LA had their most impressive win Tuesday against the Detroit Pistons, who came into the game just one win out of the top record in the league. This was the first game out of the seven Los Angeles has played so far that both their offense and defense graded out above average for the contest. Prepare yourself for the most pleasant Lakers data report so far this year.
The Lakers Offense
After games resulting in -13.6, -14.7, and -20.7 CPOE numbers, the team delivered a much needed positive offensive performance against Detroit
It wasn’t from pounding a team in transition or flawless offensive execution. The offensive play type frequency breakdown was quite similar to the other games LA has played. What changed was that the team hit shots.
The Lakers were hitting 22% of their wide open catch and shoot 3-point jump shots heading into this game. They may have plenty of errors on lots of possessions as young teams do, but even on those well executed possessions or ones where a player made a great player to create an open shot weren’t paying off. The passing up of a good shot for a better shot for a great shot resulted in 0 points too many times due to poor jump shooting.
That changed Tuesday. The Lakers hit 6 of 11 open 3-pointers (54.5%) and even hit 37.5% of their catch and shoot contested 3s. That can easily be the difference between a -10 CPOE and a +3 CPOE performance.
The team had several nice sequences of great ball movement, but this is still a team that’s among the lowest passing in the league. The game against Detroit was a matter of getting lots of the same kinds of shots in terms of openness, but this time converting on those opportunities.
For the second game in a row the Lakers scored no points from post-ups. The difference is last game the Lakers didn’t even try, and this game the team went 0/5 on post shots.
Zubac, Hart, Randle, Ingram, and Nance each had one post possession. After watching the film on those possessions, all but Hart’s shots were forced and there were open kick out options available had the players had their head up. During those possessions there was one basket cut (by Hart). Other than that, there was literally no movement on basket cuts or off-ball screens looking to generate any scoring opportunities.
Those small details would enhance the pass-out opportunities for post players and likely keep the defense from collapsing on them as easily, making their job scoring in the post much less difficult.
Tuesday’s game had more cuts than any other Laker game so far this season. In fact, the 10 cuts the Lakers had against Detroit were as many as the past two games combined.
Cuts are important to generate because they’re almost always high quality opportunities and generate the highest expected points per possession of any play type, scoring 1.25 PPP on average. The Lakers rank 17th in the NBA in cut frequency, and cut about half as much as the league leading Warriors.
Lonzo Ball was involved in 6 of these 10 cuts and did an excellent job threading passes through traffic. The Lakers also had a lot of playmaking from the high post passing to cuts that included a couple alley oops. If the Lakers can keep cutting and being in position during some drives and on high post possessions they’ll likely get some easy opportunities at the rim, especially with Lonzo Ball being the passer.
Pick and Roll
Brandon Ingram scored 8 points in 8 possessions. Julius Randle even pitched in with 4 points on 2 possessions. With these bigger Lakers there was a clear gameplan from the to screen and rescreen until they could attack the Detroit big men. Attacking Drummond and Leur off the dribble and forcing the defense to collapse opened up shots for Laker guards.
From Ball I saw an improved focused on keeping his dribble alive once getting into the lane, making it harder to time when he’s going to shoot and keeping his options to dribble/pass/shoot open for longer. He converted this into 4 points on 4 possessions.
The Lakers Defense
For the fourth straight game the Lakers had an above average defensive performance, and this -9.2 DPOE performance was better than the previous two games. To check the performance from every Laker game, take a look at this spreadsheet.
The Lakers defense has been very strong defending isolation. In fact, no team has a lower DPOE than the Lakers when it comes to isolation. As you can see on the Lakers Game Data spreadsheet, the Lakers defense has faced a higher percentage of isolation every game since the first game of the year.
Is this a coincidence, a product of the teams the Lakers are facing, or something the team is doing defensively? I think it’s the latter option. If the Lakers defense were an offense it’d have the 4th highest frequency of isolation. Teams facing the Lakers have isolated 29% more than they have over the rest of the season. That’s a large increase.
I believe that the denying of passes, deflecting of passes, and off-ball pressure LA has executed better with more recently has gotten teams out of their sets and made them resort to isolation. Or at least that’s the hope. Over time with more data we’ll be able to see if this trend continues or not.
The Lakers’ defense had its sixth above average spot up defensive game in seven games. That’s a trend. If the Lakers can stay strong against the most frequent play type across the league (accounting for 19.7% of offensive possessions on average) they’ll be putting themselves in a good spot defensively.
Player Spotlight: Julius Randle’s Defense
Julius Randle has the best DPOE of any Laker player through the first seven games of the season. Let’s take a look at how he’s done it.
His motor and active defense have proven to be an asset for the Lakers so far and it translates to the data. Randle has been above average in pretty much every area he’s had to defend so far.
Isolation has been an area randle defends about three times a game but has been strong, giving up about a point a game. He’s conceded only three points in six possessions in isolation defending PFs or Cs, and seven points in 13 points defending PGs, SGs, and SFs. A power forward sized player only giving up 0.538 points per possession against guards is an incredible number.
Randle also does well containing guards in the pick and roll. Kuzma and Randle are the only two Laker big men that are above average defending pick and rolls so far this season. Randle is somewhat agile and fleet of foot, helping him in this area.
But Randle’s mobility doesn’t come at the expense of his interior defense. He’s also been above average in the small number of post ups he’s faced so far this season.
It’s very early, but so far Julius Randle has actually been a better primary defender than Draymond Green, according to the data. He bests Green in every area other than defending roll men. This likely won’t continue, but if Randle can hold his current defensive form and hold somewhere close to his 94th percentile DPOE he’ll be a major asset to the Lakers.