A quick scan of the Lakers’ depth chart not only shows some holes the team should explore filling, but also a large overlap in the types of players the team possesses. Namely, the team has an abundance of players who do their best work with the ball in their hands as shot creators for themselves. Among the 14 players currently signed to contracts, no fewer than half are players who thrive (or project to) with the offense flowing through them:
- Kobe Bryant
- D’Angelo Russell
- Jordan Clarkson
- Julius Randle
- Nick Young
- Lou Williams
- Jabari Brown
Most of these players are guards or wings, but the inclusion of Randle on this list adds a key front court player who, ideally, is also someone who you want creating shots for himself and his teammates.
In some ways, this is a nice problem to have. In season’s past, the Lakers’ offense has starved for shot creators and players who, when an offensive set breaks down, can simply take his man off the dribble or create the type of separation needed to generate a viable shot. Too often the team relied on Kobe to be the player who could turn stifled possession into a point producing one, but it seems this upcoming season the Lakers should have no shortage of players who can accomplish this.
However, with this many capable shot creators, the question of shot distribution and sharing of the ball will almost surely be something worth monitoring throughout the season. The version of the Princeton the Lakers have run under Byron Scott has mostly been an offense predicated more on running scripted sets to try and get the ball into the hands of their best scorers than on the read and react principles that have labeled the offense a “cousin of the Triangle”. High post initiations triggered wing screen actions and some back side pin-downs which mostly led to shots coming off picks or isolations near the top of the key or in the mid-post.
The Lakers also ran a lot of pick and rolls in Scott’s inaugural season and I expect that to continue. But with Jeremy Lin and Jordan Clarkson mostly stewarding those sets, the play development mostly led to either a shot by the ball handler or one of a handful of the more basic read passes that could be made (a same side kick out pass, a drop off to a big man when the help arrived, a release valve kick out to a popping big man). These types of passes often led to quick shots rather than the type of whipping-around-the-court ball movement which are staples of the Warriors, Spurs, and Hawks offenses.
The question this leads to, then, is whether the Lakers will develop the type of chemistry and evolution on offense that will translate to a sharing of the ball and, thus, the playmaking responsibilities or if their sets will remain mostly one-note actions where isolations, post ups, and single-pass-then-shoot P&R’s rule the day. Training camp and pre-season action are sure to influence the answers to these questions, but, again, it is something to keep an eye on.
The good news for the Lakers is that they have, mostly, high IQ players who have shown an ability to create shots for others. Kobe has averaged nearly 5 assists a game for his career and hasn’t been below 4.5 per game since his third season. In the 28 games after the all-star break, Jordan Clarkson averaged 5.4 assists per game. We all saw D’Angelo Russell’s passing ability during summer league and his willingness to share the ball will surely translate to the regular season. Even Jabari Brown (2.1 assists per game last year) and Lou Williams (a strong P&R player who has averaged more than 3 assists in seven of his 10 seasons) are capable of dishing out dimes. Add Randle’s versatility from the PF position and his ability to help space the floor, create off the dribble to draw help, and then hit the open man and there is a nice foundation of players who can all be willing playmakers.
The key will be, however, not just to rack up assists, but to move the ball onto an open man even if it does not lead directly to the shot that goes into the basket. Whether the players can escape some of the ways they’ve always done things in favor of having the ball stick less and move more freely will be important. This will not only create more fluidity on offense, but it will also inflate those assist numbers too.
The Lakers have the playmakers to make this happen. Here’s the hope the coaches and players alike come to terms with how to best maximize this skill.