The Lakers’ first “W” is in the books after a nice bounceback performance against Phoenix on Friday night. Let’s peer into the Lakers data for a look at how the team executed.

 

Lakers Offense

The Lakers offense turned it around against the Suns, fresh off of an abysmal performance against the Clippers. Their game one Created Points Over Expectation was -25.7, meaning that an average team would have scored 25.7 points more on the same shots as the Lakers took. The team looked different this game, and it showed in the data.

The Laker offense this game was actually better than average, scoring 9 points more than we’d expect of them.

After two games, the team finally has a better efficiency in transition than in the half court. This will absolutely continue, and LA should perform well both in terms of transition frequency and execution.

Isolation

6.5% of the team’s possessions being in isolation is a welcome number to see. That number was 8.4% the day before. 3 for 7 shooting with some free throw points is a good day in iso. If the team can be an average iso scoring team and keep the usage of it below 7.4%, which was league average from last season, I’ll be happy.

A Transition in Transition

Transition and P&R Ball Handler were the two most glaring weak points after the first game. Those two play types were the areas of most strength Friday.

LA got out in transition for 23% of their possessions against the Suns, which was a slight decrease from 25% the day before. However, the team was 4.1 points better than the expectation, compared to 12 points below expectation Thursday. That’s a massive jump in efficiency for the squad and a very needed one.

Lonzo had several fantastic outlet passes to get the team into plenty of opportunities and it paid off on the scoreboard, providing the Lakers with 36 total points.

Picking it Up

LA also thrived in the pick and roll. A combined +8.4 from ball handlers and roll men is a stark increase from -9.5 against the Clippers. Lonzo Ball’s 9 for 16 performance as a pick and roll ball handler fueled LA’s rising efficiency in this category.

The team’s only real area of underperformance comes with their scoring on cuts, but this was overall a solid performance from the Lakers offensively.

Lakers Defense

Defense was a strong point statistically for the Lakers. They’ve fallen from grace but still have a very respectable 11th best defensive points per possession as a team. They check in with the 10th best half court defense and 26th best transition defense, which was their weakest area against the Clippers.

Picking LA Apart

The Lakers were a combined 9 points better than the expectation on defense everywhere other than defending the ball handler in pick and roll plays. -16.1 points in that area comes as a surprise, considering the team’s 3rd best defensive efficiency in that area during preseason and apparent focus on stopping the ball handler.

Upon turning to the tape, it’s easy to see Brook Lopez and Andrew Bogut were exposed in the pick and roll. Neither player was able to stay in front of Eric Bledsoe or Mike James if they hard hedged, and when they soft hedged they really stayed back. Combine that with Ball and other Laker players’ prodigious ability to die when they make contact with a screen and there were plenty of possessions that looked like these:

Caruso goes DOWN on the screen and Bogut sags very deep, giving up an open 3-pointer that’s drilled

Lonzo is easily taken out by this screen and Kuzma closes out late, resulting in a pretty open 3 that Mike James hits

Lonzo again is taken out by the screen, but this time it’s Lopez who’s deep into the paint, conceding the 3-point make ot Bledsoe

On this play Lopez hedges a little harder and isn’t as deep into the paint. The ball handler clears his hips, drives by him, and finishes at the rim

The Lakers will need to address this moving forward, but played well in just about other aspect of their defense.

Off Screen Defense

The other area LA didn’t grade out well in was defending shooters off screens. A look at film shows three different made shots from three different shooters in unique situations. A well executed flare screen for Josh Jackson after a dribble handoff, a quick pin down for Troy Daniels, and Brad Stevens’ “Winner” slideline out of bounds play for Devin Booker. In none of those instances was a concerning defensive breakdown made, so there are no lingering long-term concerns.

 

Overall Lakers Data Thoughts

The Lakers picking it up offensively is a relief to see. Look out for continued improvement in the execution of half court sets and sustained execution in transition.

The team will need to clean up its pick and roll defense. Relatively immobile centers and several guards who don’t play screens well will make that a challenge. It’ll be an item to monitor throughout the season.

Next up: New Orleans at home on Sunday at 6:30 PM PST.

On the second night of a back to back, on the road, and coming off a one sided loss in their home opener I did not know what to expect from the Lakers. Would they come out flat again? Discouraged? Would they play hard and compete? I really didn’t know.

After a 132-130 win against the Suns, maybe I shouldn’t have had so many doubts. Or maybe it was just one game and they won’t always be this fun. Either way, I’m going to enjoy this win for what it was. A fun contest that saw the cornerstone young players show out and some key veterans really play well, showing the poise and resiliency to keep the game close and seize control when it really mattered.

Continue Reading…

Game one is down, and it’s looking like a long 81 games are remaining. Let’s break down how the team did through the help of some post game Lakers data to get a better sense of what happened on the court Thursday.

Utilizing play type data, which I give a tutorial to here for Nylon Calculus, we can look at each Laker performance and compare how the team did to how an average team would have performed had they been given the same amount of possessions.

These possessions also account for turnovers and shooting fouls, and the point totals will incorporate points from foul shots as a result of shooting fouls. Continue Reading…

The Los Angeles Lakers looked wholly uncompetitive in a 108-92 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night, in a game that got the boo birds rustling in their nests at Staples Center. It was the much-anticipated debut of Lonzo Ball, who posted a middling 3 point, 4 assist, & 9 rebound stat line on just 1-6 shooting from the field. The tape was much kinder to him, as his teammates continually botched the opportunities that he created for them. In the latest installment of Laker Film Room, I take a look at Lonzo Ball’s game, as well as the Lakers’ porous pick and roll defense. Continue Reading…

lakers-preview-suns

The NBA is an unforgiving league. While the season start date has been pushed up and a fair amount of the scheduling hardships have been removed, some things are unavoidable. Stuff like opening the season on a Thursday, getting your butt kicked, and then having to fly out right after to play a back to back game on the road in another city Friday is still a thing.

And that’s what the Lakers are facing.

Continue Reading…

Well, how was that? Not what you expected? The Lakers opened their season in about as rough a way as possible, losing to the Clippers 108-92. The game was a sloppy, offensively challenged affair that saw both teams struggle to make shots, but also saw a Lakers team ill-prepared to combat a more seasoned team.

If there’s a story to this game, it’s really that the Lakers just played a disjointed brand of basketball on both sides of the floor.

Continue Reading…

lakers-game-preview-clippers-season-opener

How do you write a Lakers game preview for the first game of the season? Especially after dropping over two thousand words for their season preview? Well, you kind of don’t. So I won’t do so now.

Look, the Lakers play tonight. It’s their first game of the season. They play the Clippers, their co-tenants at the Staples Center and the team that has pretty much owned this matchup for the last handful of years. The Clippers don’t project to be the same caliber of team they were before trading Chris Paul, but they still project to be in the hunt for a 5-8 seed in the playoffs.

If we were going to dive into X’s and O’s, I’d talk about how Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are still a dynamic front court pairing. How Danilo Gallinari is a huge upgrade on the wing. And how Patrick Beverly is going to be a menace defensively — especially in his matchup with Lonzo Ball. These things matter and, well, will likely be a huge factor in this game.

But, honestly, the above paragraph is about all I’m going to say about the X’s and O’s of this game. We know what the Lakers did in the preseason. We have the key stats and have some of the more important takeaways. Those things matter too, but, in a way, they really don’t.

The regular season is here and these games really do count now. For that reason alone, I am excited. Add in the journey that is ahead, with Lonzo starting his career, Ingram looking to take the next step in his 2nd season, Randle and Nance battling for PF minutes, Kuzma looking to usurp them both, and Brook Lopez being the anchor in the middle and I’m geeked for this year to start.

I don’t know how many games this team will win. I don’t even know how competitive they’ll be from night to night. I do expect them, over time, to be a fun team that plays hard. And, heading into tonight’s game, that’s about all that is on my mind.

The NBA is back. Lakers basketball is back. And I couldn’t be more excited about it. Let’s go.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TNT.

2017-18 Lakers Season Preview

Darius Soriano —  October 19, 2017 — 

I’ve written and deleted this post a half dozen times and probably a dozen more times in my head. I think I know what I want to say about the 2017-18 Lakers, and then…I don’t. I guess that’s how it goes when you have a team that seems on the cusp of being fun with a core of young players you want to root for, but also clearly looking beyond this season for the pieces which can become a more solid foundation of the next great Lakers team.

This is a team in the midst of change. The turnover in roster from last year to this one is enormous. Should Larry Nance begin the season as the starting power forward, not one opening night starter from last year will be the same for this one. And only four players (Ingram, Nance, Randle, and Clarkson) will be carryovers from the 10 man rotation the team trotted out the beginning of last year. Should Luke Walton again want to play 10 deep (and this team has at least that many players who could/should play in specific roles), we’ll see a rotation turned over by 60% and a roster turned over by more than that.

Familiarity, then, will not be a strong suit and chemistry will be work in progress. It will take time for this team to gel and coalesce, to learn each other well enough where reads become natural and tendencies become instinctual. But, I believe they can get there, however. Especially with some of their new additions.

Which brings me to rookie Lonzo Ball. I was always a believer in his talent, but it has taken me some time to understand the nature of how his specific style can impact this team’s culture and trajectory. His passing is contagious and his want to continuously give the ball up to teammates in positions to make a positive play is a foundational element for winning basketball.

He is a specific kind of unselfish, not just a willing passer whose gifts to see the floor and spot openings in advance, but one who consistently cedes control of the game to others by throwing ahead. In today’s NBA, point guards are so often deployed as the primary weapon that attacks and strikes defenses with the ball in their own hands. They’re the creative scorers whose skills in getting buckets bend the defense to their will.

Lonzo can certainly get you baskets, but he’s someone who prefers to use the ball as the weapon itself, pinging it around the floor into spots that compromise the integrity of the defense and scramble their signals. And his teams have been better for it. I expect the same to be true for the Lakers.

Another player whose teams are better because of him is Brook Lopez. The team’s new center has toiled on some bad Brooklyn team recently which obscures his value and impacts how he’s generally perceived. But Lopez is a really good player — probably the best the team has had since Kobe or Pau in the season of Kobe’s achilles tear. Lopez has a complete offensive game, scoring at all three levels of the floor while being able to serve as a release valve to teammates who need an outlet or an anchor and primary target to build schemes around.

Further, his ability to stretch the floor will aid in the overall effectiveness of what the Lakers want to do offensively, both in the halfcourt and in transition. Lopez popping to the arc in P&R situations, spacing to the weakside corner to counter against strong side actions, or serving as a trailer in early offense will open up the paint and create driving lanes and passing angles which simply were not there last season. Everyone who shares the floor with him will benefit from his presence.

The other key new addition brings us back to the backcourt. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was the surprise get of the offseason, his restricted free agency making him once ungettable only to have that status shifted to unrestricted and there for the grabbing. He’s shown flashes of playmaking as a P&R ball-handler and I remain intrigued by what he can bring as a secondary shot creator.

He also brings a competitiveness and activity level defensively which the team has not had in a single player for several seasons. He can be a high volume three point shot taker and, over his career, a good enough open shooter to make defenses pay for leaving him open. He can fly up the court in transition and his game pairs nicely enough with Lonzo to create the potential for some dynamic plays out of the backcourt.

While the players above are all Lakers newbies and, in their own ways, foundations to the new style the team is trying to create this season, it’s the holdovers from last year who will plot the path back to respectability — if that can even happen.

Brandon Ingram is now a 2nd year player but only a moth removed from his 20th birthday. He put in a long summer of skill and weight-room work with the hopes of returning a dramatically improved player from the one who ended his rookie year on a surge. It remains to be seen how big a jump he can make, but the baseline of talent and tools are there. The biggest obstacle to his success this season might just be his mentality and how that impacts his every game approach. Ingram must walk the fine line of maintaining aggression while letting the game come to him. The coaches will need to optimize him better, too, by putting him in the best positions to be the player he is now rather than the one they want him to be down the line.

He’s not yet the go-to scorer some in the front office (ahem, Magic Johnson) proclaim him to be, but he has enough offensive talent to get baskets in a variety of ways. His pull up jumper is coming along. He can be a relentless driver who will finish at the rim with either hand when he gets a step on his man. And his spot up shooting can be a resource when his feet are set and he’s shooting with good balance.

You’ll notice a lot of caveats here. Ingram can play, but it comes in spurts and spells under conditions that allow him to thrive. He is not a force the action and succeed player, yet. But he can be wholly useful and a boxscore stuffer by playing to his strengths instead. This approach can be hard when you’re young and want to prove your worth in a league as competitive as the NBA, but this is the path he must take in his 2nd year.

Two players who are no longer that “young” are the team’s top two power forwards.

Larry Nance is the likely starter and whatever any of us think about his growth heading into his 3rd year, he can be an asset to this starting group. His back line defense helps and overall acumen on that end is a vital component to team success. He rotates well and will challenge shots at the rim. He’s a good ball mover who understands where his teammates are and how to deliver them the ball. He must be more assertive this year, not in a “force the action” way, but a “I’m really open, it’s time to shoot” type of way.

Nance’s biggest problem to this point in his career is that he’s prone to long stretches of simply fading into the background. As a starter, it’s even easier to do that; the players you share the floor with are better and can relieve you of certain pressures. But he must fight those urges to put his stamp on the game more often. Attack the backboards, dive hard in the P&R, shoot when open. Be a threat to do something at all times. Do that more and the Lakers will have a fine starting PF who helps them win games. Don’t and…the calls for change will come quickly and loudly.

Julius Randle will not be happy about a reserve role and I don’t blame him one bit. He’s done what the coaches and front office have asked heading into year 4. He’s in the best shape of his life, is cutting down on his isolation tendencies, and is giving up the ball earlier in possessions in order to facilitate ball movement. He’s playing harder and smarter on defense, too. For that, he’s being rewarded with a bench role for the first time since Byron Scott was telling him (and the rest of the team) to man up.

If there’s a silver lining here, though, it’s that Randle can truly be a difference maker — especially against reserve big men. He’s going to be stronger and faster than nearly anyone he faces on a night to night basis. In theory, he’ll get the ball more often in both the open and half court as a creator of offense for himself and others.

He can wreak havoc in the open court as a grab and go player or simply by running the floor hard filling the middle lane. He can work the half court too, especially when playing small-ball center using his passing ability at the top of the floor to get others good shots or his quickness to get into the paint for his own. Randle shouldn’t be happy as a reserve, but if he can thrive there while Nance works in with the starters, the team may just get two starting level PF’s out of this situation.

When looking at the PF rotation, though, rookie Kyle Kuzma, though, is the wild card. Whether you want to call him a 3/4 a 4/3 or a 3.5, Kuzma has the blended skill set of a modern NBA forward. He’s adept at shooting the long ball in high volume, but skilled enough off the dribble and in the post to work the mid-range and restricted area for scoring opportunities.

kyle-kuzma-angel-of-death

He will compete defensively on the perimeter, either guarding his own man, when switching onto a small, or when hedging and recovering. His aggressiveness on offense is a needed component with Lou Williams or Nick Young in new uniforms this year. And his developing chemistry with Randle can help spearhead a second unit attack that could really hurt opponent’s benches.

And then there’s Jordan Clarkson. I’ve been hard on JC over the last two years as he’s seemingly devolved from the point guard who flashed scoring and playmaking chops as a rookie to the gunner who saw his assist rate plummet in his 2nd and 3rd seasons. But he can get you baskets and do so in a variety of ways. He can work in isolation, come of picks both as a ball handler or working curls and pin-downs, and can be dynamite in transition.

This preseason he showed an inclination to move the ball, driving and kicking more often than he has the past two years. When he’s playing with balance — in both a technical sense of being under control and in his pass/shot decisions — he will help. And a bench trio of Clarkson, Randle, and Kuzma can be scary in the open court if they can play with synergy. I am hopeful they will.

So, all of this sounds great, right? The Lakers are young! They’re fun! They have some building block players, some veterans, and a group of hungry holdovers who are tired of losing! All of this is true. It’s just not what makes a good team when you also consider the holes on the roster.

This team currently doesn’t have enough shooting. I mentioned Young and Williams being gone, but so is D’Angelo Russell. Those three were all high volume 3 point shooters who were at or (well) above a league average level. They’ve replaced them with Lopez, KCP, and…that’s it.

Kuzma has promise and I’m ecstatic at what he’s shown in the summer and preseason, but it’s disingenuous to predict that it will continue over a full season. Lonzo might project to be a good three point shooter for his career but it remains to be seen if he’s that right now. Randle and Nance have not yet shown expanded range, even if they (or at least Randle) have shown more comfort in taking those shots. Clarkson, unless a leap is made, is not going to be a knock down shooter from distance. Ingram is making strides, but is not there yet.

Playing fast is great and adhering to the analytical approach of layups, FT’s, and 3’s is the way of the new NBA. But the Lakers don’t project to be a team that can make you pay from behind the arc. Teams will go under picks on them. They’ll crowd the paint and shrink the floor from the weakside until shooters make them pay. Again, Lopez will help — and maybe exponentially so because he’s a stretch 5 — but unless Lonzo, KCP, Kuzma, and Ingram all prove to be league average or better from distance generating gravity on the perimeter will be difficult. And without that, the rest of the offense will suffer.

On the other end of the floor, the Lakers are coming off 4 straight seasons of being a terrible defensive team. Last year they were 30th in defensive efficiency. Yes, the roster has changed over and some of the new additions will help. KCP is better than Young defensively. And I think Lopez — from a positional and via fewer mental mistakes — is better than Mozgov, too. And even as a rookie, Lonzo might be better than Russell was last year on that end.

But systemic issues persist and relying on young players to guard well is rarely a formula for success. This team habitually over-helps. They gamble too much, both on the weakside and when reaching for steals on the ball. They have not shown a proclivity for helping consistently when and where they are supposed to. Team-wide defensive integrity depends on discipline individually and schematically. The Lakers have the athletes to defend, but it remains to be seen if they have the acumen to.

And if this team does not get stops, they cannot play their preferred style. From Magic Johnson on down, the emphasis has been on defense and running. It is nearly impossible to do the latter without the former. People will want to point out the 7-seconds or less Suns, but they were about league average defensively and got enough stops to increase tempo and suck teams into to playing their style. If the Lakers cannot escape the bottom 5 in defensive efficiency, they cannot run the way they’ll want.

Without running, they will be overly reliant on their half court sets. Which then puts an added emphasis not just on precise schematic execution, but on the individual shot creation skills of their players. With the starting group having Lonzo, KCP, and Nance…you see where I’m going with this. The 2nd unit offers more variety in this area, but if you’re dependent on your 2nd unit to win you games, the likelihood you actually do isn’t that high.

So, where does this leave us?

Well, like I said earlier, this is a team in transition. It has players in contract years whose time in LA is likely limited and young guys who are being groomed for long term roles, but also need to grow and find their respective games. It will be on coach Luke Walton to galvanize this group, generate and maintain buy-in, and advance them schematically to account for areas of weakness. He too will need to advance his skill as the leader of this team, continuing to fine tune his X’s and O’s template while building on his strengths as a people person who can connect to this generation of players.

This team will likely be equally fun and frustrating, one part building of a foundation and one part an unknown future of next year and beyond. But I’m going to be here for all of it, enjoying the ride as best I can. Lakers basketball is back for another season. Thank goodness for that.