going to the pick and roll to get those needed baskets.

I mean, if Chris Paul could run the P&R with the poor big men he had at his disposal and the Mavs could run the P&R with JJ Barrea killing the Lakers D by navigating screens and either getting his own shot or setting up a teammate, the Lakers should be able to do the same thing.  Logic says put ball in the hands of Kobe and then incorportate one of the Lakers’ supremely talented big men, and they’d be able to generate some needed points. After all, with the Lakers possessing a fantastic guard and a slew of excellent bigs, they must be a good pick and roll team, right? Right?

Wrong.

Based off the statistical and video scouting service My Synergy Sports, the Lakers were actually one of the lesser P&R teams in the league. Sure, they have the ingredients to run the action but the end result of that recipe wasn’t very tasty. Some numbers for your ingestion (all via Synergy):

*On the year, the Lakers ranked 30th out of 30 teams in points per possession when the ball handler shot in P&R situations. Dead last. If you want to look at shooting percentage rather than points generated, the story is just as ugly with Laker ball handlers only knocking down 37 of their field goals and 31.5% of their three pointers in P&R situations.

*On the year, the Lakers ranked 13th out of 30 teams in points per possession when the roll man took a shot in P&R situations. That puts them in the upper half of the league, but only barely. If looking at field goal percentage, the Lakers roll men hit a respectable yet not earth shattering 49.4% of their field goals in P&R situations.

Granted, there are other ways to generate points in the P&R besides having the ball handler or the roll man shoot. Unfortunately Synergy doesn’t track these numbers, but I’d bet that the Lakers are no better in generating points out of the other types of actions that develop from running the P&R. My reasons for this are simple:

*Besides the ball handler or the roll man shooting, the most frequent type of shot that would be generated out of a P&R situation are spot up jumpers. When teams run the P&R, one major goal is to collapse the defense and then kick the ball to open shooters that position themselves around the three point arc. On the year, the Lakers were the 12th best team in points per possession in spot up situations; a ranking that isn’t much better than what they produce when the roll man in the P&R shoots.

*The Lakers aren’t a good three point shooting team, only making 37% of their three point shots on spot up situations. Hence, they knocked down a relatively low percentage of the shots that would be made available in the scenario described above.

*Furthermore, the Lakers are one of the better post up teams in the league with multiple threats on the team. Simple logic would tell us that a lot of the Lakers success on spot up shots is also related kick out passes from post ups by Gasol, Kobe, Bynum, and Odom.

For these reasons, I find it difficult to conclude that the Lakers would produce significantly better results in spot up situations off the P&R than they do in normal spot up situtions that are generated through other ways these shots are created. Not to mention that they’re only slightly above average at generating points regardless of how those spot up shots are achieved.

My most interesting findings, though, are really related to the two players that the Lakers ran this action with the most. Neither Kobe nor Gasol were very good operating in the P&R this year. As a ball handler, Kobe shot less than 40% from the field and ranked only 83rd in points per possession. He was even worse on three pointers as he only shot 29% from distance in these situations. Meanwhile, Gasol ranked 105th in points per possession as a roll man in the P&R. When reviewing the tape, he mostly settled for jumpers as he preferred to “pop” into free space rather than dive hard to the rim to try and catch then finish in the paint. The results were a low 42.6% shooting mark as a roll man.

This isn’t to say that the Lakers can’t be a good P&R team or didn’t have success with the play in certain situations. As I dug deeper into the numbers, some positive trends were discovered. First is that Andrew Bynum put up elite numbers as a finisher in the P&R. He put up 1.19 points per possession as the roll man which ranked him 19th in the entire league. As we saw all year, his length, soft hands, and ability to finish in the paint – even in traffic – is very good. Plus, Bynum’s big body is a great tool in the P&R as he’s wide enough to set good screens, setting up the action well.

Lamar Odom was excellent in the P&R as both a ball handler and a finisher. As a ball hander he ranked 17th in the league in tallying .93 points per possession. As a finisher he was even better, ranking 6th in the league with a points per possession mark of 1.31. In reality, as much as we love the rebounds and coast to coast finishes that Odom provided, it’s arguable that Odom’s versatility was most on display in the P&R as he could both initiate and finish with great efficiency. His ability to navigate screens off the dribble or set a good pick and free himself up for a good look takes a diverse skill set and Odom proved he had it. If anything, the Lakers should have been using LO more in the P&R, especially in big/big screen situations between him and Bynum.

With the Lakers set to hire a new coach at some point this summer, many have started to explore what type of offensive system the new head man will install (or keep if Brian Shaw is the chosen one). And while we still believe that defense will be just as important to the success of the next regime, we can’t ignore the fact that the system the team uses best put the ball in the basket is a topic of great interest. But, these results say that if the Lakers do move to a different system outside of the triangle, a P&R based system may not be the best choice. Sure, the Lakers have some ways to be effective in this action but the numbers say they’re better off using a system that utilizes more off ball movement where cuts and screens get players open on the move into open space rather than classic P&R sets. And unless Kobe’s ball handling issues improve or Gasol becomes less of a jumpshooter and more of a player that operates in the post and in attacking the basket, I don’t see why the Lakers’ sets should shift further in this direction.


Darius Soriano

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