The Lakers drew even on the season with a 102-99 overtime win at home against the Wizards on Wednesday. Their defense kept them in the game and some big plays late sealed the victory.
The Lakers Offense
It was a rough day at the office for the Lakers offense, but somehow they survived it. If you were to tell me LA would be -13.6 points compared to the expectation on this game, I’d tell you we lost by 30. Let’s break it down:
Points Per Possession (PPP)
New to this data report are Points Per Possession values for each play type. We can see from these how vastly different these play types were in efficiency against the Wizards.
Each isolation possession was about three times as valuable as every pick and roll ball handler possession? Yup.
Every off screen possession was almost six times as valuable as a post up? They sure were (in that one game).
Off Screen Frequency
Turning an eye to frequency rather than efficiency we have an important takeaway. Off screen possessions, where a shooter is coming off of a flare screen/pin down/hammer screen/elevator screen/etc. aren’t used a lot in the Laker offense.
LA averaged just 3 of these possessions per game heading into Wednesday, which accounted for just 3.3% of the team’s offense.
The Lakers turned to these kinds of shots a lot more Wednesday, and it paid off. LA executed eight of these possessions and scored 13 points on those chances. That solid +5.5 on the day was the second highest Points Over Expectation (POE) of any play type for the Lakers on the day.
Spot Up Shut Down
The worst of any play type for the Lakers was their spot up opportunities. From looking at the film I saw the team miss a couple contested drives after attacking closeouts, miss four open 3-pointers, and miss a lot of contested threes.
This isn’t surprising to see from a team shooting 24.2% on contested 3-pointers on the season and last placed among teams at catching and shooting.
Going into the game LA was only -3 in this department, so hopefully this won’t turn into a trend. It’ll be critical that the team can score when given open shots and at least hit a respectable number of open shots.
The Lakers ran 34 pick and roll plays against Washington that led to a possession from a ball handler, roll man, spot up shooter, or cutter.
When Lonzo Ball or Jordan Clarkson were the ball handlers, the team had four ball handler shots and 17 from passes to teammates.
When any other player was operating in the pick and roll, there were nine shots from the ball handler and four pass outs.
The Laker players that were operating as the point guard were looking to score out of the pick and roll, not distribute. This led to several suboptimal decisions being made and better shots being foregone, or perhaps just not seen at all, in lieu of ball handler shots from players like Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
The Lakers Defense
What kept the team in this game and really won it for them was defense. The team’s best defensive performance by far watching live is reflected in the data, and the data looks great.
Pick and Roll Communication
The only half court play type where LA didn’t play above average was defending the pick and roll ball handler. The team fell victim to poor communication and gave up several John Wall layups because of this.
This first clip is one SportsCenter was playing to show Wall scoring on Lonzo, but this isn’t Ball’s fault at all when we break down what’s happening.
Lopez leaves Ball hanging out to dry in this play. The Lakers want to ice the pick and roll, which would mean Zo should force Wall away from the pick (which he tries to do, but the pick never arrives) and Lopez contain Wall until Ball can recover.
Watch Lonzo flip his stance. He does that because Lopez is calling out for him to ice the screen. But instead of Gortat actually setting the screen, he instead walls off Lopez to create an open driving lane for Wall. Lopez never communicated with Lonzo that the screen isn’t coming, and Ball is left playing matador defense and isn’t receiving the contain help from Lopez he’s expecting.
The same thing happens on this second clip. Lopez calls ice, Ball ices, then the screen isn’t there and Wall is able to get by Lonzo. When Ball attempts to recover from his suddenly poor positioning (due to the miscommunication), Wall is able to cross him up and get into the lane.
Again, another play making Lonzo look bad that is a result of poor communication from Laker bigs. If the screen isn’t coming, you can’t have the guard defending the ball handler as if a screen is coming.
This is a smart wrinkle by the Wizards, and one LA was able to survive only giving up two baskets to. This will be a valuable experience if they can learn from this and avoid being exposed by it in the future.
Spot Up Defense
Giving up only five points on 12 spot up possessions is great, and doesn’t just happen on it’s own. LA rotated to contain and contest shooters vigorously throughout the game. Only two of those shots were uncontested jumpers, which played a big role in the shooting percentages for Washington being low. Credit to the defense for rotating hard and contesting everything they could, and doing what they could to keep the Wizards from getting easy layups.
Post Up Defense
The Lakers had a nice vacation from Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins in the post on Wednesday. Instead, they faced Marcin Gortat (four possessions), Mike Scott (six), Jason Smith (one), and Ian Mahinmi (one) down low and conceded only six points in 12 possessions. Washington only really went to post up possessions when they had mismatches, but LA stayed strong.
KCP gave up a make to Gortat on a mismatch and Kuzma gave up one bucket on two shots. The rest of the post possessions, no matter who was on defense, went pretty well. Brewer and Ingram both had a possession of post defense and neither gave up a point.
Larry Nance Jr had two post possessions and conceded nothing. Josh Hart, who’s quickly winning me over, was overmatched in the post five different times and only gave up a total of two points. That’s difference making defense from Hart, and the Laker SGs and SFs as a whole held their own down low.
Being mismatched on 67% (eight of 12) of the team’s defensive post possessions and only conceding 0.500 PPP (four points in those eight tries) is fantastic. That switching ability, along with what you’ll see from Randle a couple lines down, is big for LA.
Defending John Wall
Anytime a superstar caliber player is held to 0.64 points per possession, something went well for the defense. It was a team effort and multiple Lakers played well. Lonzo played solid defense throughout the game, but his teammates also chipped in:
- Wall isolated against Julius Randle four times in the game, and scored zero points off of those possessions
- Two of the three shots that Wall got up against Randle were blocked by Randle
- Wall took two shots against KCP, scored zero points, and was blocked by KCP once
Individual Player Spotlight
Today’s highlighted player is Jordan Clarkson, who has played well enough as a point guard to effectively remove Tyler Ennis from the rotation.
Clarkson has played much like he did last season in terms of frequency, and has been even more efficient so far this season on the same number of possessions per game. Checking in with a 1.000 points per possession (PPP) figure in the 69th percentile, Clarkson’s performance has been nice so far and strong in several areas.
Just like last year, when he was the 11th most efficient isolation player in the NBA, Clarkson has scored well in iso. He’s also doing well scoring off of screens, an area he was in the 91st percentile by PPP last season.
He’s been about average in transition and on handoffs and a little bit of a plus spotting up and as a pick and roll ball handler. His distribution from the pick and roll has also been impressive so far, with him having a 3:2 ratio of shots to passes from the pick and roll and those passes leading to 18 points on 14 possessions.
Clarkson is adding a lot to this team if he can be leaned on a times to create for himself in iso or the pick and roll, can create for others from the pick and roll, and can be a valuable off-ball scorer off of screens and spotting up.
Even his vision, which has been the largest knock on him so far his career, is looking better. He’ll still miss passes and have some bad possessions, but at least he’s efficient on those possessions and watching live he’s missing a lot less obvious passes. And c’mon, don’t try to tell me he’s making this pass last year:
Next Lakers Data Report:
Following LA’s game against Toronto on Friday, and every five games moving forward, the individual player highlight portion of the report will be replaced temporarily with a team season data recap.