The Lakers have spoken a lot about wanting to get out and run, especially with their young players and with a great passer like Lonzo Ball on the roster.
The team has accomplished this goal, getting out in transition second most of any team in the league with 19.97% of their possessions being in transition. This is second only to the Warriors at 19.99%.
Despite this accomplishing of a goal, LA has tons of room for growth in transition. They’re scoring the third least points per possession (PPP) on their transition possessions. In fact, they’ve scored 52.7 points less in transition than the expectation based on league average PPP.
Here’s a [not] fun fact: If the Lakers offense had 100 possessions in transition they’d only score 7 more points than if their offense had 100 possessions in isolation.
For most teams, that number is at least in the teens. For many teams it’s in the 20s or 30s. Only four teams have a lower numbers than the Lakers, and three of those teams have higher PPP from their isolation offenses than the Lakers score in transition.
So what is the issue? Why are the Lakers not scoring well in transition? Are they shooting poorly?
Here’s their transition shot chart.
So is the shooting an issue? Yes. LA is 23rd in Synergy’s Adjusted Field Goal Percentage (aFG% = [(Total Points – Free Throws Made) / FGA ] / 2). This is bad, but it’s not their largest problem.
I’m pleased with how often the team is getting to the rim and taking three pointers. The team is 36/100 on 3s, which is good for an overall 3-point shooting number but not great in transition, where such shots are generally open more than in general.
Where the Lakers are really hurting themselves is from turnovers. The team has the second highest turnover percentage of any team in the league, with 18.1% of their transition possessions resulting in turnovers.
To learn more, I looked through each turnover the Lakers have committed on the season. I grouped each of them into these seven very standard categorizes.
Bad Pass Turnovers
The majority of LA turnovers in transition are from bad passes. Here is a more detailed breakdown of those 55 turnovers:
Pass aheads make up over 50% of these bad passes. Lonzo Ball alone accounts for 12 of these 27. Here’s one:
Earlier this season I took a look at the potential value of Lonzo’s pass aheads. At that point in time, the turnover numbers were low and it was looking like his pass aheads could be a great asset to the team. When we look at the larger sample now it looks less promising.
Those 12 pass ahead turnovers from Ball result in an expected 11.7 points lost from giving away possessions. That expectation is just based on the average PPP of a Laker transition possession.
Based on the value of a pass ahead being Transition PPP – Half Court PPP, Lonzo would need 141 pass aheads that turned half court possessions into transition possessions to break even on the points lost from these 12 TOs. I don’t think he’s anywhere close to that.
Lonzo’s pass aheads are cool, but they don’t seem to be worth it if he’s going to turn the ball over anywhere near as frequently as he is. That’s because the value of turning what would otherwise be a half court possession into a transition possession is only about a 9% increase in the possession’s PPP, while a turnover is a 100% decrease in the PPP.
Pass Aheads: 27
Pass aheads in general are a big issue for the team. They’re spread out between many Lakers, but are happening every game and costing the team lots of points.
Botched Alley Oops: 7
We’ve also seen about half a dozen turnovers from alley oop attempts. These are more difficult passes and put the receiver in a tougher position to adjust to a bad pass. I saw several other clips where a bad pass was made and saved, but led to a different shot. These seven were off enough that the receiver just couldn’t salvage the possession.
Through Legs / Behind the Back: 3
There have also been several inexcusable turnovers from attempted flashy passes. This isn’t a huge issue from a volume standpoint, but these are very avoidable turnovers and are ones that leave players, fans, and Luke Walton very frustrated.
Post Feed: 3
The team has only had a couple bad pass turnovers in transition off of post feeds. For two of them, the Laker big man is leaning into his defender, trying to earn position down low. The pass is off, and the big man isn’t on balance enough to make a real play on the ball.
This one was just a pass that way way too high by Randle.
Another big issue for the team is committing charges. This also ties into the overdriving category, where LA has an addition 17 turnovers. Players aren’t making decisions quickly enough and are forcing the issue. It needs to be understood that in situations without an advantage or numbers, like the possession below, it’s okay to pull the ball out and reset the possession. It also needs to be the case where the team is passing and passing well if LA has a large numbers advantage.
Elbowing People in the Face: 3
I was just amused that three of these took place. These turnovers are similar to the charges, where players are looking to do too much. I think the example below is a good move by Ingram that unfortunately just caught a face, not a forced move.
Tripping on Air: 1
Corey Brewer also took a spill against the court monster in Portland.
Lakers Transition Overall
Many of these turnovers are avoidable. Knowing when to pull the ball back out and reset is valuable. So is making the extra pass and avoiding a charge.
At the end of the day, eight made shots on 16 attempts along with four turnovers per game in transition is bad offense. The Lakers can continue to “win the transition battle” by scoring more points in transition than their opponent, but this is somewhat clouding the truth.
If LA could have been an average scoring team in transition, they would’ve scored 52.7 more points this season so far. That’s only about 2.3 points per game, but that’d jump the team four spot in CPOE to be about equal to where the 76ers are this season. Cutting the team’s turnovers per game from four to two will go a long way in fixing this issue.
If the Lakers can lower their turnover frequency from 18.1% to a league average of 13.58%, their transition PPP would jump from 0.979 PPP to 1.026 PPP.
That jump would raise our transition PPP by six spots up to 22nd best, but it’d only impact our overall offensive efficiency enough to raise LA one spot. This sheds light on how much more important half court offense is compared to transition offense.