Archives For Laker Analysis

After taking shots to the chin on back to back nights, the Lakers are 0-2 to start the season. While the games against the Rockets and the Suns both offered some glimpses of solid play, both games eventually turned into routs by the time the final buzzer sounded. This shouldn’t surprise, really. For all the talk about this team competing hard and what they can achieve if they play to their potential, the simple facts are that the Lakers aren’t a very talented team and aren’t running sophisticated schemes that hide that lack of talent very well. Combine these things and there will be problems. Big problems.

The numbers through two games bear this out:

If you’re scoring at home ,that’s a minus-25.1 efficiency differential. There is no hiding from that on the floor. Over the course of the game the Lakers will find themselves in a spiral of not scoring enough while the other team does so too easily.

There are many reasons for this and the team will surely look to rectify some of them. But if zeroing in on one specific area, it might be what’s going on from behind the arc:

In a game that the team lost by 20 but were outscored from behind the arc by 36(!) points, that would be a good place to start. And not only was the differential bad, but, as Kobe noted, the way the Lakers defended the three ball was particularly poor. The Suns run a lot of action to free up their guards to attack the paint, drawing help defenders in the process. And when the defense helps, they kick the ball out to outside shooters who bomb away. The result on Wednesday was a blistering 16 for 32 night for the Suns from behind the arc. The Lakers couldn’t contain the dribble but also couldn’t recover to the arc to run shooters off the line. In other words, “welp”.

It wasn’t just the 16 makes that should concern, however. As Kobe noted, maybe it’s time for them to take more threes themselves. After all, when the other team makes more three pointers when you even take, it might be time to reevaluate strategy. Byron Scott seems to disagree, however:

Scott is partially right, here. With Nick Young and Ryan Kelly out, the Lakers are down two players who can stretch the defense. However, if going back to last year, Wes Johnson (36.9%) and Xavier Henry (34.6%) were not bad three point shooters. Jeremy Lin and Kobe can also hit the three ball at a league average rate (with both being above the league average when discussing their catch and shoot attempts). Add in Wayne Ellington and that’s nearly the entire wing rotation (sorry Ronnie Price and Jordan Clarkson) who can hit the long ball. So, it’s not so much about guys being able to make the shot as much as it is his coach believing they can make it. Or at least believing they can make it at a rate high enough to support it becoming a bigger part of the offense.

But here’s the thing: As I have noted before, three point field goal attempts are important to even generate the type of spacing that drives the types of shots the team does want to get. Scott himself has said he wants his players attacking the basket, but does not acknowledge how driving lanes open up. Teams are going to cut down driving lanes until the Lakers start showing they will force them to rotate to shooters. And that’s really the point. If the Lakers don’t shoot the three, defenses don’t have to defend it. And if they don’t have to defend it, they can start to take away the paint. For the Lakers, that means an over-reliance on alternative types of shots they will take — the long two pointer.

Which brings me back to my point at the top. The Lakers are currently boasting an offensive efficiency of 95.4. This is an awful number. To put it in context, last season’s worst offensive team (the 76ers) posted an offensive efficiency of 96.8. Last year’s Lakers were at 101.9 for the season. And while I do not expect the Lakers to be this poor all season (please, don’t let them be!) they must not just take that as a given. They must start to incorporate actions into their offense that help generate the looks that will boost that efficiency. In other words, they need to scheme up good shots. Because if they don’t, we’re going to be hearing a lot more quotes after games like Kobe’s above.

Sunday night’s game against the Warriors is barely worth discussing. If the first time these teams faced off last Thursday was a beat down, Sunday’s game was a massacre. Before I was even back from the kitchen with my Hansen’s mandarin-lime beverage, the Lakers trailed 14-2. At various points of the game they trailed by over 30 with the Warriors doubling up the Lakers’ point total. They ended up losing the game by 41.

The big theme of the night wasn’t just that the Warriors outclassed the Lakers on both ends, but how they went about doing it. As I noted on twitter, the Warriors and the Lakers really did not look like they were playing the same game:

The fact that the Lakers were struggling to produce good looks shouldn’t necessarily surprise. First of all, the Warriors are a very good defensive team. Klay Thompson is emerging as one of the better wing defenders in the league. While he did not start yesterday’s game, Andre Iguodala has long been a premier perimeter stopper. Those two are backed up by Andrew Bogut (a top flight defensive center) and flanked at any given time by Draymond Green (a versatile tweener forward who can guard stretch fours and wings with equal skill). Add in the other athletes on the roster and the Dubs are going to give offenses issues all season.

Further, the Lakers are learning a new offense while also missing two of their better offensive players. Say what you want about Nick Young or Jeremy Lin, but both can find the holes in a defense and put up points in a hurry. Missing Lin was especially meaningful as he’s the lone player (besides Kobe in the Denver game or Julius Randle) who has shown any ability to get to the rim off the dribble and create a good shot for himself or a teammate this preseason. Combine all this with Nash only playing a quarter and the Lakers’ offense cannot be fully judged off its effectiveness in this particular game.

So lets move beyond this game and onto something that has been consistent over the team’s first three exhibition games: the Lakers are taking a lot of long two point jumpers. I mean A LOT of them. Here is their shot chart from the second warriors game:

Lakers Warriors 2

As you can see, a whopping 48 of the team’s 82 shots were mid to long two-point attempts. And only three of their shots were three pointers without a single shot from one of the corners. If you think this is just a single game thing, it’s not. In the Lakers first game against the Warriors, 38 of their 89 field goal attempts were mid/long range two pointers while they only took 11 threes (with only one coming from the corners). Against the Nuggets, 36 of their 87 shots were mid/long range two’s while they took only 10 threes (with only two coming from the corners).

Individual players can build an offensive attack off mid-range and long two point shot attempts. For years Dirk and Kobe have feasted on defenses while taking these shots at high volume. More recently LaMarcus Aldridge has become an all-star by becoming a master of the mid-range. Not every player is going to shoot this shot as well as those guys, however. And this is why entire teams cannot build an offense around taking this shot. Over the course of a game a team might get hot from this area of the floor and make a defense pay for continually surrendering this shot. But over the course of a season, the offense will lose this battle. There is a reason most coaches encourage opponents to take this shot over and over again.

Meanwhile the Lakers are seemingly running an offense that will have them take this shot more frequently. Further, they seem to be doing so at the expense of taking the three point shot. I’d argue this is just a random occurrence from the first few preseason games, but these quotes from the head coach imply otherwise:

“Our game plan is really to get to that basket,” said Scott after practice Tuesday.  “I like the fact that we only shot 10 threes.  If we shoot between 10 and 15, I think that’s a good mixture of getting to that basket and shooting threes.

“I don’t want us to be coming down, forcing up a bunch of threes.  I really want us to attack the basket.”

I can fully understand Scott’s stance about not wanting to “force” a bunch of threes. One of my chief complaints about the way last year’s team played offense was the players’ lack of discernment between what is a good shot or a bad one. While it could be argued the freedom the team operated with enabled more confidence and better results on those shots, the simple counter to that argument is that the misses and increased pace put the team at a disadvantage defensively far too often.

However, shooting the number of threes Scott says he would like to will put the team at a disadvantage offensively. Especially if that decline in the long ball is traded for long two point shots. And while Scott says that he would prefer his team “get to the basket” more, there seems to be a disconnect in how teams are actually able to get to the basket in today’s NBA. With zone defenses now legal and the onset of Tom Thibodeau inspired strong side schemes that clog the paint, driving lanes are produced via a spread floor. Players who like to attack the basket, now more than ever before, benefit from shooters spacing out the defense to created those creases to the rim. If the Lakers continue to be a team that eschews the three ball in favor of long two point shots, they will likely find a more crowded lane that limits drives to the rim and promotes…wait for it…more long two point shots.

That leaves me tweeting things like this:

Again, it’s important we put some caveats on all this. The Lakers have not had Nick Young, Xavier Henry, or Ryan Kelly available all preseason. Add to that Nash and Lin’s health issues that have kept them out of action and that’s five of the Lakers’ better offensive creators and outside threats. With the team also likely experiencing some heavy legs from Byron’s conditioning and defense heavy practices, the team is not only (probably) a little fatigued but also somewhat behind offensively. Over time, then, the hope is that some of these issues will lessen as the team gets healthier and guys get more comfortable in how they will operate in Scott’s system.

That said, it’s fair to be concerned. Scott’s own words and what the team has been doing on the floor come from a different era of basketball. Further, they reflect a style of play that does not necessarily optimize results for a team who will struggle to be even league average defensively. I mean, if the Lakers are not stopping teams defensively, they must find a way to keep up offensively. Making the long two point shot a staple of the offense will not allow the team to do so.

More than any of the other candidates who could have gotten the Lakers’ head coaching job, Byron Scott will get an extended honeymoon period. While I have expressed my thoughts on more than one occasion about how much Scott’s history as a Laker should matter, the fact is that it does. It mattered to the front office when they made their choice to hire him and it matters to fans now.

More than what matters to fans or Jim Buss or Mitch Kupchak, though, what matters to the players is most important. They’re the ones who will follow Scott into the battle or tune him out. They are the ones who must buy in to what he’s selling in terms of philosophy and then go out on the court and execute his schemes. And of all the players, the one who matters most here is Kobe Bryant. He’s the leader of this team on the floor and if he’s on board the other’s will follow him.

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The wait is over.

THE WAIT IS OVER.

On Monday the Lakers will open training camp, hosting their annual media day. The media masses will come (though fewer than normal, I’m sure) to listen to the players speak on expectations, what they hope to get out of the year, and how they’ve put on 15 pounds of muscle (or, in some cases, lost 15 pounds). They’ll gather to hear new coach Byron Scott talk in reserved, yet optimistic tones, about where he thinks this team will go and how he believes they can surprise people by defying expectations. Everyone — especially Kobe — will talk about the work to be done and growing as a team and we will soak it all in because we have been waiting for what feels like an eternity for basketball to come back.

In reality, though, this is the least interesting part of what is beginning. Most every player has been through this multiple times and knows the drill. Nothing — or at least very little — of substance will be said. The more important thing is that the work will begin and this team will take its first steps towards becoming…whatever it is they will become. We all have our opinions on that, of course, but even what I (or you or anyone else) predicts ends up being 100% accurate, it will all have to play out on the floor with the players trying to follow what the coaches tell them to do.

Even in saying all that, the story lines heading into camp are many and real. So, let’s look at 10 questions for this team at the dawn of this new campaign:

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We are about 3 weeks from the start of training camp and, soon enough, we will have actual Lakers basketball to discuss. Until then, though, we are left speculating on who might fill out Byron Scott’s coaching staff, how the depth chart at each position might play out, and watching Nick Young randomly stop at a pick up game in New York and bury a step-back jumper while rocking some tight pants and shoes that look like Vans. Such is the summer.

What ends speculation, however, is when decision makers actually tell you what they plan to do. Recently, Byron Scott has been making the rounds with the media and, in the process, has been doing just that. Most recently he sat down with Mark Medina of the LA Daily News and covered a lot of ground, including a nugget about his initial plan regarding a starting lineup:

Scott will spend training camp figuring out his starting lineup, which he says will currently feature Nash, Bryant, Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill. He is leaning toward starting Wesley Johnson at small forward because of his defensive potential and relying on Nick Young’s prolific scoring off the bench. Scott also reported Xavier Henry has not fully recovered from left wrist and right knee injuries.

While it would be easy to overreact to Scott saying he plans to start Boozer and Nash, it’s probably best to hold off on that. I thought mid-wilshire had a solid perspective in the comments by stating:

The question isn’t who starts but who finishes and who plays the most important minutes. Nash could start, say, and, in those games in which he does play, average only 15 mpg. The starting nod, then, would be largely symbolic. I wouldn’t get too upset over Nash and Boozer starting. Let’s wait and see how the rotations pan out. Then we’ll have something to talk about.

Beyond that, though, the idea of a healthy (crosses fingers) Nash and a veteran Boozer flanking Kobe isn’t the worst thing in the world — at least offensively*. Both offer a nice combination of scoring and passing ability and can provide the type of medium usage rates that can mesh with Kobe to form the trio of players who play with the ball in their hands most often while playing with more low usage players in Hill and Wes Johnson.

Further, the remaining players actually form a very interesting bench group:

PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: Nick Young
SF: Xavier Henry
PF: Julius Randle
C: Ed Davis

Looking at that group, they all share some common traits most notably youth and athleticism. All are more likely to thrive in a more open court game and will be able to change ends well with an ability maximize their athleticism by attempting to get easy baskets. Things will get more interesting in the half court where Lin, Young, Henry, and Randle all project to do their best work with the ball in their hands, but that’s where coaching and execution of the scheme will come into play. If channeled well and operating on the same page, this group should still be able to move the ball and play an attack style against set defenses.

In saying all that, however, none of this is set in stone. Yes, Scott has said this is what he’s planning to do. But it’s early September. With a full training camp ahead, preseason games to play, and a feeling out period that will extend into the regular season, changes are still very much likely as realities set in.

Even in saying that, though, it is interesting to think about. Even if, as noted above, it’s not really about who starts but who finishes.

*I will be saying this a lot this year, but if the Lakers can have relatively good health, I don’t expect offense to be a major problem. The defense, however, is projected to be poor and any lineup with Kobe, Nash, and Boozer playing for an extended period of time will suffer on that end. Byron Scott’s biggest issue this year will be finding lineups to get enough defensive stops and throwing out a group that will have more than one player on the wing who will struggle to defend and having a back-line defender who is as challenged as Boozer is will be problematic.