The Lakers lost again on Sunday, this time to the Knicks, their 5th defeat in six games. The game was close throughout and the Lakers, down the stretch, fell into the trap of looking for specific types of plays — namely Kobe wing isolations – which bogged down their ball movement and, ultimately, did not produce good shots.
It wasn’t even that Kobe got a lot of shots down the stretch, but rather that process of trying to even get him these shots led to the failures. If the Lakers had simply relied on different play types and, in the process, initiated their offense in a different manner they might have gotten the needed baskets (or trips to the foul line) to stop the bleeding.
Instead, they scored exactly one basket between the 7:18 mark and the :05 mark of the 4th quarter. Those two points — on a Roy Hibbert offensive rebound and putback — were only bolstered by four free throws to in the last 7-plus minutes. In case you were wondering, that’s very bad.
I would like to get back to the point above about seeking out different options offensively, however. Because, for the season, the Lakers have been making similar errors in judgement and it has been hampering their offensive output.
What do I mean? I am glad you asked!
The Lakers currently rank 20th in offensive efficiency on the season. For most of the year they have hovered around this mark, typically landing between 16th and where they are now. The make up of the possessions which contribute to that number, though, is what is interesting to me. From NBA.com/Stats and Synergy:
- The Lakers rank 2nd in the league in the number of possessions which end in an isolation (14.7% of their possessions), but rank 27th in points per play at 0.64.
- The Lakers rank 3rd in the league in possessions which end in the pick and roll ball-handler shooting (22%), and rank 2nd in points per play at 0.97.
- The Lakers are 30th in the league in the number of possessions which end in a spot up shot attempt (14.7%), but rank 1st in points per play at 1.16.
- The Lakers rank 13th in the number of possessions which end in a player shooting when coming off a screen (5.3%), but rank 30th in points per play 0.44.
- The Lakers rank 25th in the number of possessions which end in a post-up shot attempt, but rank 7th in points per play at 0.95.
First, the good news. For all the handwringing about wanting the Lakers to run more pick and roll, they are actually doing it a fair amount. Recent work against the Nuggets, Nets, and Knicks (half their six games) has seen them commit to this action more and it is reflected in the numbers. Considering the Lakers have several players — primarily Clarkson, Lou Williams, and D’Angelo Russell — who have a lot of comfort level in this play, it’s good to see they are running it as much as they are.
Second, The Lakers are actually doing some things very well. Their points per play produced are high in several areas. Ranking 2nd in the P&R and 1st in spot ups is fantastic. Ranking 1st in spot up shooting is, frankly, unbelievable even though the team has some very good spot up options. (Jordan Clarkson is killing in this area, by the way). Ranking 7th in points per play on post-ups isn’t so surprising, but it is great to see the guys executing well on a play that isn’t known for its efficiency league wide.
Now, the bad news. The fact that the Lakers are running as many isolations as they are is concerning. The fact that they’re producing so few points per play is, well, beyond troubling. While the team isn’t in the top 10 of number of possessions for shooting coming off screens, the fact that they’re only producing 0.44 points per play is, frankly, awful. I would hope this number would progress to the mean, but if the main guys taking these shots are Kobe and Nick Young coming off pin-downs that get them top of the key three pointers, it may not happen.
Further, some of the play types the Lakers are actually good at are not being utilized enough. Spot up jumpers are typically generated out of drive and kicks or out of ball movement against a rotating defense. The Lakers simply do not do enough of either and, it seems, their offense suffers from it. Regarding post-ups, you do not think of the Lakers as having great post options, but Randle and Kobe are both producing at over 1.0 points per play. Kobe, specifically, could benefit from getting more possessions in the post, especially when the defense switches a smaller player onto him out of PG/SF pick and rolls.
While there is noise in these numbers (it’s only been six games caveat goes here), it is clear to me the Lakers would be better off offensively if they leveraged some of their playmakers to turn isolations for shots into isolations which lead to kick outs. These types of actions would lead to more spot up jumpers either off the initial catch or via ball movement against a rotating defense. The Lakers are currently 27th in assists per game (17.8), so more passing in general is a good thing.
Further, I believe generating more ball movement out of the P&R is also needed. Clarkson, Williams, and even Russell are pretty shot happy out of the P&R’s the team does run and the entire team would benefit if some of those shots turned into passes. Either to the roll man (hello Tarik Black) or to wings spotting up on either side of the floor.
Ultimately, these are things that could grow organically as time goes on. We must remember the Lakers roster has been turned over by half and the head coach is still searching for lineups which work well together. Familiarity will, hopefully, breed better results and smarter shot selection. Hopefully.
(h/t to @slayinmaven for some of the numbers used in this post)