This team currently doesn’t have enough shooting. I mentioned Young and Williams being gone, but so is D’Angelo Russell. Those three were all high volume 3 point shooters who were at or (well) above a league average level. They’ve replaced them with Lopez, KCP, and…that’s it.
Kuzma has promise and I’m ecstatic at what he’s shown in the summer and preseason, but it’s disingenuous to predict that it will continue over a full season. Lonzo might project to be a good three point shooter for his career but it remains to be seen if he’s that right now. Randle and Nance have not yet shown expanded range, even if they (or at least Randle) have shown more comfort in taking those shots. Clarkson, unless a leap is made, is not going to be a knock down shooter from distance. Ingram is making strides, but is not there yet.
Playing fast is great and adhering to the analytical approach of layups, FT’s, and 3’s is the way of the new NBA. But the Lakers don’t project to be a team that can make you pay from behind the arc. Teams will go under picks on them. They’ll crowd the paint and shrink the floor from the weakside until shooters make them pay. Again, Lopez will help — and maybe exponentially so because he’s a stretch 5 — but unless Lonzo, KCP, Kuzma, and Ingram all prove to be league average or better from distance generating gravity on the perimeter will be difficult. And without that, the rest of the offense will suffer.
That’s an excerpt from my 2017-18 Lakers season preview. I’m not asking you to call me Nostradarius or anything, but, you know, show me the lie.
As it stands, the Lakers are boasting some of the worst three point shooting in the league. Here’s some stats that I believe capture their struggles quite well:
- 19.6% of the Lakers points per game come from behind the arc. This is 29th in the league.
- 77.5% of the Lakers made 3-point field goals are assisted. This is 24th in the league.
- The Lakers average 17.7 catch and shoot 3-point shots a game. This is 25th in the league.
- The Lakers make 4.8 catch and shoot 3-point shots a game. This is 30th in the league.
- The Lakers shoot 27.4% on catch and shoot 3-point field goals. This is 30th in the league.
So, as a summary: The Lakers don’t score from behind the arc because too many of their 3-pointers are unassisted (and, thus, harder to make since they are of the pull-up or isolation variety). They don’t create enough catch and shoot 3-pointers — which are the easier kind to hit. But, even when they do create them, the shoot a horrid percentage on them and, thus, don’t make many of them at all.
Further, the Lakers have six players who are attempting more than two 3-point field goals a game. Here are those players, their attempts per game, and their field goal percentage on them:
Lonzo Ball, 5.3 attempts, 28.1%
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, 4.5 attempts, 27.8%
Kyle Kuzma, 4.0 attempts, 25.0%
Brook Lopez, 3.3 attempts, 25.0%
Jordan Clarkson, 2.2 attempts, 37.5%
I’m no mathematician, but this is bad.
A couple of takeaways…
First, Ball and KCP are taking nearly 10 3-point attempts a game while being sub 30% shooters. This in and of itself is bad, but is almost entirely the product of the types of threes both are taking. Of the 18 threes KCP has taken this season, only 5 of those have been from the corners (he’s made 2). For Ball, of the 32 threes he’s taken, only 3 have been from the corners (he’s made 1).
In other words, the Lakers backcourt is not taking nearly enough of their threes from the shortest parts of the court, instead settling for the above the break variety that are much more difficult to hit at a high rate. Further, as noted in the stats from the first section of this post, many of these threes they do make are unassisted, which means they’re taking them off the dribble either in isolation or on plays where they’re stepping back or vs. defenses that are going under picks.
These aren’t all bad shots, mind you. When defenders go under picks or when your man plays off you, taking open threes is fine. Luke Walton has said as much — specifically noting Ball taking 3’s when defenders to under picks is good offense. You want to punish defenses that play you this way and on the only way to do so is to take (and then make) these shots.
That said, also consider that the Lakers, as a team, are 5th in the league in 2-point shots that are assisted. This is especially prevalent in transition, the P&R, and via isolation drives and dump-offs to diving bigs or cutters who slide into open spaces when their own defender helps. The Lakers, then, have a good feel for how to create good looks for each other in halfcourt and have found a certain synergy in helping each other get good looks.
Second, regression from Kuzma (summer league and preseason) and Lopez (from the Nets), was to be somewhat expected. But they’are shooting 25% on over 7 attempts a game. The Lakers can live with somewhat lower percentages from them than their guards because as “bigs” their gravity can be amplified due to who is guarding them. Centers and power forwards have a harder time helping from the paint to the perimeter consistently. When Lopez and Kuzma spot up, they will either have the requisite room to get their shot off or will draw their defender closer enough to open up driving lanes for teammates (or create driving opportunities for themselves against hard closeouts).
Still, though, these numbers need to go up. If both could be around league average, that is ideal. Higher than that can help turn a regular offense into one on the cusp of being in the top 10. But, if your bigs are going to shoot 10 percentage points under league average, at some point they won’t have any gravity at all. This then leads to even more crowded driving lanes, fewer drive and kicks, and fewer of the catch and shoot opportunities that help fuel good offenses.
You can see, then, how this downward spiral is difficult to pull out of.
On the one hand, the Lakers just don’t have shooters who have proven to be high level threats from beyond the arc. Sometimes you just need shot makers to, you know, make shots. Adding to that, though, several players on the team who are taking relatively high volume of threes are so far under league average that it’s going to impact how individual defenders treat them and how team’s scheme them.