The Lakers showed great resilience in Wednesday’s game vs. Boston but ultimately didn’t come out of the game with a win. The team dropped from 15th in Points Over Expectation (POE) to 19th after an extremely poor offensive performance, sliding them down a win in the projected standings.
As always, this is a snapshot of how each team has played to this point this season. A team like the Spurs has played without Kawhi Leonard for some time, and their projection reflects their team abilities without him. This isn’t so much a win projection as it is a sense of how the standings would look based on remaining strength of schedule (accounting for each opponent, homecourt advantage, and rest days) and current team POE.
Los Angeles ran into a buzzsaw Wednesday against the Celtics. Boston currently has the second best POE and projected record, and the top defense in the league by POE. Combine that with a young team that can struggle with execution for stretches and you’ll have a -13.8 CPOE performance like the team had Wednesday. You won’t win many games when you score nearly 15 points less than an average team would.
Note: These offensive and defensive charts are available for every Laker game so far at this link.
LA didn’t get off a shot on almost a quarter of the team’s transition possessions. Eight of the team’s 21 turnovers were in transition. That’s a -8.6 points just from turnovers in transition without even looking at the team’s shots.
Take away the turnovers and the team is still a little down in terms of CPOE, but -2 in transition while having a ton of transition is still decent offense.
If it weren’t for the off screen scoring, LA would be -20.9 points in this game. They shot 4/4 with two 3-pointers and added two points from free throws on the fifth possession. KCP and Clarkson both scored five points and Kuzma added a pair.
What’s interesting to me is the massive disparity between efficiency on off-screen possessions and their usage. It was most apparent Wednesday. Off ball possessions took up 4.4% of the team’s total possessions, but accounted for 12.5% of the team’s points.
With a season POE of 9.9, off-screen possessions have been LA’s highest CPOE area this year. Despite that, LA utilizes them fourth least of all teams and it’s the least used play type for the team itself.
Yet again, the Lakers’ defense helped keep them in a game. They took a big hit in the first quarter but for the final three did a much better job. Another well above average defensive performance actually strengthened LA’s overall defensive efficiency on the season. And with every subsequent solid defensive performance we can feel a little more confident that this Lakers defense is legit.
One thing stood out so clearly on Boston’s post ups: They were doing work away from the ball. They had eight flare screens and five basket cuts on 11 post ups where the post man took the shot. That’s not even counting the times those players actually got the ball for a shot. I should note that two post ups were immediate lay-ins because their big man had position and there wasn’t time for anything to develop away from the ball.
This action gave Boston great looks on cuts and off of screens, two of the most efficient shot types. But it did a great deal to help the post players score as well. taking away any help that LA could have in the post made it much harder to defend Boston’s big men.
Add in a couple post possessions with mismatches due to the Celtics screening for Kyrie then having their big men bury Laker guards, and it’s easy to understand why not having help defense in the post can be an issue.
It’s not often that you’ll see such a disparity between frequency of transition offense between two teams. We saw 29% for LA compared to 10% for Boston on Wednesday. And LA defended in transition well.
Depending on how you look at it, the Lakers either won the transition battle big or lost it big. They scored 16 more points than Boston in transition, but they also were -6.6 compared to what the transition margin would be if their offense was executing at an average rate.
In either case, the Laker defense did its job, and that’s something we’ve been able to say for five of the past six games, after the team had five games to start the year where they weren’t above average defending in transition.
Player Spotlight: Off Screen Shooting
Here’s a quick check on the usage and 3-point scoring on each play type:
A couple thoughts:
- We get a lot of 3-pointers from spot up possessions, but it’s one of the lowest percentage areas from deep
- We’re shooting almost twice as efficient from downtown from off-screen shooters than spot up shooters
So why don’t we utilize off-screen plays more? In most instances we can take two players spotting up and have a simple off screen action generate more open looks. Examples of these are pin downs or flare screens. These are simple actions seen all the way down to the high school level.
One rebuttal I commonly get to my pleas for the team to run more off-screen action is that we don’t have the quality passers on the team to allow us to run any set plays with shooters coming off of screens. I’m told this is the reason Lonzo can’t ever run off of a screen or any units without Ball as the playmaker can’t run screens.
I think that’s overthinking the issue. Playmakers move the needle when it comes from happening during drives, post ups, and secondary creation for others. That’s where real separation will show.
When a great passer has the ball in the post or Lonzo is driving, we expect them to find the open guys. We don’t quite have those same expectations for Randle and Clarkson in those respective areas. When JC gets the ball kicked out to him and is looking to attack, I don’t typically expect him to read the court well and find a more open guy.
But on set plays you don’t have as much separation, or at least not on the plays the Lakers are already running. And that’s okay, because these plays are still generating good shooting opportunities and allowing the team to score easier points.
The read for the passer is often:
- Is the shooter coming off the screen open?
- If yes, pass to him
- If no, dribble handoff or swing the ball or feed the post
- That’s it.
It’s not rocket science. Plays can be more complex, but they don’t need to be. And the plays the Lakers already run with these actions aren’t difficult to execute.
Look at this clip below. I can (and have) made that pass in games. You can make that pass. My sister in high school makes that pass in her team’s offense and hundreds of college kids that’ll never make it to the NBA make this pass in their offenses. Why do we think it’s too hard for our players?
Or this pass, which Lonzo makes. He bides his time with a dribble or two, a pump fake, and a job. But that’s a skillset I believe any of our guards possess. If they know their job on the play is to find the shooter (if they’re open), I don’t think they’ll completely neglect to run the play.
Off Screen Shooting
So the passing shouldn’t be an issue. Teams many times will even utilize big men at the top of the key or post as passers. This frees up an extra guard to be an option off of screens. We aren’t the Warriors in terms of shooters, but the Laker roster is capable of better 3-point shooting than they’ve had so far. Much of that has to do with the types of opportunities we’re generating for our players, and off screen shots should be more open than spot ups.
This is a quote from my “27 Stats on the 27th Ranked Lakers Offense” piece from a week ago
“Last season, Clarkson was in the 91st percentile by PPP scoring off of screens. Ingram was in the 92nd percentile, Ball in the 81st (at UCLA), and Josh Hart in the 99th percentile (at Nova).”
Oh and KCP was average on these looks last season too in Detroit. He did so in a very simple scheme that really only used him a couple ways off of screens. We have five/six players that are strong in this area without even looking at Kyle Kuzma. Kuz off of screens adds an additional new component since he’ll be playing PF a fair amount.
I’m not proposing a completely redesigned offense or new plays. It’d be nice in a couple areas, but that’s an unreasonable ask at this point. LA already has plays they run (rarely) and they work.
What will matter is that they use more of these set plays to get good shots for their shooters. The team will find more offensive success if they just use the same mediocre off screen sets but run them much more frequently.