If you follow my work, you know I’m not a fan of the Lakers scheme from last season. The chess game within the game of utilizing actions to generate good shots can play a big role for basketball teams, and solid team scheme is something seen with all of the top NBA teams. This year it looks like the Lakers scheme will catch up.
One game into the preseason schedule gives us one game of film to analyze. Here are my takeaways as someone who watched while looking specifically at the playcalling and team scheme.
LA Played Fast
During training camp the team has been vocal about their interest to play fast and in transition. In their first game, they did. 26.7% of the Lakers’ offensive possessions were in transition, by far the most of any of the six teams that have played so far this preseason.
The Laker team average the past three preseasons for percentage of offense in transition is 13.9%. For the last three regular seasons, 13.2%. The average NBA team has a 13.8% transition frequency in the regular season.
Yes, it’s preseason. But it’s not summer league. Summer League offenses aren’t regular season offenses, and that’s reflected in the data. On average, the percentage of offense in transition during Summer League is 2.76% higher than it is during the regular season. For preseason, that difference is just 1.28%, so it’s much closer to what we’ll actually see during the regular season when looking at frequency of transition.
Yes, this is just one game. But this will be something to monitor. I’m interested to see how much they will balance an interest in pushing the ball with smart decision making when it comes to knowing when to pull the ball back and set up some offense.
It’s worth noting that there is a 0.06 correlation between transition frequency and transition PPP, so in general it doesn’t appear as though other teams are getting worse transition looks by forcing more transition offense.
If the Lakers can average a 26.7% transition frequency in the preseason and have that frequency drop the normal 1.28% to be 25.4%, it’d be a big deal. If that were the case, the Lakers would have the highest mark ever for a regular season team in Synergy’s database, which goes back to the 2005-06 season with reliable data. I’ll repeat that: If the Lakers play anywhere near this pace, they’ll be playing faster than any team ever has.
The Lakers Ran Decent Half Court Sets
Luke Walton warned that the team’s offense may be rough to start the preseason. Very little of the half court offense had reportedly been installed installed. A “0%” number had been thrown out, but that’s clearly not the case.
I went through every Laker possession from Saturday’s game and diagrammed every half court set play the team ran. You can find a playbook of those plays here.
I diagrammed 10 half court set plays. All 10 were from a 4-out 1-in offensive alignment. There was also one baseline out of bounds play, and two sidelines out of bounds plays.
The 10 half court plays I saw all seemed to be from one motion offensive series maybe made up of a couple plays. That offense had multiple flowing options from the called plays that were based on how the defense defended the play.
Set Play Analysis
This is what I really liked about what I saw:
The disguise of the plays was fantastic due to every one of them starting from the same alignment.
The in-play counters available to the offense to come off of screens different ways, counter the defense denying passes, and play ball-screens different ways while still maintaining proper spacing and adequate scoring options is excellent, and better than last season.
In this first play, the 2 guard curls off of 1’s screen and cuts through the middle looking for a pass. In the second frame, from a different play, 2 cuts through and then sets a rip screen for 5. This called counter is something that we didn’t see much of at all last season and is a good sign moving forward.
Our personnel was utilized well in these plays. Using Ingram, KCP, Clarkson, and Lonzo to attack off of pin down screens, handoffs, and ball screens downhill is a great way to utilize them. Getting our big men in situations where they’re rolling, screening, and coming off of rip screens to the basket rather than posting up a ton or just spotting up is smart.
Our play type frequency was very desireable. We only took four shots in isolation and five from the post, two generally inefficient areas and ones that our superstar-less and Shaq-less roster shouldn’t be spending many possessions shooting from. Instead, pick and rolls and set plays generated spot up shots, pick and roll shots, shots from shooters off of screens, and good dump offs and cuts to the rim.
The actions the team ran were pretty solid. We saw some screen the screener action, where a guard would set a screen for a big man first and then come off of a screen looking to shoot. We also saw flare screens (and even one for Kuzma playing the 4) and staggered screens for shooters.
These actions are putting our players in good positions to score and are a much better alternative in the half court than running extremely simplistic sets and hoping Lonzo can create opportunities out of nothing, which I feared just a few days ago.
Here’s what I wasn’t happy with:
While I was pleased with a lot of what I saw, I still have several concerns after Saturday’s game. It was just the team’s first preseason game, so there’s plenty of time to address these issues, but we’ll need these areas to be addressed to truly be running a good offense.
I like the mix of actions we utilized in our half court sets, but we were missing one key ingredient from my 7 Key Principles of a Half Court Offense: Weak side action.
Here are some screenshots from the playbook I’ve compiled of the plays the Lakers ran on Saturday. These first two are from two different plays, but notice the movement of players rather than action. The team can score from these, but they’re much less likely to generate as good of shots from those movements compared to pin down screens, flare screens, pin in screens, hammer action, etc.
In this third play, there’s just no movement at all. That’s not going to kill your offense (especially if all three of those players can shoot), but it’s much easier to defend. Why only have two players able to score on a pick and roll rather than three, four, or even five. And even if those other options are guarded, they’re occupying the defense and preventing them from being to help over and make your primary 2 options much harder to score from.
The other key area the Lakers have a developmental opportunity in is their freelance action. The team ran solid set plays, but during their other half court possessions, a lot of bad offense took place.
In a freelance offense you want to give your players the opportunities to make plays, but set them up well with a structure of principles and action to help get them an advantage on the defense and some semblance of organization even when a fully structured play isn’t called.
There wasn’t much of that Saturday, but that should improve.
The weak side action during post ups and pick and roll plays are where I’d like to see growth in the next couple games. LA had five post ups against the Timberwolves. During those five post ups there were 16 dribbles, two basket cuts, and zero flare screens or split cuts or any other actions.
The Lakers also ran 30 pick and rolls, 10 of which were freelance pick and rolls and not part of a set play. During those 10 possessions there was no other action run, helping the defense key into the ball handler and roll man and force the offense into lots of turnovers and missed shots.
If those post ups and pick and roll possessions can be accompanied by weak side action to generate more scoring chances and occupy potential help defense, I’ll be a happy camper.
Over the rest of preseason be looking for the percentage of the team’s offense generated in transition. It’s important to see how serious the Lakers are about this commitment, and if it’s helping.
Keep an eye out for weak side action during set plays, pick and rolls, and post ups being installed. The difference that added component can make shouldn’t be underestimated. It wasn’t there last season, so I’m not sure it’ll be added this preseason, but if it is then potentially looking at a legitimate half court scheme.
As time passes, we’ll likely see this playbook quadruple in size and plays refine over time. We saw zero plays from alignments other than a 4-out, 1-in setup. Look for more series of plays like what we saw Saturday to be added in as more practices go by, but for that process to move slowly. I’d rather see the same plays run well before too many new plays are added. If I were the Lakers, I’d stay away from 3-out, 2-in offense. Rather, horns offense and certain 5-out plays would fit our personnel well.
One game in and the Lakers scheme looks like it’ll be better than it was last season. I’m excited to see how it will continue to develop.