It’s never a good feeling losing a game, but it’s especially bitter losing such a close game that the Lakers led for a while in the fourth quarter. We’re left with another loss, but we’re also left with some encouraging Lakers data in a couple areas.
In fact, despite losing to Portland, the team’s Points Over Expectation (POE) slightly improved, and the team is playing through eight games like it’s a 35 win team.
The team’s offense hasn’t had a better performance this season than how it performed in Thursday’s loss to the Blazers. LA scored 13.4 points more than an average team would score on the same shots.
Quite notably, the Lakers were only able to generate 10.9% of their possessions in transition, bringing their season mark down to 3rd most in the NBA at 18.6%.
The Lakers returned to the paint in an impactful way following two straight games of scoring zero points from post ups. Most of that production was from the team’s 7’0″ center. Brook Lopez was 4/5 shooting down low and also drew a foul, leading the way to a +7.0 CPOE in that department.
Surprisingly, the team was only one point in the negative on spot up opportunities despite going 0/5 on 3-pointers in those looks. LA converted well attacking closeouts and with some of their mid range shots, helping to keep this play type afloat.
Off screen opportunities didn’t make up a large percentage of the Lakers’ offense, but they made up half of the team’s made 3-pointers. LA was 2/2 on shots from downtown off of off screen looks, and was 2/16 on all other 3-pointers attempted. On the season, the Lakers are 53.3% (8/15) from deep on these opportunities and are 27.4% (48/175) on 3s from all other play types.
When called and executed well, the team is taking and making 3-pointers from flare screens and other off-screen action. Unfortunately, there’s minimal weak side action on almost all set plays and when off screen action is called it’s many times not executed well with good screens and reading of the defense.
The Lakers ran several set plays out of a horns alignment that led to several handoffs. In one play, a player (usually KCP) ran off of two staggered screens to receive a handoff, similar to part of the below play, which was in my proposed Lakers playbook for this season.
Here’s what it looked like in action. The team got several handoffs off of this action, but no points. LA struggled to turn the corner and had contested shots or a pretty tough one, like the one KCP ended up with here.
If 2 wasn’t open, 4 would dribble toward 3 and execute a dribble handoff with him.
Another horns play led to handoffs as well. The point guard would pass to a big at the elbow, then go to set a flex screen for the corner man. After setting that screen the point guard would pop out to receive a handoff from the big man and look to attack.
The actual execution wasn’t quite how Luke drew it up.
Clarkson ended up kicking the ball out on this play after not being able to turn the corner. The bigger issue I have with this play is that Randle didn’t even look at Ingram on the flex cut baseline. If on the few set plays the team will try players aren’t looking to use the actions, what’s the point?
LA’s streak of above average defensive performances ended against Portland, who even after this game only has the 19th best CPOE as a team. The Lakers were giving up points easily to start, but locked in and remain a top 10 defense at the 9th best defensive points per possession on the season.
Part of Portland’s early offensive dominance was on cuts, where they racked up 11 points on 7 possessions in the first half. LA stifled this component of the Blazers’ game after that, giving up only 2 points on 8 possessions in the second half.
LA was kept from running as much offensively, but defensively they also played a half-court centric game. Facing a team with the second lowest transition frequency in the league, LA only faced transition opportunities in 8.1% of their defensive possessions. Portland did turn these chances into points, putting LA 1.1 points in the hold in that category.
Pick and Roll
4-point plays from Dame, quick pull ups 3s from CJ, Lillard roasting Lopez in space. Portland’s duo of outstanding guards exploded for 19 of the team’s 21 points from pick and roll ball handlers. Unlike many teams that end up putting up lots of mid range shots, Portland did an excellent job getting either 3s or shots at the rim out of the pick and roll.
Turner, Nurkic, and Davis split up the post scoring from Portland, an area they scored 2.4 points more than an average team would on the same opportunities. The Trail Blazers targeted mismatches down low going at the Lakers’ smaller 3s and 4s throughout the game.
Player Spotlight: Lonzo Ball
We know Lonzo impacts the games in many ways, such as his pass-ahead outlet passes, but how has his scoring and primary defense been?
If you have a TV or a radio or use the internet at all, you probably have a good idea of how he’s been scoring the basketball. Lonzo is -30.2 points on the season compared to what an average player would score if they were to take the same shots. This is -3.8 points per game, which is the worst CPOE from a Laker by over 2 full points.
Lonzo has been poor jump shooting, which has impacted his data all around. It’s taken the largest toll on his spot up numbers, where he’s -1.1 points per game. He’s also really struggled to score in transition, his second worst area on the year.
As he continues to grow quarter after quarter, which Reed has outlined well, his scoring should improve. Learning the intricacies of the pick and roll game is a process, but one where Lonzo has shown continued growth. He ran UCLA’s style of pick and roll well in college, but he’s being asked to perform differently. He’s stepped up to the plate so far, but missed quite often. Over time we’ll see him make strides and improve.
What’s also notable is how Lonzo is being utilized. At UCLA, his offensive profile actually more closely resembled an NBA shooting guard than an NBA point guard. This statistical fact is true for every one of UCLA’s point and shooting guards. Their offense was run differently than how the Lakers are doing business, and Lonzo is needing to adjust.
No longer is Ball spotting up on a third of his possessions, or cutting and running off of screens a combined once out of every five possessions. He’s doing those latter two actions once every 38 possessions so far this regular season. Overall, Ball has seen vastly different usage than in his college days, where his PPP efficiencies actually translated better to a shooting guard role from a scoring standpoint than a point guard role.
Lonzo’s defense has been another story. As your eyes can probably tell you, he hasn’t done well defending the pick and roll. He has, however, been much better defending handoffs. His good positioning off-ball and good closeouts have put him in a place where he’s defending spot up shooters well so far through the first eight games.
As the sample of games gets larger we’ll have a better idea of how Ball is offensively and defensively, but so far his scoring hasn’t quite been there and his defense has been about average.