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The Lakers may have lost to the Nuggets in their second game of the exhibition season on Friday, but in many ways they actually played better than they did in Tuesday’s win over the Kings. Odds are the Lakers actually win this game if they hadn’t played a lineup which featured a total of zero players who should see any sustained minutes in the regular season, if they make the team at all.

So there are many positive takeaways from Friday’s game despite taking the L. D’Angelo Russell bounced back. Julius Randle, while still a bit erratic in the halfcourt, showed the open court skills which make him such a tantalizing prospect. Jordan Clarkson was again a positive defensively while bringing his typical attack style on offense. Nance, Zubac, Black, Calderon, and Ingram also all had flashes. All in all, there were just a lot of good things to build on even though there is a lot of work to do to improve.

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The Lakers’ Summer League Opener was everything fans could’ve hoped for. The team looked organized. Sets and general playing style was tailored for whoever was on the court. I didn’t want to walk down from the stands and try coaching the team, myself. It was really night-and-day from what we had to watch a year ago.

And lost in the Zubanity and Brandon Ingram’s debut, D’Angelo Russell put together a quiet double-double. He took over the game for one stretch and was the guiding force in the half-court with vastly more confidence than we saw for most of last season. There were some issues with his game, but he was impressive.

We’ll start with the few negatives I noticed. There weren’t many, but a couple things stood out to me.

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For the season, the Lakers are still 29th in the league in offensive efficiency. Though they have improved a great deal since the All-Star break — they have posted a 106.1 rating, good for 14th in the league for that stretch — they have fallen off that pace since February 26th (103.2 rating since that date) when Byron Scott implemented a “new set” which has become the base of their offense.

Still, the 103.2 rating since the change is still good for 19th over that period and shows marked improvement over their season long numbers. One of the reasons their offense has improved is because they are running more off-ball actions which help promote side to side ball movement. Byron mentioned an impetus to the change was the analytics staff noting the team was near the bottom of the league in the ball changing sides of the floor (and in making passes in general) and wanted to rectify that.

Hence, a new set, more movement, and more passing. While opponents have surely been scouting what the Lakers are doing and, in turn, disrupting some of their actions, it would be hard to argue against the team doing better. It’s right there in the numbers and, if you’ve been watching, in little wrinkles which are showing up each game.

For example, against the Grizzlies on Tuesday, the Lakers ran a little flare screen action which set up a nice Kobe Bryant three pointer:

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Last week we broke down a nice pick and roll set the Lakers ran against the Spurs. The set started out of a Princeton formation with a two-guard front, but incorporate a dribble hand-off and flowed right into a pick and roll. The action set up a rhythm 15-footer for Lou Williams which he knocked down.

It should be noted Williams’ attempt is not the most analytically friendly shot. Mid-range jumpers are the ones defenses want to surrender and that’s exactly what this action produced. However, it is also worth noting that is a spot on the floor Williams has hit two-thirds of the shots he’s taken this season (he’s 4-6) so you can live with that every once and a while.

In any event, as I mentioned in the post, the Lakers did not run that action again against the Spurs. They did, however, run it against the Bucks on Tuesday night. And this time they ran it for Russell (rather than having him trigger it) and it produced a much more favorable shot:

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The Lakers remain one of the lesser offensive teams in the league. A high producing unit or a scoring flurry from one of their several quality offensive players just doesn’t equate to a stable, high performing team. On the whole, the team still ranks 29th in offensive efficiency and while I think, over time, they might be able to climb from that mark, they are what they are offensively.

However, just because the team’s output remains low, it does not mean we cannot get some inspired play. Recently the team has gone away from the Princeton offense more than earlier in the campaign, mixing in more straight P&R sets and even incorporating some Triangle actions into their scheme. The results aren’t always great, but changing things up is a good sign, not just because it helps mix in some variety which can help the team overcome defenses which seem to know what’s coming, but because it shows some flexibility in the coaches — something that hasn’t been too present this season.

But even when the Lakers aren’t diverging from the Princeton entirely, they are showing some more creativity in finding different actions to run out of the general formation of the offense. The below play, from the Spurs game on Friday, is a perfect example of this:

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Renato Afonso is a long time reader, commenter, and friend of FB&G. He is based in Portugal, played semi-pro hoops, and after that coached his alma mater for two years. He now passes his time in a veteran’s league and raising his first born. This is his latest for FB&G. You can find him on twitter here.

With this post we’re trying to analyze the Lakers current offense and maybe understand the reason behind the team’s offensive woes. While it apparently seems the Lakers are also as bad on the defensive side, the fact is solving the problems on defense seems far easier than solving our offensive issues. Also, this is an X’s and O’s analysis and not a discussion about shot effectiveness, or putting it another way, what is the offense designed to do and which are its shortcomings.

For this analysis we’re considering only the recent string of games without Kobe. The reason for it is quite simple: Byron Scott enables Kobe, the players on court defer to him and we end up with a pump fake, pump fake, jab step, contested fade away three point shot that doesn’t find the net.  So, what kind of plays are they running?

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There has been a lot of handwringing over the Lakers’ offense. I know, I have been doing it myself. And while I stand by my criticisms of how the team’s worst tendencies have been too present to start the season, we are beginning to see a slight shift in how the team attacks.

Since the Nuggets game, the Lakers have been running more quick hitting actions, getting into their sets faster, and using more integrated pick and rolls throughout any given set. This has all led to a more fluid looking attack. Granted, the team has played two very poor defenses, but I’ll take any progress I can get.

But even when the team has been running some of the actions they have been running all season, the execution and attention to detail has been better than what we saw in the preseason or the team’s first few games. An example of this was a Triangle action from the Brooklyn game on Friday night:

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There has not been much to cheer for in the Lakers 0-4 start, but one player who has proven to be a bright spot is Jordan Clarkson. After a strong second half to his rookie campaign, Clarkson has shown that the hard work during the off-season and strong play from the summer and preseason were not a mirage.

Clarkson is leading the Lakers in minutes played (31 minutes a night), scoring (18.3 points per game), and is second on the team among rotation players (behind Nick Young!) in PER (20.6). Not bad for a guy taken 46th in the draft a summer ago.

While some of Clarkson’s early season success could easily be small sample sized theater — I do not expect him to make 46.7% of his three pointers on almost 4 attempts per game all year — his continued growth in certain parts of his game is clear and, in my opinion, very real.

Nowhere is this more true than his work in the pick and roll. Consider the following stats, per through Synergy (10 possession minimum):

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